I tried googling this but fire-fighter is too similar to fire-fight (as in gun fight or shootout) so I keep getting the wrong results. I'm asking about fire-fighting as in containing and extinguishing fires.

I know that there are fire-fighters on military bases who serve the base similar to how a municipal fire department serves a town. I'm not asking about that.

I'm looking for examples of fire-fighters who were part of the military and traveled with the army to fight fires they needed put out on the front lines.

I've seen in movies and games from WW1 and WW2 that firebombs and flamethrowers and even normal munitions could start fires that lit up whole forests or city blocks. I've seen soldiers running from out of control fires or even try to advance through rubble that is still smoldering. How did armies deal with all these fires everywhere? What if there was a fire in the way of their advance? What if there was a fire spreading toward their position and it was important that they not give up their position? I'm assuming local fire departments weren't reliable in a war-zone, so did armies have fire-fighting units in their ranks? How close to combat would such units have been deployed?

  • 2
    When I asked my father the "What did you do during the war" question I was at first thrilled that he was a "fireman" and then disappointed to learn that "fireman" basically meant he shoveled coal into the ship's boiler -- it was/is naval engineering rating. This further clouds the ability to search on this query.
    – AllInOne
    Jan 14, 2019 at 23:01
  • 2
    @Jared K: aboard ship, every sailor has fire-fighting duties, and continual training. When I was aboard ship we trained twice a day, with at least one all-stations fire drill every few days, and a second general stations drill a few days later. Yes, there were also specialists in Damage Control, with ratings in that specialty. I also had on-land fire-fighting training, on how to handle a fire hose under pressure, and how to work in a smoke-filled room with and without breathing gear. Fire on board a ship is a real terror, and the risk is taken very seriously. USCG, 1967-69. Jan 15, 2019 at 1:32
  • 1
    @PeterDiehr Forrestal and Enterprise fires in the 1960s and '70s were a big factor in getting the USN to train everyone in firefighting duties, prior to that only part of the crews had such training. Guess the USCG was smarter than the USN when it came to that :)
    – jwenting
    Jan 15, 2019 at 4:51
  • Push it off the side of the road and keep going. Fall back from any conflagration overrunning a position you wish to deny your enemy and consider it a job well done. #TeamAmericaWinsWWII
    – Mazura
    Jan 15, 2019 at 8:40
  • @Mazura that's not such an effective approach if the fire is on your base
    – Chris H
    Jan 15, 2019 at 9:20

1 Answer 1


In some countries between the wars there was a serious Civil-Defense movement. These were part-time civilian organisations aimed at supplementing ordinary firefighters and rescue workers in event of air raids. Britain also had an Auxiliary Fire Service

As of actual military firefighters they were most important for branches of military other than the army. The navies (especially the US Navy operating lot of aircraft carriers in WW2) took it very seriously, appointing damage control parties and training basically all sailors in firefighting. Look for example at this introduction or at this 1945 manual. Apparently, naval firefighters were not a separate unit, but "repair parties" had sailors in preorganized "firefighting groups".

Air bases also had dedicated firefighters. Planes during the WW2 often came in trailing smoke, leaking fuel or with damaged landing gear. Landing in such conditions regularly resulted in the plane bursting in flames. The RAF for example had a separate Fire Service Here are some of their fire trucks. USAAF/C Fire fighting platoons come close to satisfying your requirements, as they belonged to the Army, and moved with their advance (WW2 fighter planes had limited range, so there were many-many airfields in France and Italy at the end of the war.)

But were there actual army firefighters putting out fires in the frontline?

There is a book that might contain the answer, but it is not freely available online.

Yet it turns out that there were. US Army Fire Fighting platoons were mainly base-based (as you describe) but here I have found that some were deployed on Utah Beach on 13 Juny 1944. Judging from the comment that they had to dig in, and from this map and this page, there were almost certinaly in range of German field artillery, which I consider frontline enough for an unit equipped with unarmored trucks. As they needed heavy equipment and - especially important - stable sources of water, I do not think they were deployed closer than this, though more research would be needed.

  • I highly doubt they were putting out fires on a beach. I'd have to think, you don't put out fires behind enemy lines, you just bulldoze it off the road and keep going.
    – Mazura
    Jan 15, 2019 at 3:11
  • 1
    @Mazura I am no expert on the subject, but Overlord beacheads became sort of semi-permanent bases, with an enormous amount of supplies (including a lot of fuel) flowing trough. Surely they could not manage for months only to "kick aside" fires.
    – b.Lorenz
    Jan 15, 2019 at 8:08
  • That's more like what the OP says they don't want. I'm sure many an engineer put out fires, but I can think of no other reason than to be able to move the thing that's on fire. Fire isn't the problem, the obstruction is. So you either wait for the tankdozer, or you proceed without tank support/supply lines.
    – Mazura
    Jan 15, 2019 at 8:25
  • You might be right in the sense that this is a special case, as not the "base firefighters" moved to the frontline, but rather the frontline was very close to the base.
    – b.Lorenz
    Jan 15, 2019 at 8:35

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.