London Fire Brigade

LFB150: The day the whale came to London

20 January 2016

As we celebrate our 150th anniversary we’re looking back at some of the most significant and some of the more unusual incidents that have taken place since we were formed in 1866.
On Friday, 20 January in 2006 the Brigade officially unveiled the new Millwall Fire Station that replaced the old Victorian station that had been standing on a nearby site since 1904. However, the day’s news moved well away from that event when a juvenile female Northern Bottlenose whale was discovered swimming in the River Thames near the Brigade’s former HQ

Wandsworth Borough Commander Darren Munro who was Station Manager at Lambeth River Boat Station at the time takes up the story:
“Firefighters had been asking me to arrange some large animal training to help deal with whales, otters and seals. We had been speaking to the British Divers Marine Rescue organisation who suggested bringing along a large inflatable whale down the river and training with the team. There had never been a whale in the Thames so I saw no need to do that training. The most we had was a few seals that got themselves beached and as soon we got anywhere close to them they always woke up, made their excuses and got back into the river.

What whale!

“On that fateful day I was having a check up at the hospital and got a phone call. I was told to get myself near a television. I asked a nurse and she mentioned was it because of the whale, I said ‘what whale!’

“By the time I arrived at the river the firefighters were in the water and helping with the rescue efforts. Those rescue efforts went into the weekend  but sadly there wasn’t much firefighters or the other agencies could do to save her and she sadly died.”


This year is the 150th anniversary of the formation of the London Fire Brigade. Although the Great Fire of London happened 350 years ago, it wasn't until 1 January 1866 that we were formed as The Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB).

The MFB came about as insurance companies told the government they were unwilling to be responsible for London's fire protection due to escalating compensation costs. 

150th events

Throughout 2016, there will be numerous ways the public can join in the celebrations.

We've organised a number of events to take place throughout our 150th year looking at our history and educating the public on importance fire safety information.