London Fire Brigade

London Fire Brigade
London Fire Brigade Logo.png
Operational area
CountryUnited Kingdom
AddressUnion Street, SE1
Agency overview[2]
Established1865; 155 years ago (1865)
Annual budget£389.2 million[1]
CommissionerAndy Roe (as of 1 January 2020)[3]
Facilities and equipment[2]
Official website

The London Fire Brigade (LFB) is the statutory fire and rescue service for London. It was formed by the Metropolitan Fire Brigade Act 1865, under the leadership of superintendent Eyre Massey Shaw.

The LFB is the busiest of all the fire services in the United Kingdom. It is the second largest in size, after the national Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, and has the largest number of full-time firefighters. It has 5,992 staff, including 5,096 operational firefighters and officers based at 102 fire stations (plus one river station).[2][4]

The LFB is led by the Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning, Dany Cotton, but she will be stepping down on 31 December 2019 and will be replaced by Andy Roe, as of 1 January 2020. The brigade and Commissioner are overseen by the Greater London Authority, which in April 2018 took over these responsibilities from the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA).[5]

In the 2015-16 financial year the LFB received 171,488 emergency calls. These consisted of: 20,773 fires, 48,696 false alarms of fire and 30,066 other calls for service.[6][7] As well as firefighting, the LFB also responds to road traffic collisions, floods, trapped-in-lift releases, and other incidents such as those involving hazardous materials or 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 of its fire engines carry first aid equipment. Since 2016, the LFB has provided first aid for some life-threatening medical emergencies (e.g. cardiac or respiratory arrest).[8]


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.[9] 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[10] and the 1861 Tooley Street fire (in which Braidwood died in action, aged 61),[9][11] 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,[9] 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.[9] The LFB moved into a new headquarters built by Higgs and Hill[12] on the Albert Embankment in Lambeth in 1937, where it remained until 2007.[13]

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.[9] 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.[9]

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.[9] The LFCDA was replaced in 2000 by the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority.[14] 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.[15] 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.[3]

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.[16]