Looking Back At The History Of Firefighting

7 February 2018

In terms of emergency services, firefighting is one of the most valuable resources in the world. Firefighters help save lives, so it’s hard to imagine a time when there wasn’t a firefighting service. Firefighting goes all the way back to Ancient Rome, so we’ve decided to chart the service from its earliest days up to the modern era.

Early days

The origin of the firefighting service came about after a horrific fire broke out in Rome. This occurred in 6 AD and Emperor Augustus established the first fire brigade known as the Vigiles. The group consisted of ex-slaves who were trained to deal with fires and acted as night watchmen as well. The duties of the Vigiles were divided into different roles, including Unicinarius, Siphonarius and Aquarius.

The Uncinarius carried hooks for the removal of a burning roof, Siphonarius operated water pumps and Aquarius supplied the water via buckets. There were around seven battalions of firefighters, each led by a single chief. The Vigiles employed a number of tools, including axes to chip away walls and let smoke and heat escape.

This method of firefighting is believed to have been carried over to Britain during the Roman invasion. But after they left, firefighting took a step back and fires became a regular occurrence in Britain and Europe.

Middle ages to modern day

In 1666, the Great Fire of London changed the way Britain dealt with disasters. Fire insurance was set up by Nicholas Barbon and in order to reduce insurance costs he set up his own fire brigade. Other companies followed his example and the private brigades would only protect client property. Insured buildings were identified with a badge and those that weren’t were left to burn.

Eventually, all the companies merged together to form The London Fire Company Establishment in 1833. James Braidwood became the first Fire Chief, after transfering from the Edinburgh fire brigade. The 1850s saw the introduction of steam-powered machines that increased the quantity of water to be used in a fire.

During the early 1900s, there were between 1400 and 1500 small fire brigades run by local councils in the UK. In 1938 the Auxiliary Fire Service was set up and then succeeded by the National Fire Service in WW2. At this time there was no countrywide standard for firefighting procedures or equipment, though standardisation came into play after the war.

After WW2, local county authorities took over the National Fire Service and The Fire Services Act was introduced in 1948. This resulted in 148 county councils and boroughs running their own brigades. Changes took place in 1986 when some municipal boroughs and county brigades were renamed, becoming independent as a result.

Modern firefighters continue to show their bravery and determination. At Total Fire Services, we believe in safety and our range of services are designed to help your company carry out the best fire safety practices. For more information contact us on 01204 697 990.

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