Fire Service Associations and Fire Service Medals

The recognition of service and bravery by the award of medal for members of the Fire and Rescue Service can be traced back to the latter part of the 1800s.  It was during this period that ‘fire brigades’ became more organised and grew in number around the United Kingdom.

As these many and various brigades came of age, various tokens and medals began to appear to recognise lengths of service and deeds of bravery.  Additionally, special medals were struck to recognise attendance at particular fires that were seen to be of spectacular proportion.

Those brigades who could not afford or justify having their own individual medals produced would turn to the various associations that were being formed. These associations produced long service medals, normally for 10 years (bronze) and 20 years (silver) with ribbon bars that could be added for additional years service.  Bravery medals were also produced.


Society for the Protection of Life from Fire

Whilst no Royal or National awards existed that were specific to members of fire brigades during the early developing years, it was possible to be awarded bronze and silver medals produced by the Society for the Protection of Life from Fire, which was formed in 1836.

National Fire Brigades Union

National Fire Brigades Association

Professional Fire Brigades Association

The origins of the British Fire Services Association, which still exists today, date back to the Midlands Fire Brigades Association which was formed in 1882 and, as the name suggests, membership consisted of the various local authority, private and industrial fire brigades in the area.

It was recognised by some serving officers that the time was appropriate to form a national organisation serving the needs of the rapidly growing number of fire brigades throughout the United Kingdom.  At the time it was recorded that some 900 brigades were known to be in existence.  The National Fire Brigades Union (NFBU) was formed in September 1887 and the Midlands Fire Brigades Association became the ‘Midlands District’ of the newly formed organisation.

The new organisation quickly became recognised as the national voice and advisory body for the UK fire brigades.  Its membership grew year on year from 71 brigades who signed up as original members.  By the end of 1889 the membership had grown to 816 brigades.  By 1914 the membership had grown to 1000 individual fire brigades.  At the time the total number of brigades in existence was thought to be over 1900.

Amongst other claims, the NFBU prepared reports for Government and national bodies, set model rules and standards for brigades, established protocols for uniforms, drills, training, competitions, the design of appliances and equipment, and general organisation.  Also established in 1890 was a Widows and Orphans Fund which, through the passage of subsequent organisation names, still exists today.

The national ‘Annual Camp’ became a major feature of fire brigade life when manufacturers would display and demonstrate equipment and brigades would train or take part in drill competitions.

The majority of the membership of the NFBU were from volunteer brigades and some of the growing number of professional brigades officers saw the need for a further organisation.  In 1918 a trade union for firemen was formed and, to avoid any confusion and to distance itself from emergenc of the trade union movement in general, the NFBU changed its name in 1919 to the National Fire Brigades Association (NFBA).

The Association of Professional Fire Brigade Officers of the British Empire was subsequently formed in March 1902.  This newly formed organisation, which focussed its attention on those officers employed by professional fire brigades, worked easily with the NFBU, changing its name in 1920 to The Professional Fire Brigades Association (PFBA).

One component part of the Association that is rarely mentioned is the existence of the British Fire Prevention Committee (BFPC).  This organisation originally formed in 1897 and its purpose was to bring together firemen, architects and builders with a view to improving the fire protection designs in buildings.  They also undertook ‘scientific tests’ and published books detailing their investigations and findings.  In 1903 they organised an International Fire Prevention Congress held at Westminster and a Fire Exhibition at Earls Court, London.  This resulted in professional and volunteer Chief Fire Officers, architects, engineers, surveyors, insurance officials, legislators and municipal officers coming together to discuss a wide range of fire prevention issues over a 4 day period.  Some 700 delegates from around the world attended. The BFPC was merged into the NFBA in 1924.

Membership of both the NFBU and the PFBA grew in strength and in knowledge as a result of the aims and objectives in their respective constitutions and both were involved in advising the Royal Commission of 1921 set up to look at the role and organisation of fire brigades.  They were also major players in advising the writers of the Air Raid Precautions (ARP) Act 1937 which led to the formation of the Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS), recruited to be attached to local authority fire brigades, funded and equipped by the Home Office for use in time of war to deal with fires caused by the anticipated  and the creation of the Fire Brigades Act 1938, which resulted in the biggest reorganisation of the the UK fire services ever experienced.

World War II plunged the nation’s reformed fire brigades, resulting from the 1938 Act into the frontline, supported by the AFS and jointly they fought the unprecedented scale of fires at the height of the ‘Blitz’. On August 1941 the National Fire Service (NFS) was formed, with control of all existing local authority brigades and their AFS units being passed directly to the Home Office who then set about establishing national standards and procedures.  

The formation of the NFS during the war and its continuation until April 1948 removed much of the role and purpose of both the NFBU and the PFBA.  This became more apparent when control of the fire service was handed back to designated local authorities at county and county borough level, reducing the number of fire brigades considerably.  Many of the lessons learned, standards, techniques, rank structure, etc, were handed to the newly formed fire brigades and continuing guidance was to be issued by the Fire Service Inspectorate established within the Home Office structure.

In 1949 the NFBA and the PFBA amalgamated to form the British Fire Services Association (BFSA) which continues to exist today.  Over the years the BFSA gradually changed its role to serving, as it does today, mainly industrial, private and airport fire brigades.  Its origins and traditions have served the British Fire Service well for over a century and this organisation can be rightfully proud of its history and achievements.

Amongst the many services offered by the parent organisations of the past and the BFSA of today, has been the setting of standards for the design and the wearing of uniform together with the design and issue of badges, buttons and medals.

Following the creation of the BFSA in 1949 medals continued to be issued to many brigades until the introduction, by Royal Warrant, of the Fire Brigade Long Service and Good Conduct Medal (FBLSGC) in June 1954, for issue to members of local authority and other designated fire brigades.  The award of the FBLSGC medal specifically precludes the wearing of any other long service medals.  

Medals issued by the various parent organisations of the BFSA include:


10 Year Bronze Medal

20 Year Silver Medal

Services Rendered Decoration

Meritorious Service Decoration

NFBU Ambulance Department South Africa Medal


10 Year Bronze Medal

20 Year Silver Medal

Meritorious Service Medal


Conspicuous Gallantry Medal

10 Year Bronze Medal

20 Year Silver Medal

Services Rendered Decoration

Meritorious Service Decoration



Conspicuous Gallantry Decoration

Meritorious Service Decoration

10 Year Bronze Medal

20 Year Silver Medal

Commendation Medal

Centenary Commemorative Award

Foreign Honorary Medal

Note:  Bars and clasps for each additional 5 years service are also awarded to the Long Service Medals listed above.

Various Honorary, Event Specific, Life membership, Competition etc medals were also produced.

Another short lived Association and which can cause confusion to researchers and collectors is The Fire Brigades Association. Created originally for Volunteer Fire Brigades, it only existed from 1876 to 1887 but it did have its own 10 years service medal.

Also in existence, at different periods, were a number of Private Fire Brigade Associations. The largest, the London Private Fire Brigades Association, formed in 1899, certainly had their own medals as did the Manchester and District Private Fire Brigades Association, the Derby Private Fire Brigades Association and others. In the post-WW2 period, the Industrial Fire Protection Association, (IFPA) became the main competitor to the British Fire Services Association, (BFSA).

Many Local Authority Fire Brigades issued their own design bravery, long service and commemorative medals before 1948, with a greatly reduced number still issuing their own until the introduction of the Fire Brigade Long Service and Good Conduct Medal. A very small number of Fire and Rescue Services do still today issue their own medals for extended service and meritorious service.

Medals issued by the BFSA and its parent organisations should be worn on the right breast and not on the left, although they are often seen incorrectly worn by some, including together with the FBLS&GCM.



There were no specific medals struck for members of the Fire Service during World War I, but the fire brigade was not designated as a ‘reserved occupation’, many nembers volunteered for, were called up as reservists, or were conscripted into military service and so, many photos will show members of fire brigades wearing medals or ribands on their uniform




There were no specific medals struck for members of the Fire Service during World War II, but all of those who served for the qualifying period were eligible to be awarded The Defence Medal.  Unusually, members of one specific fire service group, the ‘Overseas Contingent’, were awarded the France and Germany Campaign Star, which was issued in the main to military personnel who saw action in this particular theatre of war.  The ‘Overseas Contingent’ was created to provide specially trained members of the National Fire Service (NFS) formed up into columns to follow military units as they progressed into Germany after D Day.  Only one of the 5 Columns originally formed was actually mobilised and they did eventually travel as far as Berlin.  A total of 443 France and Germany Stars were awarded to members of the ‘No 4 Column’ together with 441 1939-1945 War Medals (2 members did not complete the qualifying period).  It is also recorded that one fire officer, Divisional Officer T Goodman, who was sent as an adviser to Malta was awarded the Italy Star. He was later also awarded the KPFSM for gallantry for his actions in dealing with a ship fire in the North sea. There may be other single secondments of this type that qualified for a Campaign Star. 


An unusual gallantry award was given to Sub Officer John May who made 3 trips to Dunkirk with the London Fire Brigade ‘Massey Shaw’.  He was awarded the Navy Distinguished Service Medal.  Two other auxiliary firemen members of the crew, Henry Wray and Edmond Wright, were Mentioned in Dispatches.


National Awards


Members of the fire service have over the years qualified for national awards issued under the Honours and Awards System. In the early years these were relatively few in number but those awarded were:

The Albert Medal

The Albert Medal was instituted in March 1866, originally to recognise gallantry at sea.  In 1876 a second version was struck which could be awarded for gallantry on land.  There were 2 classes for the award, with the First Class award in Gold and the Second Class award in Bronze.  The Gold version was replaced by the George Cross in 1949 and the Bronze version from that date could only be awarded posthumously.  The last such award was in August 1970.  In 1971 the medal was removed from the list of honours and holders of the award were invited to exchange theirs for the George Cross.  A very limited number of UK ‘firemen’ were awarded this medal. 


Kings Police and Fire Service Medal

The first specific official national medal which members of fire brigade were eligible to receive was the Kings Police Medal, (KPM) originally instituted on 7 July 1909.  In December 1933 this one medal was replaced by 2 separate medals, utilising the same name, which could be awarded either for distinguished service or for gallantry.  On 20 August 1940, this same medal was renamed The Kings Police and Fire Services Medal (KPFSM).  In December 1940 it was announced that the Royal Warrant for the KPFSM had been extended to include the wartime (part time) constabulary and the Auxiliary Fire Service.  In 1951, the decision was taken not to award the KPFSM for gallantry except in posthumous cases, utilising the GC and GM in all other cases.


The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire

The Order was founded by George V in 1917 to provide a means of rewarding civilian and military services during World War I.  In 1918 the Order was divided into military and civil divisions, the only difference being in the design of the ribbon.  From 1957 to 1974 it was possible for the Order to be awarded for gallantry.  When so awarded crossed silver oak leaves would be worn on the ribbon.  Today the Order is used to acknowledge the work of people across a very wide range of professions and activities.  The Order is ranked as follows:

Knight or Dame Grand Cross (GBE)

Knight or Dame Commander (KBE or DBE)

Commander (CBE)

Officer (OBE)

Member (MBE)

As an example, the full title for someone with the post nominals CBE would be Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.


The Medal of the Order of the British Empire

Introduced in 1917 primarily for ‘war workers’ but also as a lower grade rank medal for ‘those not of officer class’, originally in a single division but in 1918 changed to military and civil divisions.  The same medal was awarded for gallantry and for meritorious service until 1922, when 2 separate medals were introduced.  The gallantry award was more commonly referred to as the Empire Gallantry Medal (EGM) which continued in use until the introduction of the George Cross in 1940.

The second medal, for meritorious service, was referred to as the British Empire Medal (BEM).  As from 1940 it could be awarded for brave conduct and devotion to duty for acts that did not qualify for the George Cross.  For the period 1958 to 1974 it became a medal once again used for gallantry in which case crossed oak leaves were worn on the ribbon.  This practice ceased upon the institution of the Queens Gallantry Medal.  The issue of the BEM ceased in 1994 as part of a major review of the British Honours System, but was then reintroduced in 2012 as part of the Queens Diamond Jubliee celebrations, being specifically awarded to recognise the work of members of volunteer organisations.

In July 1920 it announced that 187  Fire Brigade members were be awarded the BEM for “great gallantry, courage and self sacrifice in connection with fires in munitions and chemical factories, ammunition dumps, ships, etc, or for rescues and work during air raids”. This was, and remains, an unprecedented number of awards to be given to members of Fire Brigades, at any one time. Outside of Londong with 45 medals being issued, the next highest was Ramsgate with 16 being issued. Within this list, other war-related actions at incidents were also recognized and the medals awarded to members of Fire Brigades were amongst some 250 awarded overall to civilians for war service. 


George Cross and George Medal

The George Cross (GC) and the George Medal (GM), originally introduced in September 1940 could be awarded to members of the fire service and several such awards were made during the blitz period of World War II. The first was awarded to Station Officer William Mosedale, Birmingham Fire Brigade, on 28 March 1941. The first members of the British Fire Service to be awarded the George Medal were Fireman Jack Owens of Kingston-Upon-Hull Fire Brigade and Leading Auxiliary Fireman Cliff Turner of the Hull Auxiliary Fire Service for their actions at a petrol storage depot at Hedon, near Kingston-Upon-Hull during an air raid on 1 July 1940.  


Kings Commendation for Brave Conduct

First introduced to recognise brave actions that did not meet the higher criteria for the award of any medal during World War Two, but subsequently used after that period.  Records of such awards have so far proved difficult to trace.  The award was denoted by the wearing of an emblem of silver laurel leaves, which if awarded to a recipient of The Defence Medal would be worn on the ribbon of that medal, otherwise directly onto the uniform jacket.

Awards for Gallantry for Members of the British Fire Service During World War II


Award Regular Brigade AFS Men AFS Women NFS Men NFS Women Total
George Cross 1 1 0 0 0 2
George Medal 44 41 1 4 0 90
CBE 1 0 0 0 0 1
OBE 1 0 0 4 0 5
MBE 20 2 0 5 0 27
BEM (Incl 1 Bar) 61 81 18 27 4 191
Kings Commendation for Brave Conduct 98 193 37 48 4 380
Total 226 318 56 88 8 696


The above awards represent actions at 370 separate incidents. 


The following gallantry awards were made to members of the British Fire Service under the age of 20, the men being messengers and the women being telephonists.


Age Men Women
15 1 Kings Commendation (Posthumous)
16 6 BEM, 2 Kings Commendation
17 2 BEM, 4 Kings Commendation
18 6 Kings Commendation 2 BEM
19 2 BEM, 1 Kings Commendation 1 BEM, 5 Kings Commendation


Total:  16 BEM, 19 Kings Commendation

The Kings Badge

In February 1945 it was announced that a ‘Kings Badge’ had been introduced for issue to members of the Fire Service who had served from the outbreak of hostilities on 3 September 1939 and who had been awarded a pension or other award in respect of an injury sustained in the execution of duty without self fault and that the injury had resulted in that person having to cease to be a member of the Fire Service.  The qualifying period ceased on the cessation of hostilities in Europe (VE Day) on 8 May 1945.  (The badge was also available to all qualifying members of any designated Civil Defence organisation).




Queens Fire Service Medal

The KPFSM was replaced with 2 separate medals when, by Royal Warrant, the Queen Police Medal (QPM) and the Queens Fire Service Medal (QFSM) were instituted on 19 May 1954.  The QFSM was awarded for distinguished service or, as with its predecessor, for gallantry, but only in posthumous cases.  It has never been so awarded.  In 1993, the gallantry category was removed when the whole system for awards was reviewed.  Recipients of the QFSM for distinguished service are entitled to use the post nominals ‘QFSM’.


Fire Brigade Long Service and Good Conduct Medal

Instituted on 1 June 1954, by Royal Warrant, the Fire Brigade Long Service and Good Conduct Medal was struck to be awarded to eligible uniformed members of Local Authority Fire Brigades of the United Kingdom and members of Military Fire Brigades (now the Defence Fire and Rescue Service), members of the Fire Service Inspectorate, members of the British Airports Authority and other fire brigades as may be maintained by Government departments.  The medal is awarded for 20 years service on recommendation of the Chief Fire Officer, who in making the recommendation for the award will take into account the overall conduct of the individual.  

The colours utilised in both the QFSM and the FBLSGC (‘Union Flag Red’ and ‘Bunting Yellow’) are said to represent the colours of fire.

As with the creation of the QFSM and the separate QPM, a separate Police Long Service and Good Conduct Medal had been previously created in 1951.


Civil Defence Medal

One further medal that was awarded to a specific group of fire service personnel was the Civil Defence Medal.  This medal was instituted by Royal Warrant on 19 January 1961 and all members of the Civil Defence organisation that existed from November 1949 to April 1968 and members of the Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS), formed as a part of this civil defence organisation, were entitled to the medal that was awarded for 15 years service, with a clasp being awarded for each subsequent period of 12 years. The medal is still in fact awarded still to members of the Isle of Man Civil Defence Corps as they never disbanded in 1968 when the the UK disbanded its Civil Defence services. The Isle of Man is an independently governed island, but is still a Crown Dependency



In 1994 a revision of the British Honours system resulted in the following gallantry awards (listed in order of precedence) being designated for award to members of the fire service:  George Cross, George Medal, Queens Gallantry Medal and Queens Commendation for Bravery.

The Queens Commendation for Bravery was created to replace the Queens Commendation for Brave Conduct (which had followed on from the Kings award on the accession to the throne by HM Queen Elizabeth II).  As with its predecessor, the award is to recognise acts of bravery that do not merit a higher award.  An Emblem of silver laurel leaves continues to be the method of denoting the award, worn directly onto the uniform jacket.



Members of the fire service have, and are still, eligible for a range of civil awards that are generally announced in either the New Year or Queens Birthday Honours lists.

The Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem

The Order can be traced back to the Crusades in early 12th century but the revival of the Order and the basis on which it exists today stems from the early part of the 19th century and it was in fact incorporated by Royal Charter in 1888 when it was established as a British Order of chivalry with the Sovereign at its head.  The Order is divided into different classes with the 2 most commonly awarded to members of the fire service being:


Commander (CStJ)

Officer (OStJ)


The Order of St John of Jerusalem Life Saving Medal was introduced in 1874 for gallantry displayed in saving a life.  It can be awarded in gold, silver or bronze depending on the degree of gallantry recognised.

Additionally, the Order does award certificates and all St John awards are made by the ‘Grand Priory in Britain of the Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem in England’.


Coronation and Jubilee Medals

Coronation Medals, struck in the form of coins, date back to the accession of King Edward VI in 1547.  The first suspended ‘Royal Medal’ did not appear until 1877 when Queen Victoria was proclaimed ‘Empress of India’.  After this date all commemorative Royal Medals have been suspended from a ribbon in the style of medals that we know today.

Medals have been awarded to commemorate a Jubilee since 1897 when a medal was struck to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee.

Since that date, the following medals have been struck:

Diamond Jubilee – Queen Victoria – 1897

Coronation – Edward VII – 1902

Coronation – George V – 1911

Silver Jubilee – George V – 1935

Coronation – George VI – 1937

Coronation – Elizabeth II – 1953

Silver Jubilee – Elizabeth II – 1977

Golden Jubilee – Elizabeth II – 2002

Diamond Jubilee – Elizabeth II – 2012

The medals awarded since the issue of the Silver Jubilee Medal in 1935 all have ribbons incorporating stripes of red, white and blue in differing widths and configuration for each specific medal.



The following may also be awarded to members of the fire and rescue service in recognition of their actions at operational incidents.


The Royal Humane Society

Founded in 1774 the Society awards medals for gallantry during rescue attempts.  The medals are awarded in 2 classes ‘successful’ and ‘unsuccessful’ with silver and bronze versions in each class.  Once a year the Society awards ‘The Stanhope Gold Medal’ to the recipient of the silver medal whose act of gallantry is considered to be the bravest.  The Society also awards certificates for the successful resuscitation of casualties.


The Society for the Protection of Life from Fire

The Society, which dates back to 1836, awards medals and certificates to recognise bravery in the rescue of people from fire.  Members of the fire service are only eligible if they are off duty when a rescue is attempted or achieved.


The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

The RSPCA may bestow awards in recognition of acts of bravery or special merit for rescues or attempted rescues of animals.


Chief Fire Officers Commendation

A Chief Fire Officers Commendation, is something that has existed in most fire and rescue services and commonly in the form of a certificate, awarded for an act or action considered worthy of note. Some have a second level of recognition as well. At least one, (Hampshire) retains their own medal which is awarded for gallantry.


The Firefighters Memorial Trust

The Firefighters Memorial Trust exists to honour and remember those members of the fire and rescue Service who have dies as a result of their duties. The Trust maintains the ‘Firefighters Memorial’ adjacent St Pauls Cathedral in London, a Garden of Remembrance at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire and an online Book of Remembrance. The Trust also issues the Firefighters Memorial Medal to the next of kin of those who have dies as a result of their duties.


The Institution of Fire Engineers (IFE), The Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA), previously known as the Chief and Assistant Chief Fire Officers Association (CACFOA), have never issued medals but did issue Past Presidents badges.

The registers of the issue of the Fire Brigade Long Service and Good Conduct Medal and the Queens Fire Service Medal are held by the Government department responsible for the issue of the medal – currently the Home Office. 

The registers for The Defence Medal, which can still be claimed, are held by the Civil Contingencies Secretariat (not the Ministry of Defence, for medals awarded to the Civilian Services) , although it is only possible to check to see if a medal has already been issued to a named person).

The registers containing details of medals issued by the NFBU, PFBA, (previously the APFBO), the NFBA and the BFSA still exist and details can be obtained by contacting fire service historian and archivist, Alan House QFSM FIFireE.  


The Institution of Fire Engineers (IFE), was founded in 1918 by a group of Chief Fire Officers to promote, encourage, and improve the science and practice of Fire Extinction, Fire Prevention and Fire Engineering. The IFE today sets educational and qualification standards for its members and continues  to promote its original core objectives.   

The National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) was created in 2017, as a result of modernisation of The Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA), previously known as the Chief and Assistant Chief Fire Officers Association (CACFOA). CFOA exists in name as a trading company and as the parent organisation for the NFCC.

The NFCC promotes itself as being ‘the professional voice of the UK fire and rescue service’. The Council represents the whole of the UK fire and rescue service and provides a platform for national advice to HM Government, working with the devolved nations, the Local Government Association, the Association of Crime and Police Commisioners and other fire sector professionals and partners. The UK also has a National Police Chiefs Council.