Since earliest history, firefighting has existed in some form or another. The advanced firefighting systems of the Romans did not survive the Dark Ages and it was not until the Middle Ages that some continuous development of the service can be found.
The London City Council issued an 'Assize of Buildings' in the 12th century to encourage the use of stone as the material for partition walls between wooden houses.
Following the Great Fire of London in 1666, renewed momentum was given to firefighting. Further regulations were issued regarding firefighting and building materials. Insurance companies began to have their own fire engines and staff from around this time, and properties protected by these companies began to display plaques denoting their protection. In this way an insurance company fire appliance could readily identify whether it should offer assistance in a time of fire.
It wasn't until the Metropolitan Fire Brigade Act of 1865 that a public authority, the Metropolitan Board of Works in London, had a duty imposed upon it to extinguish fires.
With legislation limited, by and large, to permissive powers during the 19th century it was customary practice for fire brigades to receive, usually from insurance companies, payment for their services in extinguishing fires.
The Royal Commission on Fire Brigades and Fire Prevention investigated fire organisation and legislation, but action did not take place until the mid-1930s.
A departmental committee was appointed to review and revise the fire service in 1935. Published in 1936 its report, known as the Riverdale Report, considered it necessary to develop fire brigades both for meeting peacetime requirements and as an additional resource for war risks.
The Fire Brigades Act 1938
This act made it mandatory for borough and district councils to make adequate arrangements for an efficient fire service. The Home Secretary was also given various powers to provide some central Government control. Section 5 of the Act ended the close association between fire insurance Companies and firefighting by abolishing the right to charge for servicesc
Reform of the service came too late to meet wartime demands so the National Fire Service was established as a temporary measure under the auspices of the Fire Services (Emergency Provisions) Act 1941. This joined together local brigades and the Auxiliary Fire Service into a single organisation.
Fire Services Act 1947
Following another review after the war, the fire service was returned to local authority control. The statutory provisions governing the service were contained in this Act as amended by the Fire Services Act 1959, and the Local Government Acts 1979, 1985 and 1999. The Holroyd Report of 1970 made 104 detailed recommendations covering all aspects of fire brigade organisation and work. Some of the main recommendations included:
i) That Fire Brigades should remain under local authority control.
ii) The Home Office Fire Section should be reinforced to collate information, study basic problems and provide managerial services and guidance to the service. The powers of the Home Secretary should be strengthened.
The Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004
The Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004 received Royal Assent in July 2004 and came in to force on 1 October 2004. The Act replaces the Fire Services Act 1947. It puts the prevention of fires at the heart of legislation by, for example, creating a new duty to promote fire safety and by providing the flexibility for fire and rescue authorities to work with others in the community to carry out this duty.
Further information can be found on the Fire and Resilience section of the Department for Communities and Local Government website at www.communities.gov.uk/fire
Click here for an online version of the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004.