The origins of the British Fire Services Association date back to the Midlands Fire Brigades Association which was formed in 1882 and, as the name suggests, membership consisted of the various local authority, private and industrial fire brigades in the area.
It was recognised by some serving officers that the time was appropriate to form a national organisation serving the needs of the rapidly growing number of fire brigades throughout the United Kingdom. At the time it was recorded that some 900 brigades were known to be in existence. The National Fire Brigades Union was formed in September 1887 and the Midlands Fire Brigades Association became the Midlands District of the newly formed organisation.
The new organisation quickly became recognised as the national voice and advisory body for the UK fire brigades. Its membership grew year on year from 71 brigades who signed up as original members. By the end of 1889 the membership had grown to 816 brigades. By 1914 the membership had grown to 1000 individual fire brigades. At the time the total number of brigades in existence was thought to be over 1900.
Amongst other claims, the NFBU prepared reports for Government and national bodies, set model rules and standards for brigades, established protocols for uniforms, drills, training, competitions, the design of appliances and equipment, and general organisation. Also established in 1890 was a widows and orphans fund which, through the passage of subsequent organisation names, still exists today.
The national ‘Annual Camp’ became a major feature of fire brigade life when manufacturers would display and demonstrate equipment and brigades would train or take part in drill competitions.
The majority of the membership of the NFBU were from volunteer brigades and some of the growing number of professional brigades officers saw the need for a further organisation. In 1918 a trade union for firemen was formed and to avoid any confusion and to distance itself from the trade union movement, the NFBU changed its name to the National Fire Brigades Association (NFBA).
The Association of Professional Fire Brigade Officers of the British Empire was subsequently formed in March 1902. This newly formed organisation, which focussed its attention on those officers employed by professional fire brigades, worked easily with the NFBU, changing its name in 1920 to The Professional Fire Brigades Association (PFBA).
One component part of the Association that is rarely mentioned is the existence of the British Fire Prevention Committee (BFPC). This organisation originally formed in 1897 and its purpose was to bring together firemen, architects and builders with a view to improving the fire protection designs in buildings. They also undertook ‘scientific tests’ and published books detailing their investigations and findings. In 1903 they organised an International Fire Prevention Congress held at Westminster and a Fire Exhibition at Earls Court, London. This resulted in professional and volunteer Chief Fire Officers, architects, engineers, surveyors, insurance officials, legislators and municipal officers coming together to discuss a wide range of fire prevention issues over a 4 day period. Some 700 delegates from around the world attended. The BFPC was merged into the NFBA in 1924.
Members of both leading organisations grew in strength and in knowledge as a result of the aims and objectives in their respective constitutions and both were involved in advising the Royal Commission of 1921 set up to look at the role and organisation of fire brigades. They were also major players in advising the writers of the Air Raid Precautions (ARP) Act 1937 which led to the formation of the Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS), recruited to be attached to local authority fire brigades, funded and equipped by the Home Office for use in time of war to deal with fires caused by the anticipated and the creation of the Fire Brigades Act 1938, which resulted in the biggest reorganisation of the the UK fire services ever experienced.
World War II plunged the nation’s fire brigades into the frontline and in August 1941 the National Fire Service (NFS) was formed with control of all local authority brigades being passed directly to the Home Office who set about establishing national standards and guidance.
The formation of the NFS during the war and its continuation until April 1948 removed much of the role and purpose of both the NFBU and the PFBA. This became more apparent when control of the fire service was handed back to designated local authorities at county and county borough level, reducing the number of fire brigades considerably. Many of the lessons learned, standards, techniques, rank structure, etc, were handed to the newly formed fire brigades and continuing guidance was to be issued by the Fire Service Inspectorate established within the Home Office structure.
In 1949 the NFBA and the PFBA amalgamated to form the British Fire Services Association (BFSA) which continues to exist today. Over the years the BFSA gradually changed its role to serving, as it does today, mainly industrial, private and airport fire brigades. Its origins and traditions have served the British Fire Service well for over a century and this organisation can be rightfully proud of its history and achievements.
Following the creation of the BFSA in 1949 medals continued to be issued to many brigades until the introduction, by Royal Warrant, of the Fire Brigade Long Service and Good Conduct Medal (FBLSGC) in June 1954. The award of the FBLSGC medal specifically precludes the wearing of any other long service medals.
Amongst the many services offered by the parent organisations of the past and the BFSA of today, has been the setting of standards for the design and the wearing of uniform together with the design and issue of badges, buttons and medals.