History of Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service

Old Fire Engine
Old Fire Engine and firefighters in old uniforms

Establishment of Fire Brigades

The first fire brigades were established as a result of the Great Fire of London in 1666 which destroyed 13,000 homes, 84 churches, 44 livery halls plus numerous commercial and public buildings. Remarkably, only six people were killed. These first fire brigades were formed and maintained by insurance companies and a plaque unique to each insurance company identified properties covered. It was not until the passing of the Fire Brigade Act in 1938 that the provision of a Fire Brigade became a formal requirement. In 1941 all localised brigades were brought together under the common National Fire Service who combined and standardised the available resources following the end of World War II. The Fire Services Act 1947 handed the running of brigades back to the County Borough Councils. The change of the county boundaries in 1974 saw a further re-organisation take place.

At that time the Fire Services in England were broadly divided into two categories, Metropolitan Services and Shire Services. 

The Metropolitan Fire Services were: - 

  • London

  • Greater Manchester

  • Merseyside

  • Tyne and Wear

  • South Yorkshire

  • West Midlands

  • West Yorkshire

Tyne and Wear Metropolitan Fire Brigade was established in 1974 made up of four former smaller brigades and parts of two other brigades (Durham County, Northumberland County, Newcastle and Gateshead, Sunderland, South Shields and Tynemouth) and is managed by the Chief Fire Officer at Service Headquarters in Washington Tyne and Wear.  Since 1986, the Service has been the responsibility of the Tyne & Wear Fire & Civil Defence Authority (Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Authority as of 2005).

The Service area spans two divisions, North and South, with 18 stations covering 540 square kilometres and 1.08 million citizens. Both divisions come under the control of an Area Manager Service Delivery, with each having its own Fire Safety Department to ensure that Fire Safety measures are maintained to the required standard. 

At station level, operational personnel are divided into four shifts or watches (Red, White, Blue, Green) each controlled by a Watch Manager. The Watch Manager is responsible to the District Officer. The number and type of appliances designated to that station dictate the number of people on a watch.

The Control Room is situated at Service Headquarters and is a continuously staffed Mobilising and Communications Centre. The Control Room employs a fully computerised appliance mobilising system that gives an audible alarm and a printer message to the station required to attend an incident.

Relationship with Local Authorities

Whilst the Chief Fire Officer is responsible for the day to day running of the brigade he reports to Tyne & Wear Fire and Rescue Authority, which came into being following the abolition of Tyne and Wear Metropolitan Council whose responsibilities were spread amongst the five district councils. Each district is represented on a joint committee for example Police Authority, Museums, or Newcastle Airport. Each district was given a duty to ‘lead’ on one or more function.  In our case the City of Sunderland became the lead Authority for the fire service providing support from their district in areas such as payroll and legal services.

The Authority decides on policy following advice from the Chief Fire Officer and is made up of nominees from the five district authorities: - 

  • Gateshead Metropolitan Borough Council

  • Newcastle City Council

  • North Tyneside Metropolitan Borough Council

  • South Tyneside Metropolitan Borough Council

  • City of Sunderland

Some elected members are confined to representing their own District Committees. Some however, represent their Districts on Joint Committees such as the Tyne & Wear Fire and Rescue Authority.  The constitution of the Fire Authority dictates that the Chairperson will always come from the lead District – Sunderland and that one of the Vice-Chairs will come from Newcastle City Council. 

In 2004, the Government published its expectations for the Service in a publication titled "The Fire and Rescue Service" ODPM (published by The Stationery Office) followed by a framework document to explain the detail behind their proposals.  "Our Fire and Rescue Service" renames the service from simply 'Fire Brigade' to more accurately reflect the work it is involved in. 

The other main issues include: -

  1. Protect People - responds to natural disasters, floods etc. and risks associated with terrorist incidents.

  2. National, Regional and Local Responsibilities - where issues and policies dictate the level at which the issue is best actioned.

  3. Integrated Risk Management Plan - the process to have the right resources at the right place at the right time.

  4. Community Safety - as part of our Integrated Risk Management Plan the key to reduce deaths and injuries for fire and other incidents with a focus on partnership working and the role of fire-fighters in carrying out Home Risk Assessments.

This then is the future for Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service, a service capable of responding to the needs of the community, irrespective of their means and whatever their needs.