London Fire Brigade

Chief Fire Officers and Commissioners

In the last 150 years, only 19 people have been in charge of the Brigade - previously known as the Metropolitan Fire Brigade. James Braidwood has been included due to his significance in the formation of the fire brigade in London.

James Braidwood (1833 - 1861)

The founder of the country's first professional municipal fire service in Edinburgh, Braidwood became the first Superintendent of the London Fire Engine Establishment, which later became the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) and eventually London Fire Brigade.

He introduced a uniform that, for the first time, included some form of personal protection from the hazards of fire fighting as well as working hard on improving the conditions for firefighters.

Braidwood was killed in service at the Tooley Street fire of June 1861, aged 61.

Although not strictly part of the Brigade's 150th history, Braidwood was an important figure for the fire service.


Captain Sir Eyre Massey Shaw (1861 - 1891)

Former Chief Constable of Belfast, in charge of the police and fire service, Shaw became the first Chief Officer of the MFB, following its formation in 1866.

He was responsible for the introduction of the iconic brass helmet and double breasted tunic, as well as the widespread use of steam-powered fire engines throughout London. Shaw also introduced fire safety regulations in the capital and successfully secured a special bred of horses chosen for their strength and speed.

Shaw became known internationally as expert on fire prevention. He died in August 1908.


James Sexton Simmonds (1891 - 1896)

Formerly Second Officer (Deputy Chief) of the MFB, Simmonds struggled to bond with the firemen, despite changes meaning they were, for the first time, entitled to an annual week of leave and a regular day off each week.

After refusing to resign, Simmonds was dismissed following irregularities in a commercial deal; Simmonds had persuaded the council to purchase equipment he had patented, however, he omitted to tell them he was the inventor and would, as a result, benefit from the purchases.


Captain Lionel de Latour Wells (1896 - 1903)

A retired Royal Navy Officer, Wells was very popular among firemen as he set about trying to improve working conditions. He persuaded the council to enlarge the Brigade, so as to allow annual leave to be taken, and introduced training for firemen to deal with the new dangers posed by electricity, gas and other chemicals.

He was responsible for introducing an improved, horse-drawn 50ft wooden-wheeled escape ladder, which removed the need for street escape stations.


Rear Admiral James de Courcy Hamilton (1903 - 1909)

Hamilton joined the Royal Navy in 1873 and was sub-lieutenant on the Helicon during the Egyptian War of 1882.

He continued the modernisation of the Brigade - when he took over it had only one motor steamer, by the time he resigned it had six motor escapes and various other motor vehicles.

Hamilton left the Brigade to become Director of the Army and Navy Stores. He died in February 1936.


Lieutenant Commander Sir Sampson Sladen (1909 - 1918)

Former Royal Navy and Third Officer (Assistant Chief) of the MFB, Sladen was in charge of the Brigade during World War I. The lessons learnt during this period would prove invaluable for firefighters during World War II.

Sladen oversaw the motorisation of the MFB, introduced more flexible canvas hose and provided improved training for firemen to tackle factory fires.

After more than 20 years in the Brigade, Sladen became Commissioner for London Transport under the Ministry of Transport before retiring in 1921.


Arthur Reginald Dyer (1918 - 1933)

His father had been one of the founders of the National Fire Brigades Association and Dyer had already been an Assistant Divisional Officer of the MFB for 14 years when he took control.

During his time in charge he oversaw significant changes concerning the welfare of firemen, as well as the final stages of the motorisation, which brought an end to Brigade's specially bred horses.

Dyer had two near-death close encounters while in service: once being buried under falling debris, which killed a colleague, and once at a fire in Whitechapel when he fractured his skull.

He retired in 1933.


Mayor Cyril Morris (1933 - 1938)

Born in 1882, Morris began his association with the Brigade in 1908. After serving in World War I, he returned in 1917 and was promoted to Divisional Officer.

When he was Chief Fire Officer 14 years later, he oversaw a significant modernisation of the Brigade, which included the opening of a new headquarters on Albert Embankment.


Sir Aylmer Firebrace CBE (1938 - 1939)

After a successful naval career, Firebrace took charge of the Brigade in June 1938 but six months later was seconded to the Home Office to prepare the fire service for World War II.

He was appointed Chief of Fire Staff and Inspector-in-Chief of the Fire Services upon the formalisation of the National Fire Service in 1941.

He later received a Knighthood for his services to the fire service.


Major Frank W Jackson CBE (1939 - 1941)

Already a Deputy Chief Officer of the Brigade and Auxiliary Fire Service, Jackson immediately took control from the out-going Firebrace.

He proved a very popular character with Brigade personnel and helped set-up a fund for the men and women of the London fire service. Jackson guided the Brigade through one of the toughest assignments ever held by a Chief Fire Officer.


All fire brigades nationalised (1941 - 1948)

The National Fire Service - led by former Brigade Chief Fire Officer Sir Aylmer Firebrace - was the single fire service during World War II.


Sir Frederick Delve (1948 - 1962)

Delve joined the Royal Navy at the age of 16 before joining the Brighton Fire Brigade six years later.

By the time he was 27-years-old he had been promoted to Second Officer - the youngest in Britain. He moved to Croydon Fire Brigade as Chief Fire Officer in 1934 and was awarded a CBE in 1942.

Delve had been the wartime commander of the London region of the National Fire Service and in April of 1948 took up his new post as Chief Fire Office of London Fire Brigade. He oversaw the replacement of street fire alarm posts with the new 999 telephone system, modernised the Brigade's fleet and implemented a rebuilding programme for fire stations.

He retired in 1962 after 14 years in charge and was later awarded a Knighthood for his services.


Leslie Leete CBE

Leete was the first Chief Fire Officer of the London Fire Brigade to serve at every rank.

He was in charge during the Brigade's transition to the Greater London Council in 1965, which unified several smaller brigades, and the centenary celebrations in 1966.

During the 1969 Leinster Tower Hotel fire, Leete isued the first ever special order that described the fire as being "without parallel in the Brigade's history for the magnitude of the task...and the excellence of the firefighting work performed".


Joseph Milner

Joining the Army before World War II, Joseph "Joe" Milner served in Burma and China before starting his UK fire service career in 1946.

He went on to become the Director of Fire Services in Hong Kong, where he introduced significant changes to the Search and Rescue Division. When he joined the Brigade, he led the service through some very difficult industrial unrest but was a popular figure among firefighters.

He was the Chief Fire Officer during the Moorgate tube crash aftermath in 1975 and was instrumental in increasing the number of breathing apparatus sets in service.

Joe died in 2007.


Peter Darby (1976 - 1980)

The former fireman in the West Midlands and ex-Chief Officer of Greater Manchester Fire Service, Darby led London Fire Brigade through the strike in 1977/78 and went on to stabilise the Brigade afterwards.

He introduced hydraulic platforms - now called Aerial Ladder Platforms - into the Brigade fleet. In 1981, Darby was named Chief Inspector of Fire Services - the country’s top fire post - at the Home Office, followed by his appointment as HM Chief Inspector of Fire Services.

Peter died aged 83 in 2008.


Ronald Bullers (1980 - 1987)

Formerly of Greater Manchester County Fire Service, Bullers led the Brigade through a period of significant change.

He was the first Chief Fire Officer to recruit women and ethnic minorities into the Brigade and was instrumental in creating the structure to support the London Fire and Civil Defence Authority.

Ronald retired in 1987 and died, aged 78, in 2010.


Gerald Clarkson (1987 - 1991)

A career firefighter in the Brigade, going through every rank, Clarkson was a charismatic Chief Fire Officer who had been Commandant of the Brigade Training School during some very important years as equal opportunities became more prevalent.

Just prior to his retirement, Clarkson founded The Firefighters Memorial Charitable Trust Fund, now known as The Firefighters Memorial Trust. The fund commemorates the lives of those firefighters killed in the line of duty during World War II.


Brian Robinson (1991 - 2003)

He was the first 'Commissioner' of the London Fire Brigade as the change in title was introduced in late 2001.

Robinson was in charge of the Brigade when a new firefighters outfit, maroon in colour, was launched providing firefighters with the safest material available at the time.


Sir Ken Knight (2003 - 2007)

A former firefighter and former Chief Fire Officer of Dorset and West Midlands fire services, Sir Ken became London's Fire Commissioner in 2003.

He was in charge of the Brigade during the 7/7 bombings.

He received the Queens' Fire Service Medal in 1991, a CBE in 2001 and was Knighted in 2006.


Ron Dobson CBE (2007 - 2017)

Originally joining the Brigade in 1979, Dobson rose through the ranks to be promoted to Assistant Commissioner in 2000 and later Principal Officer in 2002.

Ron joined London Fire Brigade in 1979 and worked his way through the ranks to become London Fire Commissioner in 2007.

In 1996, Ron was one of the first senior officers at the scene of the Canary Wharf bomb blast where he coordinated a search of the incident. As an Assistant Commissioner, Ron led on the threat of terrorism and during the 2005 London bombings was the Brigade's Senior Operational Commander.

He was awarded the Queen's Fire Service Medal in 2005 and a CBE in 2010.


Dany Cotton (2017 - present)

Dany joined the Brigade in 1988 at the age of 18 and has climbed the ranks to become the first woman appointed to lead London Fire Brigade in our history.

She was awarded the Queen's Fire Service Medal in 2004.

 

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