The departmental committee on the fire service, appointed by Labour chancellor Roy Jenkins and chaired by Sir Ronald Holroyd of ICI, was set up to examine every aspect of the service.
Organisation, administration, legal powers, training, fire prevention and inspection were all subject to scrutiny. In what was the most comprehensive analysis of the fire service at the time, the committee toured stations and even visited the US, Japan and Switzerland to compare how fire services abroad operated. Increasing dissatisfaction with low pay came to a head in October 1969 when firefighters in the dangerously understaffed London Fire Brigade threatened to strike unless pay was improved.
In this context, the Holroyd committee was forced to make a significant statement on pay. The review found that, considering the unique combination of physical, technical and educational skills required by firefighters, “The earnings of fully trained men with all-round operational experience should be comparable with the national average earnings of skilled craftsmen.”
The James Watt Street fire in Glasgow the previous year, in which 22 people lost their lives, also prompted the union to submit evidence on fire safety. This included firefighters’ duties in relation to fire safety and fire prevention in the future, such as spot-checking visits to ensure establishments had followed up on fire safety standards and ensuring that workers were reminded of their responsibility to inform authorities about fire safety failures such as emergency exits.
In supporting this sentiment, the review endorsed the union’s landmark document for modernising the service, A Service for the Sixties. Holroyd recognised that the document’s call for replacing cleaning chores with fire prevention duties would help improve the recruitment and staffing of the service. Thus the union had set the service on its new course. At the FBU’s officers’ conference in June 1969, assistant general secretary Tom Harris said:
“The EC believes that the post-Holroyd era will be a period of great change for the fire service.”