Auxiliary Fire Service
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The Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS) was first formed in 1938 in Great Britain as part of Civil Defence Air raid precautions. Its role was to supplement the work of brigades at local level. In this job it was hampered severely by the incompatibility of equipment used by these different brigades - most importantly the lack of a standard size of hydrant valve. The Auxiliary Fire Service and the local brigades were superseded in August 1941 by the National Fire Service.
Members of the AFS were unpaid part-time volunteers, but could be called up for whole-time paid service if necessary. This was very similar to the wartime establishment of the police Special Constabulary. Men and women could join, the latter mainly in an administrative role.
An AFS was formed in every county borough, borough and urban district, and there was also one in the London County Council area. Each AFS was commanded by a Commandant, with Deputy and/or Assistant Commandants in the larger services. The services operated their own fire stations, each commanded by a Section Officer, and station areas were divided into Fire Beats, each under the command of a Patrol Officer. Services with five or more stations divided them into Divisions, each under the command of a Divisional Officer. These ranks were not laid down by the government, and some services used different systems.
The Auxiliary Fire Service was reformed in 1948 alongside the Civil Defence Corps. It was equipped with 1,000 Green Goddess (Bedford RLHZ Self Propelled Pump) fire engines. It was disbanded in 1968.
During peacetime, AFS crews frequently attended fires and accidents alongside their regular colleagues. They provided significant assistance at some of the worst fires, such as that at Billingsgate Market and at Barking wood yard. AFS personnel were trained in firefighting by their own officers and with assistance from full-time fire officers. Many were trained to the St John Ambulance Higher First Aider Certificate standard - often proving invaluable at major incidents involving injury.
The Green Goddesses were used in two forms, a 4x4 version fitted with a 900 gallons-per-minute (gpm) Sigmund centrifugal pump and a 2x4 version (the most common type issued) fitted with the 1000 gpm pump. These latter could combine to provide a pipe relay over great distances when connected using 6-inch hose, supplying 1000 gpm from one location to another, often the seat of a major fire. An inflatable dam was often used as the source for the relay, usually fed by using several Light Portable Pumps powered by Coventry Climax FWP engines. These were sometimes floated on a 'bikini' raft so they could draw directly from a water supply such as a river.
The AFS has never had any connection whatever with any of the British Armed Forces. It is a pure coincidence that the Government used Army personnel to man and operate fire appliances during the Firemen's strikes. The appliances used were former AFS equipment brought out of mothball for the purpose. Many have since been sold at public auction.
The Auxiliary Fire Service is still active as part of Civil Defence in the Republic of Ireland.
- The basic system is set out in Home Office FB Circular No.58/1939, 2 September 1939
- "Green Goddesses reach end of road", BBC News Website, 15 February 2005
- Brief details
- Badges of the Auxiliary Fire Service and National Fire Service
- Its role in the London Blitz
- Irish Civil Defence Website
- Green Goddess Cold War fire engines of the Auxiliary Fire Service