The 1861 Tooley Street fire from Billingsgate
Following a multitude of ad-hoc firefighting arrangements and the Great Fire of London, various insurance companies established firefighting units to tackle fires that occurred in buildings that their respective companies insured. As demands grew on the primitive firefighting units they began to coordinate and co-operate with each other until, on 1 January 1833, the London Fire Engine Establishment was formed under the leadership of James Braidwood, who had founded the first professional, municipal fire brigade in Edinburgh. He introduced a uniform that, for the first time, included personal protection from the hazards of firefighting. With 80 firefighters and 13 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 the 1861 Tooley Street fire (in which Braidwood died in action, aged 61), spurred the insurance companies to lobby the British 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 Eyre Massey Shaw, a former head of police and fire services in Belfast. In 1904 it 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, where it remained until 2007.
LFB firefighters at a warehouse in south London after a major fire in 1980
During the Second World War the country's 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 and a new statutory authority, the London Fire and Civil Defence Authority (LFCDA), was formed to take responsibility for the LFB. The LFCDA was replaced in 2000 by the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority. 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 Service, Transport for London and other functions.
In 2007 the LFB vacated its Lambeth headquarters and moved to a site in Union Street, Southwark. In the same year, the Department for Communities and Local Government announced that LFB Commissioner Ken Knight had been appointed as the first Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser to the government. Knight was succeeded as Commissioner at that time by Ron Dobson, who served for almost ten years. Dany Cotton took over in 2017, becoming the brigade's first female commissioner.
Commissioners and chief officers
As of 1 January 2020 Andy Roe is the commissioner of the LFB. He succeeds Dany Cotton, who in 2017 had become the first woman to hold the top role; Cotton resigned in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire after 32 years' service in the brigade. Prior to Cotton, Ron Dobson was the commissioner and he had served in the LFB since 1979; he was awarded a CBE for his distinguished contribution to the fire service.
- 1833 to 1861: James Braidwood (director of the London Fire Engine Establishment, died in action)
- 1861 to 1891: Capt. Eyre Massey Shaw (superintendent, later chief officer)
- 1891 to 1896: James Sexton Simmonds
- 1896 to 1903: Capt. Lionel de Latour Wells
- 1903 to 1909: RAdm. James de Courcy Hamilton
- 1909 to 1918: Lt. Cdr. Sir Sampson Sladen
- 1918 to 1933: Arthur Reginald Dyer, KPM
- 1933 to 1938: Maj. Cyril Morris, MC
- 1938 to 1941: Cdr. Sir Aylmer Firebrace, CBE
- 1939 to 1941: Maj. Frank Jackson, CBE
- 1941 to 1948: all fire brigades nationalised
- 1948 to 1962: Sir Frederick Delve, CBE
- 1962 to 1970: Leslie Leete, CBE
- 1970 to 1976: Joseph Milner
- 1976 to 1980: Peter Darby
- 1980 to 1987: Ronald Bullers
- 1987 to 1991: Gerald Clarkson
- 1991 to 2003: Brian Robinson, CBE (first commissioner)
- 2003 to 2007: Sir Ken Knight, CBE
- 2007 to 2016: Ron Dobson, CBE
- 2017 to 2019: Dany Cotton
- 2020 to present: Andy Roe