In 1949, the Home Office, Fire Service Department, produced and His Majesty’s Stationary Office, London published, the first ‘Fire Service Drill Book’, which had 162 pages. This was reprinted in 1952 and sold for one shilling and six pence. The book featured here was the second edition of the book, published in 1960, which had the longer title of ‘Drill Book for Emergency Fire Appliances and Equipment’. The price had doubled to three shillings. A second impression was published in1961 at three shillings and sixpence. The revised edition of 1963 reverted to the title ‘The Fire Service Drill Book’. It cost four shillings and sixpence. In 1968 a completely new fourth edition was launched, followed in 1977 by the fifth edition, which now had 325 pages and a bright red cover, as had the edition of 1985.

The government has published many other training and reference books over the years including several volumes of the ‘Manual of Firemanship’. What distinguishes the Fire Drill books is that they give detailed instructions on the teamwork required to operate efficiently, speedily and safely. The individual firefighters in a team are numbered 1 to 4 or 5. Their roles will have been allocated in advance and even their seating position in the fire engine is fixed. The Fire Drill book gives clear instructions as to how the team will undertake their respective roles. For example, here is a short extract from a page on ladders. “Nos. 1 and 2 at the head and nos. 3 and 4 at the heel carry the ladder to the required position and place it at right angles to the building with the heel approximately 11 ft. from the building. Nos. 3 and 4 release the handling poles, underrun them to the head of the ladder and hand them to nos.1 and 2.” For efficiency a fire fighters will be allocated a number and routinely fulfil that role so that they are totally familiar with it. However the Drill Book allows them to learn all the other roles for when a change to the team becomes necessary.

Fire fighters have to pass a fitness test and attend Training School for theoretical and practical learning. The Fire Drill book was supplied to each trainee, so that it could be studied at home and kept for reference.

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More information:

Date 1960s
Material(s) Paper
Item number MBPO286

Questions to help you remember using this item

  • When and where have you received any fire safety training?
  • Have you participated in any fire drills at work? Were they useful?
  • Have you ever been in a building which had a fire? If so what happened?
  • What fire safety measures are in place where you live?
  • How was one shilling and sixpence written numerically?

User Stories

Prior to 1938 fire services were fragmented, there being over 1,500 separate brigades. In London many fireman were recruited from the Navy, hence the terms Red Watch and Blue Watch.

The Drill books carried adverts, presumably to subsidise the cost. The advert in the featured book was for breathing apparatus, made by a company named Normalair. The company was well known for its work with the aviation industry. It also produced the breathing apparatus used by Sherpa Tenzing and Sir Edmund Hillary on the first successful climb to the summit of Mount Everest in 1953.

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