WHAT is the FIRE HERITAGE NETWORK UK?
In 2004, a number of fire museums, fire heritage collections and fire service enthusiast groups
from across the UK met together to form a new network dedicated to the study and preservation
of Britain’s proud fire service history.
The Fire Heritage Network UK today is not itself a museum, nor is it a society for individual
collectors of memorabilia or old fire engines, or a general fire enthusiasts club, but rather, it
serves to bring together all those organisations who may have a collection of fire related heritage
and to provide mutual assistance and support for the ongoing preservation of this important
element of social history.
Whilst support and advice for its member organisations is a prime function of the Network, it also
acts as a bridge, linking researchers, members of the general public, or enthusiasts to individual
member groups or resources and providing a unified fire-related heritage voice, where
WHAT IS “FIRE HERITAGE”?
Firefighting in Britain can be traced back to Roman times, but it was the catastrophic Great Fire of London in 1666 which accelerated the development of both firefighting implements and fire Brigades, led in the first instance by the fire insurance companies or “offices.” Improvements in technology, methods and organisation through the 19 th century and into the early 20th century brough gradual but significant transformation of fire services into a local authority function, though still working to widely differing standards, together with some private and commercial company brigades along with the creation of military fire brigades.
The WW1 and WW2 years, in differing ways had a major impact on the structures and the thinking in relation to fire protection, particularly through the experience and lessons learned resulting from attacks from the air, and these were both important milestone years in the development of Britain’s firefighting services. The Fire Brigades Act 1938 provided legislation which greatly reshaped public (local authority) fire brigades, bringing massive organisational reform commencing in 1939 – the same year that WW2 changed the world forever.
The ARO Act 1937 saw the creation of the Auxiliary Fire Service ‘AFS’ which was placed into readiness in support of the newly formed public fire brigades on the outbreak of war followed by the creation of the National Fire Service ‘NFS’ (1941-1948), bringing many improvements in equipment and techniques, standardisation. When the fire service was handed back to local authority control by means of the Fire Services Act 1947 on 1 April 1948, it became once again locally delivered but to new national standards.
Post-WW2, Britain remained a driving force in the teaching of firefighting methods, the manufacture of fire appliances and the development of fire safety systems and legislation. The ‘Cold War’ period saw the creation of a new ‘Civil Defence Organisation’, which saw the re- creation of the Auxiliary Fire Service ‘AFS’ – the era of green fire engines, tasked with providing protection to the civilian population if the nation was attacked by the emerging ‘Soviet Union’.
Local Government boundary reorganisation on 1 April 1974 saw a huge reduction in the number of individual fire brigades, with city and county boroughs losing the organisation responsibility for fire protection in their area. The Greater London area had seen similar reorganisation at an earlier time. All these periods of history have brought with them new ideas, personalities, vehicles, equipment and operational incidents, which continue to fascinate people from all walks of life and all levels of interest.
Together, they tell the story of the UK’s “Fire Heritage” which continues to unfold, and which the member organisations of Fire Heritage UK are dedicated to preserve. History does not stand still and the FHNUK includes amongst its membership, organisations which continue to record our fire heritage as it actually happens.
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