London Fire Brigade
|London Fire Brigade|
London Fire Brigade area
|Size||609 square miles (1,577 km2)|
|Formed||1865 (as Metropolitan Fire Brigade; renamed as London Fire Brigade in 1904)|
|HQ||169 Union Street, Southwark|
|Stations||112 (including one independent river station)|
|Chief Fire Officer||Ron Dobson, CBE, QFSM (officially Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning)|
|Fire authority||London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority|
The London Fire Brigade (LFB) is the statutory fire and rescue service for London. It was formed by the Metropolitan Fire Brigade Act of 1865 under the leadership of superintendent Eyre Massey Shaw. Today, it is the largest of the fire services in the United Kingdom and the fourth-largest in the world (after the Tokyo Fire Department, New York City Fire Department and Paris Fire Brigade) with nearly 7,000 staff, including 5,800 operational firefighters based at 112 fire stations.
Ron Dobson is the Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning, which includes the position of Chief Fire Officer; he replaced Sir Ken Knight in 2007. Statutory responsibility for the running of the brigade lies with the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority.
In 2010/11 the LFB handled 212,657 999 calls. Of the calls it mobilised to, 27,563 were fires, including 13,367 that were of a serious nature, making it one of the busiest fire brigades in the world. In the same period, it received 5,241 hoax calls, the highest number of any UK fire service, but crews were mobilised to only 2,248 of them.
As well as firefighting, the LFB also responds to traffic collisions, floods, trapped-in-lift releases, and other incidents such as those involving hazardous materials, and major transport accidents. It also conducts emergency planning and performs fire safety inspections and education. It does not provide an ambulance service as this function is performed by the London Ambulance Service as an independent NHS trust, although all LFB firefighters are trained in first aid and all fire engines carry first aid equipment, including basic resuscitators.
- 1 Organisation
- 2 Legislative powers
- 3 History
- 4 Staffing
- 5 Firefighting, special services and fire prevention
- 6 Fire stations
- 7 Regional control centre
- 8 Major or notable incidents
- 9 In popular culture
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 External links
Historically, the London Fire Brigade was organised into two divisions: Northern and Southern, divided in most places by the River Thames and each commanded by a Divisional Officer. Both divisions were divided into three districts, each under a Superintendent with his headquarters at a "superintendent station". The superintendent stations themselves were commanded by District Officers, with the other stations under Station Officers.
On the creation of the Greater London Council in 1965, the brigade was enlarged and took over almost all of the Middlesex Fire Brigade, part of North Kent, North Surrey and South West Essex, together with the small County Borough brigades of Croydon, East and West Ham. The new authority was organised into eleven divisions, of roughly 10 to 12 stations each, designated 'A' Division through to 'L' Division organised around three 999 mobilising control rooms.
'A' (West End), 'D' (West London), G (North West London) and 'J' (North London), mobilised from Wembley (the former Middlesex headquarters). 'B' (Central London south of the river), 'E' (South East London and Kent), 'H' (South London and Surrey) and 'K' (South West London south of the river and Surrey), mobilised from Croydon (the former Croydon County Borough headquarters). Finally, 'C' (the City and Inner East London), 'F' (East London including Docklands) and 'L' (North East London and SW Essex), mobilised from Stratford (the former West Ham county Borough headquarters). Each of these divisions were to a degree autonomous of each other and had their own divisional mamagement hierarchy. This arrangement lasted until the early 1990s, when the brigade was re-organised into the current arrangement.
However, the brigade is now reformed into five divisions: Northern, Eastern, Western, Southeastern and Southwestern. 21 fire stations are located in the Northern Division and have call signs prefixed "A"; 26 are in the Eastern Division with call signs prefixed "F"; Western Division consists of 21 stations with "G"-prefixed call signs; 22 are under the Southeastern Division with an "E" prefix; and the remaining 22 are based in the Southwestern Division, call signs prefixed "H". As part of this organisation, many stations were re-coded.
The internal LFB organisation consists of four directorates that all report to the Commissioner. They are:
- Fire and community safety (reports to the Deputy Commissioner);
- Operational policy and training;
- Corporate services.
In May 2007, the Department for Communities and Local Government announced that Sir Ken Knight had been appointed as the first Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser to the British government. Knight was succeeded as LFB Commissioner by Ron Dobson.
The LFB's headquarters since 2007 is located at 169 Union Street in Southwark, adjacent to the brigade's training centre, which is both the original headquarters of the Massey Shaw fire brigade and his home, Winchester House, as well as the London Fire Brigade Museum.
Fire and rescue authorities in England come under the government department formerly known as the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM). This department was responsible for legislation covering fire authorities; however, in 2006, a structural change to central government led to the creation of the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG). It is now responsible for fire and resilience in England, including London.
The Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004 changed many working practices; it was brought in to replace the Fire Services Act 1947 and repealed several existing acts, many going back fifty years. The full list of acts repealed can be found here:
The 2004 Act was drafted in response to the Independent Review of the Fire Service, often referred to as the Bain Report, after its author Professor Sir George Bain. It recommended radical changes to many working procedures and led to a national firefighter strike in 2002–2003.
Further changes to the legislative, organisational and structural fabric of the brigade, which could include varying the attendance time, the location of front line appliances and number of personnel, plus mandatory performance targets, priorities and objectives are set by the DCLG in the form of a document called the Fire and Rescue Service National Framework. The framework is set annually by the government and applies to all brigades in England. Responsibility for the rest of the UK fire service is devolved to the various parliaments and assemblies. On country-wide issues, the Chief Fire Officers Association provides the collective voice on fire, rescue and resilience issues. Membership is made up from senior officers above the rank of Assistant Chief Officer, to Chief Fire Officer (or the new title of Brigade Manager).
Following a multitude of ad-hoc firefighting arrangements and the Great Fire of London, various insurance companies established firefighting units to fight fires that occurred in buildings that their respective companies had insured. As the demands grew on the primitive firefighting units they began to co-operate with each other until, on 1 January 1833, the London Fire Engine Establishment was formed under the leadership of James Braidwood. With eighty firefighters and thirteen fire stations, the unit was still a private enterprise, funded by the insurance companies and as such was responsible mainly for saving material goods from fire.
Several large fires, most notably at the Palace of Westminster in 1834 and warehouses by the River Thames in 1861, spurred the insurance companies to lobby the UK government to provide the brigade at public expense and management. After due consideration, in 1865 the Metropolitan Fire Brigade Act was passed, creating the Metropolitan Fire Brigade under the leadership of Captain (later Sir) Eyre Massey Shaw. In 1904 the brigade was renamed as the London Fire Brigade. The LFB moved into a new headquarters built by Higgs and Hill on the Albert Embankment in Lambeth in 1937.
During the Second World War fire brigades were amalgamated into a single National Fire Service. The separate London Fire Brigade for the county of London was re-established in 1948. With the formation of Greater London in 1965, this absorbed most of the Middlesex Fire Brigade, the borough brigades for West Ham, East Ham and Croydon and parts of the Essex, Hertfordshire, Surrey and Kent brigades.
In 1986 the Greater London Council (GLC) was disbanded. A new statutory authority, the London Fire and Civil Defence Authority (LFCDA) was formed to take responsibility for the LFB. The LFCDA was replaced on 3 July 2000, when the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA) took over. At the same time, the Greater London Authority (GLA) was established to administer the LFEPA and coordinate emergency planning for London. Consisting of the Mayor of London and other elected members, the GLA also takes responsibility for the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA), Transport for London (TfL) and other functions.
In 2007 the LFB vacated its Lambeth headquarters and moved to a site in Southwark.
Commissioners and chief officers
Extract from: London Fire Brigade key dates
Ron Dobson is the current Commissioner, having taken up the role in 2007. Dobson has served in the LFB since 1979 and was awarded the Queen's Fire Service Medal in 2005, and in 2011 a CBE for his distinguished contribution to the fire and rescue service.
- 2007 to present: Ron Dobson, CBE
- 2003 to 2007: Sir Ken Knight
- 1991 to 2003: Brian Robinson (first Commissioner)
- 1987 to 1991: Gerald Clarkson
- 1980 to 1987: Ronald Bullers
- 1976 to 1980: Peter Darby
- 1970 to 1976: Joseph Milner
- 1962 to 1970: Leslie Leete
- 1948 to 1962: Sir Frederick Delve
- (1941 to 1948: all fire brigades nationalised)
- 1939 to 1941: D.C.O. Jackson (Firebrace seconded to the Home Office)
- 1938 to 1941: Aylmer Firebrace
- 1933 to 1938: Maj. Cyril Morris
- 1918 to 1933: Arthur Dyer
- 1909 to 1918: Lt. Cdr. Sampson Sladen, RN
- 1903 to 1909: R.Adm. Hamilton
- 1896 to 1903: Capt. Wells
- 1891 to 1896: James Sexton Simmonds (resigned)
- 1861 to 1891: Capt. Sir Eyre Massey Shaw (superintendent)
- 1833 to 1861: James Braidwood (director of the London Fire Engine Establishment, died in action)
The London Fire Brigade, along with many UK fire and rescue services has adopted a change in rank structure. The traditional ranks – to the left of the column below – have been replaced in the LFB, by new titles more descriptive to the job function.
The old titles are still in use in many of the UK's other brigades and fire authorities.
|Former title||Modern title|
|Leading Firefighter||Crew Manager|
|Sub-Officer||Watch Manager A|
|Station Officer||Watch Manager B|
|Assistant Divisional Officer||Station Manager|
|Divisional Officer||Group Manager / Area Manager|
|Senior Divisional Officer||Area Commander / Deputy Assistant Chief Officer|
|Assistant Chief Officer||Assistant Commissioner (LFB)
Brigade Manager (outside London)
|Deputy Chief Officer||Deputy Commissioner (LFB)
|Chief Fire Officer||Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning (LFB)|
|Fireman 4th Class||Fireman||Fireman/Firewoman||Firefighter||Firefighter|
|Fireman 3rd Class||Senior Fireman||Leading Fireman/Firewoman||Leading Firefighter||Crew Commander (A)|
|Fireman 2nd Class||Sub-Officer||Sub-Officer||Sub-Officer||Crew Commander (B)
(or Watch Commander A [one-pump stations only])
|Fireman 1st Class||Station Officer||Station Officer||Station Officer||Watch Commander (B)|
|Junior Fireman||Assistant District Officer||Assistant Divisional Officer
(Station Commander from 1986)
|Assistant Divisional Officer (or Station Commander)||Station Commander
(or Deputy Group Commander)
|Senior Fireman||District Officer||Divisional Officer||Divisional Officer||Divisional Officer
(or Group Commander)
|Senior District Officer||Deputy Assistant Chief Officer||Assistant Chief Officer (or Area Commander)||Assistant Chief Officer
(or Area Commander)
|Deputy Superintendent||Deputy Chief Officer||Deputy Chief Fire Officer||Deputy Chief Officer||Deputy Chief Officer|
|Assistant Chief Fire Officer
(or Area Commander)
|Superintendent||Chief Officer||Chief Fire Officer||Chief Fire Officer||Chief Fire Officer|
Recruitment and training
Professional firefighter training usually lasts about four months and takes place at the LFB's specialist training centre in Southwark. On successful completion, the newly qualified firefighter is posted to a fire station to work on a shift pattern – currently two day shifts (ten and half hours), followed by two night shifts (thirteen and half hours), followed by four days off. Working patterns were the subject of scrutiny in Professor Bain's Independent Review of the Fire Service.
After training school, firefighters serve a one-year period of probation, and many choose to take formal promotion exams. Qualification and full pay are not reached until the candidate completes their large goods vehicle (LGV) driving course as well as their development folder which usually takes around 12–18 months. Ongoing training – both theoretical and practical – continues throughout the firefighter's career.
The agreement followed two 8-hour daytime strikes by the FBU in protest at the LFB's intention to change the shift pattern from two 9-hour day shifts then two 15-hour night shifts followed by three days off, to two 12-hour day shifts then two 12-hour night shifts followed by four days off.
A London Fire Brigade report published in March 2012 stated that the shift changes have improved safety in the city. Compared with the 12 months prior to the shift changes, the 12 months following them saw firefighters able to spend more time on training, community safety work, and home safety visits (including the free fitting of smoke alarms).
Firefighters usually gain promotion by taking examinations. Until July 2006, these were administered by the Fire Services Examinations Board who set national written exams for promotion to the rank of Leading Firefighter, Crew Manager and Watch Manager (see above).
Some promotion exams can be substituted by qualifications from the Institution of Fire Engineers. Firefighters and civilians such as building inspectors, scientists, surveyors and other practising professionals, take these qualifications either by written test or research.
Future promotion exams will be set using the Integrated Personal Development System (IPDS).
Firefighting, special services and fire prevention
In 2010/11, the LFB handled a total of 212,657 emergency calls, including 5,241 hoax calls (although it only mobilised to 2,248 of those malicious false alarms). During the same period, it dealt with 13,367 major fires. There were 6,731 dwelling fires, including 748 that had been started deliberately; 73 people died in 58 fatal fires.
A special service is defined as every other non-fire related emergency, such as:
- Lift releases (9,395 in 2010/11);
- Effecting entry/exit (7,276 in 2010/11);
- Flooding (6,956 in 2010/11);
- Traffic collisions (3,604 in 2010/11);
- Spills and leaks (1,479 in 2010/11);
- Assisting other agencies (855 in 2010/11);
- "Making safe" operations (782 in 2010/11);
- Animal rescues (583 in 2010/11);
- Hazardous materials incidents (353 in 2010/11);
- General evacuations (322 in 2010/11);
- Suicides or attempts (229 in 2010/11); and
- Waterborne rescues (38 in 2010/11).
The full scope of the brigade's duties and powers is enshrined in the Fire and Rescue Act 2004.
Firefighters and, in some cases, specialist teams from the brigade's fire investigation unit, based at Dowgate, also investigate arson incidents, often working alongside the police and providing evidence in court. In 2008/09, deliberate fires accounted for 28% of all those attended by the LFB, a 28% reduction on the previous year.
The other core duty of the brigade is to "prevent damage", and day-to-day fire prevention duties.
The LFB provides fire cover according to a system of four risk categories which have traditionally been used across the UK, where every building is rated for its risk on a scale from "A" down to "D". The risk category determines the minimum number of appliances to be sent in a pre-determined mobilisation.
Category "A" includes areas with a high density of large buildings and/or population, such as offices or factories. Three fire engines are to arrive at "A" risks within eight minutes, the first two within five minutes.
Areas with a medium density of large buildings and/or population, such as multi-storey residential blocks, will generally be classified "B" risk. Two fire engines will be deployed, with one to arrive within five minutes and the second within eight minutes.
Category "C" covers lower density, suburban areas and detached properties. One fire engine should arrive at a "C" risk incident within ten minutes. More rural areas not covered by the first three categories will be considered "D" risk. One fire engine should arrive at "D" risks within 20 minutes.
In 2007/08, the first fire engine mobilised to a 999 call arrived within five minutes 58.8% of the time, and within eight minutes 90% of the time. The second fire engine deployed arrived within eight minutes 81.9% of the time, and within ten minutes 92.4% of the time.
In 2010/11, the average response time of the first fire engine was 5 minutes 34 seconds, and of the second fire engine was 6 minutes 53 seconds.
The Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004 gives the UK fire services the ability to call upon other services or fire authorities in what is known as mutual assistance. For example, the LFB played a comprehensive role in assisting Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service at the Buncefield fire in 2005. In 2010/11 the LFB assisted at 424 "over the border" incidents.
The other fire services that adjoin the LFB are:
- Essex County Fire and Rescue Service,
- Kent Fire and Rescue Service,
- Surrey Fire and Rescue Service,
- Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service,
- Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service, and
- Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service.
Determining the size of an incident
The LFB, along with all other UK fire and rescue services, determines the size of a fire or special service by the final number of appliances mobilised to deal with it. For example, two appliances are despatched to a "B" risk area in response to a fire call in a residential house. The officer-in-charge can request additional appliances by transmitting a radio message such as, "make pumps 4", or if persons are believed to be involved or trapped, "make pumps 4, persons reported". The control room will then deploy a further two appliances making a total of four. Informally, firefighters refer to such fires as 'a make up' or 'a 4-pumper';  when the fire is out, if no other pumping appliances were despatched, this would be recorded as a '4-pump fire'.
If an incident is more serious, it can be escalated straight to a 6-, 8- or 10-pump fire and beyond – in London this is usually completed in even numbers, though it is not uncommon for a 10-pump fire to be 'made up' to 15 if necessary. A call to, say, a large warehouse ablaze could be escalated straight to a 10-pump fire. The 2007 Cutty Sark fire required 8 pumps; as a serious incident escalates, the brigade deploys senior officers, Command Units and any specialist appliances required.
Examples of 25-pump fires include the blaze at Alexandra Palace in 1980, and at The Royal Marsden Hospital, Chelsea, in 2008, the latter also involving four aerial appliances. The King's Cross fire in 1987 was a 30-pump fire, as was the blaze at Oxford Street shops on 26 April 2007. Pumping appliances can only operate with a minimum crew of four, and a maximum of six (although this is rare) so it is possible to estimate the number of firefighters attending an incident by multiplying the number of pumps by five. For example, the Cutty Sark fire was described as "an 8-pump fire attended by 40 firefighters".
Core services are paid for by London's council tax payers and through central government funding known as a grant settlement; each council tax payer's bill will include a precept – a specific part of their bill that contributes to the funding of the fire brigade. Those in need of the LFB's services in an emergency do not pay, but the brigade can provide additional special services for which it may charge where there is no immediate threat to life or imminent risk of injury.
Examples of these special services which may be charged for include the clearing of flooded commercial premises, the use of brigade equipment for supplying or removing water, and making structures safe in cases where there is no risk of personal injury to the public.
Safety and fire prevention
LFB firefighters and watch officers often visit residential and commercial premises to advise on hazard risk assessment and fire prevention. They also provide safety education to schools and youth groups. Each of the London boroughs has a central fire safety office that collates and coordinates fire prevention work in accordance with legislation, and they are supported by a dedicated team of specialist officers.
In 2010/11, the LFB made 70,016 home fire safety visits. Over 100,000 children are seen each year by the brigade's schools team. Around half of all serious fires occur in the home, and many house fires attended by the LFB no smoke alarm was fitted, despite the LFB fitting tens of thousands in homes every year.
The LFB has 112 fire stations, including one independent river station, across the 32 London boroughs and the City of London. They are staffed 24 hours per day by full-time employees of the brigade, and are linked to a control centre in the Docklands. This centre was opened in 2004; calls to it are fed from 999 operators at BT, Cable & Wireless and Global Crossing.
Central London stations can attend up to 8,000 calls per year, inner-city stations about 3,000 to 4,000 calls per year (these tend to be the stations that are busy serving the poorer densely-populated areas), and outlying or suburban fire stations may attend around 1,500 calls which include road traffic accidents, grass fires and house fires.
Some UK fire authorities use part-time, or 'retained', firefighters who live and work near their local station and are on-call, but the LFB is one of only two UK fire services where all operational staff are full-time employees.
Each station has four shifts, or 'watches': red, white, blue and green; with a Watch Manager in charge of each. The overall management of the station falls to the Station Manager, who will also attend serious incidents, as well as spending time on call.
A group of one (City of London) to six (Tower Hamlets) stations within a borough are managed by a Borough Commander (Group Manager) who interacts strategically on a local level with the Borough Commander for the police and the chief executive of the local authority.
More than half of the LFB's fire stations have two conventional fire appliances, also known as pumps and pump ladders. These are generally the busier stations receiving over 2,000 emergency calls (known colloquially by firefighters as "shouts") per year. They may also be stations of strategic importance, or those located in areas considered high risk. The remaining stations have a single pump and generally attend fewer than 2,000 calls per year. Many stations also have other specialist vehicles allocated to them.
In 2012, the LFB purchased five Mini Countrymans for conversion into 'instant response vehicles'. The two-seat cars are fitted with six extinguishers (two each of water, foam and powder), plus a first-aid kit and defibrillator, and may be deployed to investigate automatic alarms actuating and smaller fires such as those in rubbish bins which do not require a full-sized engine and crew. The brigade has indicated a wish to add more smaller vehicles to its fleet, including crossover utility vehicles like the BMW X5 and Audi Q7 which could be fitted with water pumps, breathing apparatus and pull-out equipment drawers, and with enough space for four firefighters.
The LFB's frontline operational fleet consists of:
- Around 170 dual-purpose pumps and pump-ladders (P / PL) (plus around 45 reserves and 25 for various training purposes)
- 16 fire rescue units (FRU) (plus 3 reserves and 1 for training)
- 14 urban search and rescue prime-movers (USAR) (with five different types of equipment pods)
- 11 aerial ladder platforms or turntable ladders (ALP / TL) (plus 5 reserves)
- 10 incident response units (IRU)
- 9 high-volume pumps (HVP)
- 8 command units (CSU) (plus 1 reserve)
- 6 fire investigation units (FIU) (plus 1 reserve)
- 6 operational support units (OSU) (plus 1 reserve)
- 5 instant response vehicles (IRV)
- 4 hose layer units (HLU) (plus 1 reserve)
- 3 bulk foam units (BFU)
- 2 detection, identification and monitoring units (DIM)
- 2 scientific support units (SSU)
- 1 fire investigation dog unit (FID)
- 1 heavy distribution unit (HDU)
- 1 all-terrain pump (6WD)
- 1 media resource unit (MRS)
- 1 fireboat (plus 1 for training and exercises)
The programme of improvements in staffing and equipment undertaken by the LFB since the September 11 attacks to improve London's resilience and its capability to deal with major emergencies, including the threat of terrorism has included: ten Incident Response Units; two Scientific Support Units; four different types of urban search and rescue (USAR) vehicles and ten USAR personnel carriers; three mass decontamination resilience units; and six equipment carriers known as Operational Support Units.
Architecturally, fire stations vary in age and design from Edwardian era red-brick fire houses to modern spacious blocks complete with additional specialist facilities. Early fire stations were originally built with horse-drawn appliances in mind and with traditional features such as the fireman's pole, used by firefighters to gain rapid access from their upstairs quarters to the fire engine garages below when summoned. The oldest station still operational in London is at Clerkenwell.
More modern fire stations, though constructed without such features, often have more spacious accommodation and facilities for staff of both sexes, public visitor areas such as community safety offices and other amenities. An example of these is the new fire station in Hammersmith which opened in 2003, just a few hundred yards along Shepherd's Bush Road from the previous local fire station which had been constructed in 1913.
Modernisation and the Improvement Program
In 2008, existing LFB facilities were deemed unsuitable to meet the demands of modern firefighting and training. The LFB has been training firefighters at its current Grade 2 listed building in Southwark since 1878.
In response, the LFB signed a partnership contract with Babcock International Group PLC to provide firefighter training over the course of 25 years beginning in 2012. Babcock is also the number one training provider to the Royal Navy, which includes firefighter training. The improvement program for firefighting training will introduce two new dedicated training centres and upgrades to 10 regional training centres. There will also be further improvements through additional computers and training facilities across many of the capital’s 113 fire stations. The new firefighting training systems, supplied by Process Combustion Ltd, will have low environmental impact and will allow firefighter training to take place at night under simulated extreme conditions that firefighters will face on incident ground. In addition to improving training facilities, Babcock's proposals will increase the amount of time available for firefighter training and save the LFB an estimated £66m over the next 25 years.
Fire station closures
The creation of the Greater London Council in 1965 saw the number of LFB stations increase. The LFB absorbed some stations from the county brigades. At the time there were a handful of smaller brigades: Middlesex, Croydon, West Ham and East Ham – they were all incorporated into the LFB. By 1965 the LFB had 115 stations, plus two river stations. The LFB has an ongoing policy of upgrading existing fire stations, and building new stations to replace those that are no longer suitable for the requirements of a modern day fire service. It has gained one new station at Heathrow Airport, but in recent years the total number of stations has reduced slightly, with some permanent closures:
- 2005: Manchester Square, West End
- 1999: Barbican, the City
- 1998: Heathrow Airport (new station opened when the central terminal area was re-classified as "A" risk)
- 1998: Shooter's Hill, south London
- 1993: Sanderstead (originally a Surrey Fire Brigade station)
In February 2010, Boris Johnson officially opened the LFB's first new station in four years, at Harold Hill. The mayor hailed the station's exceptional environmental sustainability, calling it the "greenest station in the capital".
In January 2013, Johnson ordered the fire brigade authority to hold a consultation over the possibility of closing 12 of the LFB's 112 fire stations. He said crews attended half as many fires as a decade prior, while fatalities in fires were down by one-third. The stations earmarked for closure were Belsize, Bow, Clapham, Clerkenwell, Downham, Kingsland, Knightsbridge, New Cross, Silvertown, Southwark, Westminster, and Woolwich. The following month, the authority voted to reject Johnson's order, saying it did not support the proposal to close the stations.
Regional control centre
In October 2007, the Department for Communities and Local Government announced that the location for the new regional control centre, dedicated to the capital and part of the FiReControl project, would be at the Merton industrial estate in the London Borough of Merton.
Major or notable incidents
The geographical area covered by the LFB along with the major transport infrastructure and the political, business and administrative bases typical of a capital city has seen the brigade involved in many significant incidents.
Major incident procedure
A "major incident" is defined as any emergency that requires the implementation of special arrangements by one or more of London's emergency services and will generally include the involvement, either directly or indirectly, of large numbers of people.
Any member of any of the emergency services can initiate a major incident. Responsibility for the rescue of persons involved lies with the LFB. The care and transportation of casualties to hospital is the responsibility of the London Ambulance Service. Police will ease these operations by co-ordinating the emergency services, local authorities and other agencies.
When a major incident is declared the services, along with civilian agencies, use a structural system known as gold-silver-bronze command that allows them to follow a set procedure for incident management. Put simply, gold relates to strategic control of an incident, silver to tactical command, and bronze to operational control. The term gold command can also relate to an emergency service building, mobile control unit or other base that becomes the focal point (often remotely) for the incident's management.
Additionally, a major incident can lead to the government activating its coordination facility, known as COBR.
Incidents of note
Notable incidents, some declared "major incidents" and some in which firefighters lost their lives, where the LFB has played a significant role include:
- Vauxhall helicopter crash, 2013
- Almost 150 firefighters were involved in operations following a helicopter crash in Vauxhall in misty conditions during the morning rush-hour on 16 January 2013. Several specialist vehicles, including heavy rescue and urban search and rescue, were mobilised to the scene where the wreckage fell onto a street, damaging five cars and two motorbikes and two adjacent buildings, after the aircraft's rotor blades struck a construction crane attached to St George Wharf Tower. The pilot and one person on the ground were killed in the incident. Fire crews also attended the tower block where the crane was left in a precarious position, and evacuated hundreds of workers and dozens of homes. A fireboat also carried out a precautionary search of the nearby River Thames.
- Dagenham recycling centre fire, 2012 (40 pumps)
- Over 200 firefighters attended what was described by the LFB commissioner as the largest fire in London "for several years". The LFB took just over four hours to bring under control the one-storey recycling plant the size of a football pitch which was completely alight, sending a plume of smoke over east London. In addition to 40 fire engines, an aerial ladder platform, command unit, hose layer and three operational support vehicles were mobilised to the scene.
- Camden Market fire, 2008 (20 pumps)
- Fire ravaged the stalls at the historic Camden Market on 9 February 2008, forcing the evacuation of 450 people from the area, including 100 from their homes. Twenty fire engines and over 100 firefighters fought to bring the blaze under control within six hours and prevent any loss of life.
- Cutty Sark fire (6 pumps)
- Although no lives were endangered and a major incident was not initiated, the fire at the historic tea clipper Cutty Sark on 21 May 2007 became a notable incident for the widespread interest of national media and the unusual circumstances – having been caused by an industrial vacuum cleaner inadvertently left on by renovation workers for 48 hours. Two fire appliances and an aerial appliance arrived at the scene within six minutes of the initial call to emergency services, and the commanding officer immediately requested an additional four appliances; firefighters brought the blaze under control within an hour.
- Oxford Street, 2007 (30 pumps)
- From 27 to 28 April 2007 London's busiest shopping area was closed whilst more than 100 firefighters tackled a large fire in a flat above a department store on Oxford Street. The clothing retail chain New Look was later fined a record £400,000 for fire safety breaches.
- Buncefield oil terminal fire
- The UK's largest peacetime fire broke out on 11 December 2005 at the Hertfordshire Oil Storage Terminal. Although the major incident was attended by the LFB, its role was assisting and providing additional foam supplies to neighbouring brigade Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service, to the north of London, whose "ground" the incident took place in.
- 7 July 2005 bombings (12/12/10 pumps)
- Multiple major incidents were declared across London in response to the 7/7 terrorist attacks. A total of 34 pumps and 9 fire rescue units were mobilised to the four bomb sites.
- Poplar shops and flats, 2004 (8 pumps)
- A fire in shops and flats in Bethnal Green Road, Poplar, on 20 July 2004 gained coverage in the national media due to the deaths of two LFB firefighters. The first LFB fatalities since 1993 were two of the 50 mobilised to the scene.
- Buckingham Palace fire, 2002 (20 pumps)
- Fire broke out on 2 June 2002 in the west terrace of Buckingham Palace. At its peak, 20 fire engines and 100 firefighters were on the scene, and in the course of firefighting operations four people were rescued from the roof. The Royal Family were away at the time.
- Paddington train crash (12 pumps)
- Also known as the Ladbroke Grove rail crash, two trains collided a short distance outside of Paddington station on 5 October 1999, killing 31 people.
- Cannon Street train crash
- Two people were killed and over 500 injured in the Cannon Street station rail crash on 8 January 1991.
- Marchioness disaster
- The Marchioness disaster of August 1989 involved a collision on the River Thames between a pleasure boat, the Marchioness, and a gravel dredger, the Bowbelle, resulting in the sinking of the Marchioness and the deaths of 51 people. Initial confusion over which bridge the ship had sunk next to meant fireboats and fire engines were sent in the wrong direction. It was not until half an hour later that a station officer from Southwark radioed: "Marchioness sunk, believed downstream of Blackfrairs Bridge with unknown number of people in river and Met Police searching river between Blackfriars and Waterloo Bridges."
- Clapham Junction train crash
- The Clapham Junction rail crash occurred on 12 December 1988, when a busy commuter train passed a defective signal and ran into the back of a second train, derailing it into the path of an oncoming third train. Thirty-five people died and 69 others suffered serious injury.
- King's Cross fire
- The King's Cross fire broke out on 18 November 1987 under a wooden escalator leading from one of the King's Cross Underground station platforms to the surface. The blaze and smoke claimed 31 lives, including that of Soho station officer Colin Townsley while he rescued a woman from a ticket office. Investigation and research of the fire resulted in the discovery of the trench effect.
- New Cross house fire
- The New Cross house fire of 18 January 1981 claimed the lives of 13 people, all aged between 14 and 22, attending a birthday party. The exact and true cause has never been established.
- Soho nightclub fire, 1980
- In the early hours of 15 August 1980, a man who was earlier ejected from an illegal drinking and gambling club in Soho returned with gasoline and started a fire that killed 37 people and injured 23 others.
- The Granary warehouse, 1978 (35 pumps, 6 turntable ladders)
- 1 October 1978 saw one of London's largest post-World War II fires at The Granary warehouse on St. Pancras Way. At the first call at 2.58am, three fire engines and a turntable ladder were sent to the scene. The scale of the blaze is evidenced by the rapid development of the LFB's mobilisation: make pumps 4 at 3:05am, make pumps 6 at 3:07am, make pumps 10 at 3:12am, make pumps 15 and turntable ladders 2 at 3:19am, make turntable ladders 4 at 3:39am, make pumps 20 and turntable ladders 6 at 3:51am, make pumps 25 at 4:19am, make hose layers 2 at 4:30am, and make pumps 35 at 5:13am. At 4.50am, the structure suffered a major collapse, killing firefighter Stephen Neil from Barbican station, seriously injuring three others, and destroying two fire engines.
- Moorgate tube crash
- The Moorgate tube crash was a disaster on the London Underground on 28 February 1975 when a train failed to stop and crashed into the buffers at the end of a tunnel. The driver and 42 passengers were killed.
- Worsley Hotel fire (30 pumps)
- The Worsley Hotel fire of 13 December 1974 was an arson attack that killed seven people, including probationary firefighter Hamish Petit of Paddington station. Four fire engines, a turntable ladder and emergency tender were initially mobilised to the scene, gradually increased to 30 pumps with three turntable ladders, three emergency tenders, and hose layers. A 41-year-old kitchen porter was convicted of the attack and seven counts of manslaughter and was jailed for life.
- 1970s–90s IRA bombing campaign
- During the 1970s–90s IRA bombing campaign throughout the last quarter of the 20th century, several major bombings were carried out in London by the Provisional IRA, including at the Palace of Westminster, Tower of London, and Harrods. A list of these and other bombings in London to which the LFB responded can be found here.
- Dudgeons Wharf, 1969
- Dudgeons Wharf on the Isle of Dogs contained a site of over 100 tanks of various capacities up to 20,000 gallons used for storing oils and spirits. A fire started when workmen were cutting up old oil tanks. The LFB was called – six pumps, a foam tender and the fireboat Massey Shaw – and while firefighters tackled the fire an oil tank exploded. Five firefighters from Millwall and Poplar stations were killed, the largest single loss of life in the LFB since the Second World War.
- Bishopsgate goods depot, 1964 (40 pumps, 12 turntable ladders)
- London's main freight terminal at Bishopsgate was gutted by a spectacular fire on 5 December 1964. Within 37 minutes of the first crews arriving on scene, the scale of the blaze was so intense and widespread that 40 fire engines had been mobilised. In addition, 12 turntable ladders, two hose layers, two emergency tenders, and 235 firefighters battled the fire which killed two customs officials and destroyed hundreds of railway wagons, dozens of motor vehicles and millions of pounds worth of goods. The site remained derelict for the next 30 years until being rebuilt as Shoreditch High Street railway station.
- Smithfield market, 1958 (50 pumps)
- Over the course of firefighting operations at London's central meat market in January 1958, a total of 389 fire engines with more than 1,700 firefighters from 58 fire stations worked in shifts to tackle a fire of exceptional proportions.
- After the initial call, the LFB mobilised three pumps, a turntable ladder and emergency tender at 2.18am. Upon arrival, a station officer and firefighter from Clerkenwell station headed down into the basement where it was apparent a major fire had broken out. Both became trapped in the basement cellars and suffocated to death. Excessive heat, dense smoke and worsening conditions meant crews had to be rotated as frequently as every 15 minutes, as firefighters suffered from severe heat exhaustion.
- 24 hours later, with 800 oxygen cylinders used, the fire in the basement suddenly broke up into the first floor of the market, with flames 100 ft in the air, engulfing the entire market. The fire, although brought under control and reduced, was not fully extinguished for two weeks. Valuable lessons were learnt after the Smithfield blaze, including introducing a tally system of firefighters' locations and quantity of breathing apparatus.
- On the 50th anniversary of the Smithfield blaze, in 2008, the then Deputy Commissioner of the LFB said: "This was a landmark fire in the history of London and its fire brigade. It is important that we remember this tragic fire and honour the memory of the two London firefighters who lost their lives."
- Covent Garden warehouse fire, 1954
- While fighting a fire in a five-storey warehouse adjacent to Covent Garden, a station officer and firefighter, both of Clerkenwell station, were killed. Six more were hospitalised, with three requiring plastic surgery treatment.
- London Blitz
- On 7 September 1940, a sub-officer at West Ham fire station witnessed the start of the Blitz by Nazi Germany on London. He reported that three miles of waterfront buildings had become a continuous blaze, and ordered 500 fire engines to be mobilised. The commander thought this an exaggeration and sent someone to investigate the situation, who reported back that 1,000 were required! More than 300 firefighters perished in the widespread and sustained bombing campaign, including two in a direct hit on Soho fire station and six in a direct hit on Wandsworth fire station.
- Colonial Wharf, 1935 (60 pumps)
- An eight-storey rubber warehouse in Wapping High Street burned for four days from 27 September 1935, with 60 fire engines in attendance. It was the first major incident for one of the LFB's most famous fireboats, the Massey Shaw, which greatly assisted land crews, who were hampered by inaccessibility, by supplying a vast water jet to allow the land crews to regroup and prevent the fire from spreading to adjoining warehouses.
- Vauxhall, 1918
- A fire on 30 January 1918 claimed the lives of seven London firefighters. Staff at Vauxhall fire station were alerted to the incident by a passer-by, and upon arrival found a three-storey private house well alight, with the roof and upper floor partially collapsed. The fire was extinguished within two hours but firefighters remained in the building dampening down. It was then, while the men were on the ground floor, that the building suffered a total structural collapse. Six firefighters died on scene, one later from severe injury, and two suffered lesser injuries.
- Houses of Parliament, 1834 (12 pumps)
In popular culture
- Fire Wars: In July 2003, the BBC followed the arson investigators of the LFB's fire investigation unit. The two-part series looked at how the LFB investigated "4,000 fires where the cause was unknown". The second programme, Fire Wars: Murder Most Foul, centred on one investigation.
- London's Burning: The ITV television series London's Burning was based on the fictional Blackwall fire station and centred on characters of the station's blue watch. It was originally a 1986 television film, written by Jack Rosenthal. The fire station used as the principal location in the drama was Dockhead, near London Bridge, before moving to Leyton fire station in east London late in the series. The series that followed the film ran from 1988 to 2002.
- Fire!: The LFB's Kingsland Road fire station in Hackney, east London, was the focus of a documentary series by Thames Television for ITV, broadcast in the spring of 1991. The documentary brought about an internal inquiry by the LFB after scenes were shown of firefighters having a food fight at a Christmas party in one of the programmes. Several watch members from Kingsland Road were suspended after the programme was broadcast on 27 June 1991.
- Fireman! A Personal Account: Former London firefighter Neil Wallington wrote an account of his experience in the LFB called Fireman! A Personal Account, published in 1979. He chronicled his transition from a firefighter in the Croydon Fire Brigade through to his reaching the rank of station officer in the LFB. He went on to become the Chief Fire Officer of the Devon fire brigade (now known as Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service) and has written several books about fire services over the world. Wallington's work outlined the change in working conditions in the LFB in the 1970s, a time that saw the working hours of firefighters reduced and conditions improved.
- Red Watch: The former ITN newsreader Gordon Honeycombe became friendly with Neil Wallington while he was a station officer at Paddington fire station. In 1976, Honeycombe published an account of the Worsley Hotel fire, a major fire at a hostel in Maida Vale in 1974 that claimed the lives of seven people including one firefighter. The resulting book was called Red Watch; it provided a graphic account of a single incident, and outlined some of the changes to working practises that resulted from it.
- Chief Fire Officers Association
- Cyril Demarne
- Eyre Massey Shaw
- Fire Service College
- Fire services in the United Kingdom
- Institution of Fire Engineers
- London Fire Brigade equipment
- London Fire Brigade Museum
- London Salvage Corps
Other emergency services
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- London Air Ambulance
- Metropolitan Police Service
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