Purpose – To demonstrate how government policy on fires service reform was initially challenged by a stubbornly resistant fire service corporatism but finally dismantled following the 2003 fire service White Paper. Design/methodology/approach – The paper is based on longitudinal case study data that includes 50 semi-structured interviews with key fire service personnel at regional and national levels. Findings – This paper examines the roots of corporatism at national and local levels and demonstrates how the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) had significant levels of influence on management decision-making. This was strongly reflected in the key role of the FBU in the industrial relations process that enabled the union to protect “entrenched” working practices. However, at a local level longstanding corporatist partnerships began to break down as a financial crisis arose and management took a more proactive approach. Corporatist structures at a national level, though, remained and it was not until the Labour government's second term of office that these national structures were overhauled following a White Paper and legislation. Originality/value – This paper demonstrates that whilst fire service management has consolidated its position under the Labour administration it has proved a disaster for the FBU.