This year will mark 100 years since the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), the first and only UK trade union to champion the specific needs of all firefighters, was founded in 1918. Some 85% of all firefighters are members.
To mark this historic milestone the FBU is planning a year of events to celebrate the achievements of firefighters and their union over the past century. Before the union’s birth, firefighters were more frequently killed or seriously burned as a result of the job, not least because they then had neither breathing apparatus nor clothing that would protect them from fire. They were forced to live on stations continuously with no access to holiday or sick pay. Pensions were unheard of.
In its first 100 years the FBU has secured extensive rights, protections and safety standards for firefighters. But the union’s centenary isn’t just a celebration for those in the fire community, says the union’s current leader. It is a celebration everyone should be invested in because the union’s campaigning has meant the public has benefitted from improved safety standards over the years.
Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “This is an opportunity for firefighters and the communities they serve to take a long look down the road we have travelled over the last ten decades. We hope that celebrating our history as an independent and democratic organisation for firefighters will help us secure this vital life-saving service for the future.
“As we think about the contribution of firefighters over the past hundred years, we want to commemorate the bravery and sacrifice of the many firefighters, members of our union, who have given their lives in the line of duty and in the service of their communities over the last 100 years. We want to draw attention to the lessons of the many tragedies we have dealt with and the improvements to public safety which have often followed such tragedies. And we want to leave a legacy by building our ‘Firefighters 100 Lottery’ which is already doing valuable work to help firefighters and bereaved families and other victims of fire today.
“Over the next 12 months, we want to engage with as many people as possible about the history and work of the Fire Brigades Union. We are extremely proud of our legacy. By the end of this year, we hope you will be too.”
OUR CENTENARY YEAR
Heat and Struggle – For the past six months, documentary film makers In Focus Productions have been researching the history of the union, interviewing key participants and exploring how the Fire Brigades Union has influenced and developed the UK fire and rescue service. The resulting documentary Heat and Struggle, narrated by Royle Family actor Sue Johnson, will be screened at events around the country throughout this centenary year.
Firefighters 100 website – Later this year, a historical extension will be added on to the national Fire Brigades Union website that will explore the union’s history. An interactive timeline will allow you to sift seamlessly through the union’s key moments. Here, we’ll reveal just how much the fire service has changed in 100 years and the union’s role in this. We’ll also tell the stories of some of the most devastating fires and how these outcomes impacted on public safety and on fire safety legislation.
Travelling exhibition – Join us as we travel across the UK with our live exhibition for an unforgettable and immersive walk through the union’s history. Whether you’ve worked in the fire service for 30 years or even if you couldn’t tell the difference between an aerial ladder platform and breathing apparatus entry board, this accessible exhibit is an event you won’t want to miss.
Centenary publications – The union will issue various publications this year exploring the history of the union and the fire service. More details will be published on our website soon.
Southwark cathedral memorial – On 13 October, a special memorial event will be held at Southwark Cathedral to celebrate the contribution of firefighters to the safety of our communities and to honour firefighters who have lost their lives in the line of duty. Leading figures from the fire and rescue service community will be in attendance.
Regional events – A series of regional events will be held throughout the country. Please keep an eye on our website for further details.