The history of Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service

Find out about the history of Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service:

Early Formation

In 1947 members of the National Fire Service were transferred to Fire Brigades, the start of the formation of what was to become the Cheshire County Fire Brigade Department. Chief Officer Adam Boulton was appointed in September 1947 and, after six and half years of nationalisation, Cheshire County Fire Brigade was formed on 1 April 1948.

In its first year the Brigade responded to 1505 calls including serious mill, ships, oil refineries and forest fires.

1 April 1948 - Cheshire County Fire Brigade formed. Hampton House, later to be renamed Walmoor House, in Chester was the designated headquarters.

1948 - Brigade strength – 242 firemen and 7 firewomen, 33 miles of hose and 146 ‘vehicles’.

1948 - Operational layout – 29 fire stations, 18 wholetime, 11 part-time retained.

1949 - Exceptionally dry summer leading to a considerable increase in fires and 33% rise in calls.

The 50s

The Brigade was restructured to four districts and many fire stations were found to be totally unsuitable, with unsatisfactory facilities and drills having to be carried out on public thoroughfares. New fire stations were opened at Audlem and Ellesmere Port and new temporary premises were found for Tarporley. Poynton and Bebington fire stations also came into operation.

Made-to-measure fire tunics with improved protection quality were obtained for operational staff and 240 Brigade members qualified in the use of breathing apparatus. A total of 25 fire engines had joint police-fire radio communications by the middle of the decade.

Early 1950’s - About a third of fires were either chimney fires or caused by children playing with matches. Sparks from railway locomotives also a problem. A growing area was special service calls.

October 1950 - Serious mill fire in Stalybridge.  One mill worker and two firefighters injured after jumping from the building.

November 1951 - Congleton’s most disastrous fire – Carlowe Mill burnt out in a 1.5 hour holocaust.

January 1954 - Four firefighters commended for courage and devotion to duty rescuing a child from a burning building in Altrincham. Two others commended for their actions in freeing a driver trapped beneath a tractor.

The 60s

A wireless scheme independent of the police was initiated and station open days were introduced with great public interest. The upward trend in calls, fatalities, special service calls and injuries to firefighters continued throughout the decade. In 1963/64 the number of calls rose to a high of 7450 and 18 people lost their lives.

Attendance at road traffic collisions became an almost daily occurrence. Unusual special service calls occurred including assisting with Cornwall beach cleaning operations following the Torrey Canyon tanker disaster and assistance with disinfecting operations at hundreds of Cheshire farms affected by the Foot and Mouth disease outbreak.

26 December 1962 - 18 rail passengers died and 34 injured in a Winsford rail disaster. Firefighters involved in rescue operations.

25 June 1964 - Car and milk tanker struck by express train on Nantwich railway station level crossing. The car driver and his wife lost their lives.

November 1964 - Cheshire section of M6 opened.

December 1965 - A motor coach with 25 passengers overturned on an icy road in Middlewich. Four trapped and seriously injured, one of whom lost their life.

The 70s

The first major revision of the Brigade since 1948 saw amalgamations between Widnes, formerly in Lancashire County, Warrington County Borough and Chester City Fire Brigades joining the renamed Cheshire Fire Brigade. It was a decade of change and industrial unrest including the nine-week fireman strike which saw the Brigade’s principal officer directing Army and Royal

Navy green goddess units. The old woollen fire tunics were replaced with a new style ‘Nomex’ tunic which gave better protection and the stores and transport departments moved to the new purpose-built Winsford workshops, replacing the Chester site occupied since the second world war.

Macclesfield, Middlewich, Winsford and Northwich fire stations went operational and fire safety education was introduced into the school curriculum

Early 70s - The Brigade worked with ICI to develop the Hazchem hazard identification system for chemicals in transit.

Mid 70s - Pocket alerters were given to retained firefighters after complaints about the use of sirens which were originally used. Walkie Talkies were also trialled and more modern and up-to-date materials were used to replace the old woollen fire tunics.

8 May 1972 - A train carrying inflammable spirit crashed into two stationary coaches at Chester Railway Station causing a massive blaze that wiped out a large area of the station. Three casualties were promptly rescued.

1974 - The majority of Fire Brigades in England and Wales, including Cheshire, became known as Fire Services.

19th January 1976 - Two RAF Harriers collided in mid-air over Wettenhall, Nantwich. The two pilots were killed. Crewe and Nantwich firefighters responded to extinguish two resulting fires and to recover the body of one of the pilots. He couldn’t be released until the ejector seat was made safe.

The 80s

‘Always There When You Need Us’ highlighted Cheshire’s desire to deliver a first class service in a period of excitement and rapid advancement tempered with financial constraint. Brigades around the UK started to encourage women to join the operational ranks, although they had actually never been barred from applying. The term fireman changed to firefighter.

A completely new system was proposed for the new control centre in Chester and Knutsford Fire Station was chosen, because of its strategic location to the motorway network, to receive new heavy rescue hydraulic cutting and spreading gear.

The first thermal imaging camera was also purchased in 1989 but any proposed purchases had to have a sound business case and represent value for money given the funding difficulties faced by all UK fire services.

June 1985 - 30 fire engines, three hydraulic platforms and one turntable ladder were needed to bring a fire at Laporte Chemicals in Warrington.

22 August 1985 - Wilmslow firefighters rescued one of the last survivors of a holiday flight which caught fire on take-off from Manchester Airport. They were awarded a citation from Greater Manchester FRS for their work at the disaster which claimed the lives of 55 people.

Late 80s - Welephant became a key feature of fire safety education.

Late 80s - Knutsford firefighters formed a Special Rescue Team capable of rescuing people from up to 300’ above or below ground.

The 90s

There was a final farewell to Chester’s Walmoor House as Brigade HQ moved to new premises in Winsford and, 50 years from the date that Cheshire County Fire Brigade began, the new Cheshire Fire Authority was formed and the Brigade name changed to Cheshire Fire Service.

The Service became the first to be a franchise holder in the Prince’s Trust, which became one of the most successful in the UK with more than 90% of those taking part returning to work or full-time education and the Fire Cadet scheme started at Poynton.

The new Gallet helmet was introduced for firefighters, offering a far greater level of protection than the cork helmet introduced just after WWII.

26 February 1993 - The IRA planted bombs at the gas works in Warrington. Crews heard the explosion and turned out, tackling the extremely challenging incident. The following morning an unexploded device was found.

20 March 1993 - The day before Mothering Sunday two IRA devices exploded in Warrington town centre, killing two young boys and injuring 54 people. Firefighters isolated the risk areas and provided first aid, ensuring many received immediate care, despite not knowing if their families were involved.

25 October 1996 - Over 200 ‘999’ calls were received about a major fire at Pickfords Warehouse in Chester. 25 pumps responded and 50 residents evacuated.

6 October 1997 - HRH The Duke of York officially opened the Sadler Road headquarters.

Late 1990‘s - Road traffic collisions had grown by 50% over this decade so all first-line appliances were equipped with hi-tech cutting and spreading equipment. Five firefighters needed medical attention.

2000 to 2010

Another name change, to reflect operational activity, as Cheshire Service became Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service.

The Service emerged with flying colours from the biggest-ever independent review of community service delivery; the Audit Commission awarded Four Stars, the highest possible rating. 60,000 Home Safety Assessments were carried out by firefighters and advocates over a 12-month period and the Service was one of the first in the country to achieve Level 3 of the Local Government Equality Standard.

The secondary, back-up, Control system moved from Frodsham to Warrington Fire Station.

1 October 2004 - The Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004 came into force meaning Cheshire Fire Service became Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service to reflect operational activity.

1 October 2006 - The new Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 was introduced, setting new fire safety rules affecting all non-domestic properties in England and Wales

4 June 2007 - A major chemical fire in Crewe spread to cover more than 10,000 sq metres. Surrounding roads had to be closed all day as crews tackled the blaze.

Summer 2007 - Cheshire firefighters were deployed to assist with devastating floods in South Yorkshire.

March 2009 - The Service hit its target of carrying out 60,000 Home Safety Assessments in 12 months.


The Service’s international search and rescue team was deployed to Christchurch to help in the recovery following the New Zealand earthquake while search and rescue dog Bryn and his handler headed to Japan to assist in the aftermath of yet another major natural disaster. The team, accompanied by Bryn, was later dispatched to Nepal to help after a devastating earthquake. Bryn retiredfrom international duties on their return to theUK.

The Control function moved from Service HQ to North West Fire Control in Warrington where calls and deployment for Cumbria,Lancashire, Greater Manchester and Cheshire are handled and Blue Light Collaboration saw the majority of service support functions move to Cheshire Police HQ to provide joint support to both services.

The Service first entered the Stonewall Top 100 employers’ list on their workplace equality index at number 45 in 2013 and moved steadily upwards over the years to third place in 2019.

4 June 2010 - A new extension at Winsford HQ was completed and its state-of-the-art Incident Command Training Suite was officially opened by The Duke of Westminster.

June 2011 - Around 100 firefighters tackled a deliberately-started blaze at Peckforton Castle.

October 2012 - What is believed to be the longest fire in the history of the Service broke out at a recycling plant in Widnes. It burned for four weeks with firefighters on site throughout.

March 2015 - The Government announced new safety laws making it compulsory for all landlords to fit a smoke alarm on every floor of a rented property. The campaign was led by Cheshire’s then DCFO Mark Cashin.

July 2015 - An explosion ripped through Bosley Wood Flour Mill killing four people in what is probably the Service’s most challenging incident. The resulting fire involved more than 200 tonnes of wood flour in a silo.

2020 onwards

Early 2020 saw the Service begin to broaden its support for the community by engaging in a variety of additional work throughout the Coronavirus pandemic. While our frontline staff continued to be there for emergency response, others were trained to give vaccinations, deliver vital supplies such as blood and breast milk, food parcels and educational resources. Staff response to the call for volunteers was overwhelming and well-received.

We opened a brand new, zero carbon fire station in Chester which has won several awards for its innovation and sustainability and our state-of-the-art immersive training centre in Winsford was officially opened by The Earl of Wessex. The facilities there immerse firefighters in real-life operational situations making them better equipped and skilled to keep the communities of Cheshire and surrounding areas safe.

On Thursday 2 November 2023, at 11:00, there was a Red Plaque ceremony to honour Fireman Cyril George Dutton who lost his life in the line of duty on 29 November 1940.

Read more about Cyril George Dutton

March 2020 - Safety Central, our award-winning interactive safety and lifeskills education centre, welcomed its 20,000th visitor since opening its doors in 2017.  

September 2021 - 400 animals were moved to safety by crews from eight attending fire engines after a major fire ripped through two barns at a farm near Winsford.

February 2022 - We were placed second in The Stonewall Top Workplace Equality Index which assesses organisations ranging from small local authorities to large private international businesses across the UK.  

April and May 2022 - Staff volunteers joined a convoy taking fire engines and equipment to Ukraine. We provided four fire engines and an aerial ladder platform along with PPE and surplus firefighting equipment to the war-torn country.

March 2023 - Four firefighters, members of our International Search and Rescue team (ISAR), flew to Turkey on a mission to rescue people trapped following the 7.8 magnitude earthquake affecting Turkey and Syria.

Chiefs’ recollections

Video playlist - Chief Fire Officer interviews

Vintage fire engines

We are very proud of our vintage fire engine heritage collection. These are lovingly cared for by a group of our volunteers who accompany them to shows in Cheshire.

They can also be seen at Service events where they are a proud reminder of our heritage.

Find out more about our vintage fire engines

View our gallery of photos (opens in new window)

If you would like to add a photo to our gallery then please send your photo in with a description to

Last updated: Thursday, 2 May 2024