4.12 Fire Services


4.12.1 Regular Fire Service

In pre-war Bristol the Fire Brigade was staffed by 85 full-time officers and men and was operated by the city's police force. It had three permanent stations, Bridwell, its headquarters, St.George and Avonmouth and two fire floats, 'Pyronaut' moored at Prince Street and the 'Enders Gane' at Avonmouth.

4.12.2 Auxiliary Fire Service

Nationwide the fire services were to be augmented by a largely volunteer Auxiliary Fire Service, but unfortunately the AFS was to be trained by the local peacetime fire brigade and under its authority, but partly equipped and regulated on a national basis by the Home Office. It therefore had two masters and being born in dispute, to some extent remained so throughout its existence. Although AFS recruiting in Bristol got off to a poor start, by the time the 'Night Blitz' began in November 1940 some 1175 whole-time officers and men, 40 whole-time women and 3000 part-time firemen had been enrolled. By that time the organisation was also quite well equipped, with 26 Auxiliary Fire Stations having been built in Bristol, and a total of three fire floats, ten self propelled heavy units, 54 large trailer units and 140 light trailer units provided for the exclusive use of the AFS.

4.12.3 National Fire Service

Recruitment Poster
Author's Collection

Although the ARP Act of 1937 had required neighbouring fire brigades to work out reinforcing schemes so that mutual assistance could be given to whichever area was threatened, the arrival of more distant crews in fact created serious problems in command, control and communications due to the non-standardisation of equipment, drills, terminology, rank structures and uniforms. Nationalisation was the obvious way to resolve the problem and this was brought into effect on August 18th 1941, resulting Bristol becoming part of No.17 Fire Force, the HQ of which was established at "Crete Hill", Westbury on Trym.

Providing emergency water supplies in Bristol was one of the many important jobs the fire service undertook during the war, and this entailed surveying all possible sources, such as rivers, streams, ponds, lakes, culverts and even swimming pools, as well as making provision for specially constructed holding tanks ranging in size from 1000 gallon units mounted on lorries to 250,000 gallon basins constructed by the Corporation. After 1941 as the bombed sites were cleared, basements in the city were also converted into static water tanks. In some cases they were surrounded by weeds and buddleia (self sown) and one or two even had resident ducks! In addition, to help in overcoming the fracture of mains, which inevitably followed the bombing, the Home Office devised a system of 6 inch steel pipelines to cover the major risk areas and by the end of 1944, due to the diligence of the NSF, some 46 pipelines totaling 24 miles had been laid around the city and in the Avonmouth Docks area.