The purpose of this article is to give a brief outline of the Fire Brigade of the Liverpool City Police, not a full breakdown of that department, if an in depth study is required I would recommend the excellent book “ Liverpool’s Finest” by Gavin Bassey.
The history of fire fighting in Liverpool dates back to the 1500’s although the fire fighters were not a uniform body but rather citizens forced into compulsory fire watching and fighting duties. This was a tedious job and many were fined for defaulting in their civic duties. Fire prevention instructions were also issued to the citizens in that gorse fencing and wooden stakes were not to be near dwellings nor were hot ashes to be taken from one house to another. There were also bellmen that would patrol the streets and on discovering a fire would vigorously ring a hand bell to alert the slumbering township.
However, the Fire Brigade as we know it today can be said to have begun life proper in 1836 with the formation of the Liverpool Borough Police.
In its embryonic stage fire fighting was rudimentary; Appliances such as they were would be placed in various locations throughout the Borough Police area, which in the early pre City days consisted of little more than the City Centre. On the outbreak of fire the patrolling Constable would make to the location of the appliance and take it to the scene of the fire.
As the Town expanded and was granted City status so too did the Fire Brigade, the Force formed a Police Fire Brigade and incorporated fire stations into most Police stations. The Fire Brigade was made part of “H” Division, there is a little confusion amongst most collectors and authors on the subject with regard to “H” Division and it must be pointed out that “H” Division was not solely the Fire Brigade it also incorporated other departments such Administration, Traffic, Street traders, Hackney Carriage, Warrants, Mounted Etc. Therefore a man in “H” Division was not necessarily a Fireman.
As time went on the Fire Brigade grew with the City and in many ways grew apart from the Police force in general as it became more professional and efficient in what it did although there was still a system of Auxiliary Firemen, these being Divisional Constables who when called upon would attend a fire and when stood down would be given a brass tally by the senior officer present which they would later surrender for extra pay.
The fire fighting appliances evolved with the City, passing from hand drawn carts to Horse drawn to steam locomotives and on to the modern machines similar to what we see today. The uniform of the Fire Brigade remained almost unchanged until the mid 1980’s with the exception of headwear which evolved from the ordinary Police helmet (with the addition of numerals to the leather band) to the brass Merryweather Helmet and on to the helmets as we know them today.
At the time of the National Police Strike of 1919 the Fire Brigade, in the main stayed loyal to the Watch Committee and the People of Liverpool.
The Status Quo remained until the outbreak of the Second World War when it was realised that a National Fire Brigade could be more efficiently handled and it was so that the Liverpool City Fire Brigade ceased to be a part of the Liverpool City Police after over one hundred years faithful service. The part played by the Liverpool Fire Brigade during the German Blitz on the City was second to none. It was anticipated that the Brigade would return to the Police after the war but this was not to be and the Liverpool City Fire Brigade came into being and progressed to the outstanding Fire and Rescue Service that we know today.
During its lifetime the Police Fire Brigade effected many courageous rescues on land and on the River Mersey, it suffered many men killed and injured. Some of these heroic deeds were recognised both locally and nationally by many awards for Gallantry alas many more were not recognised. Several daring rescues are listed within the Liverpool City Police web site and perusal of the war time London Gazette will reveal more than a few George Medals awarded to men of the Liverpool Fire Brigade. (National Fire Service)
During all the change and challenge that has confronted the Liverpool City Police Fire Brigade and later the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service one thing has remained constant and that is the courage of the officers who constantly face danger to snatch victims from the dreaded flame that has no conscience and knows no mercy.
Some Photographs including the Badges are from the Authors collection other Photographs by kind permission of Gavin Bassey, Author and Liverpool Fire-fighter. (Retired)
1. Auxiliary Firemen from “B” Division with numbered helmets.
2. Supt. Copland and men at Hatton Garden, Liverpool 2 c. 1870 .
3. Auxiliary Fireman outside Rose Hill Police Station c. 1890
4. Constable Gavin c1910. He was later killed whilst responding to a report of fire in December 1912.
5. Chief Inspector Thomas Deputy head of the Fire Brigade, 1898. Late of the 17th Lancers and veteran of the Zulu War 1878
6. Fire appliance 1870
7/8 Horse drawn Fire appliance, officers wearing brass Merryweather helmets.
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