The union allowed volunteer and retained firefighters to become members.
Membership of the union fluctuated greatly during the 1920s although, according to the executive council, there was a “distinct downward tendency” that saw membership hit a new low in 1927. In fact union membership was so low in this year that publication of its then quarterly paper The Firefighter had to be suspended in December.
A special conference was arranged in October and J. H. Desmond appointed national organiser with responsibility for increasing membership. It was in these formative years that the executive council faced its greatest challenges for developing and expanding the union.
Much of the early work in building the trade union can be credited to its second general secretary, Jim Bradley. The setting up of the FTU and the first 10 years of its existence were his greatest achievement. Over this time he fought back against the resistance to trade unionism from within the fire service.
He can also be credited with recruiting the first firefighters into a union, which he did after helping to launch the NUCW in 1907. As early as 1912, in a speech to the NUCW’s conference as its president, he said:
"There runs a grand display of solidarity, that new-born spirit and cohesion among the different grades of workers that few of us thought possible."
There is no doubt that accepting volunteer and retained firefighters into the union in 1927 was a historic decision, because, over time, retained membership in some areas has equalled or surpassed full/whole-timers, many retained fire stations being in rural areas. Their membership of the union was felt to be warranted given their similar role, and it enabled them to join fights for better pay and conditions while raising causes and campaigns that specifically affected them.
By the 1930s the union’s membership was on the rise again, going from 2,279 in 1934 to 2,800 in 1938 and more than 3,000 on the outbreak of war.