EDINBURGH FIRE BRIGADE

1703 to 1941

 

 

Headquarters

 

June 1900         Central Fire Station, Lauriston Place, EDINBURGH

 

 

Stations

 

1824

Central Station, 188 High Street

 

Portsburgh

 

The New Town

 

The Southern Outskirts

 

1873

Central Station, 188 High Street

 

St Leonards

 

Rose Street

 

Fountainbridge

 

June 1900

Central Fire Station, Lauriston Place, EDINBURGH

 

Junction Place, Leith

 

Stockbridge, Edinburgh

 

Angle Park, Edinburgh

 

London Road, Edinburgh

 

Firemasters

1818 Firemaster Fletcher Yates

1824 to 1832

Firemaster James Braidwood

1832 to 1839 Firemaster James Paterson
1839 to 1846 Firemaster Robert Hardie
1846 to 1849 Firemaster John Wood
1849 to 1872 Firemaster John Mitchell
1872 to 1876 Firemaster Richard C Williams
1876 to 1895 Firemaster Samuel B Wilkins

1896 to 1927

Firemaster Arthur Pordage

1927 to 1941 Firemaster Peter Methuen

 

 

Appliances

1826

 

The Yellow Engine

 

1890

 

Horsed Escape 69ft. (made by EFB)

 

1911

 

Horse drawn Simonis Turrntable Ladder (Tractor driven in 1923)

TL

1913?

 

Merryweather/Hatfield pump

P

1921

 

Merryweather Turntable Ladder

TL

1929

 

Merryweather 85’

TL

1935

 

Merryweather 105’ (All steel)

TL

1938 BWS391 Leyland ?

 

 

Names

1703 to 1824

A Firefighting Organisation

1824 to 1870

Edinburgh Fire Engine Establishment

1870 to 1941

Edinburgh Fire Brigade

 

Notes

 

In 1825 James Braidwood’s eighty firemen were all part-timers all of the following trades; slaters, carpenters, masons, plumbers and smiths.
He divided the city into four districts and his brigades into four companies-the red, the blue, the yellow and the grey. There was an engine house in each district and the engines in it were painted the colour of the company attached, which was officered by a captain and a sergeant, wearing appropriate badges and helmet markings; the men also wore distinguishing marks of their company’s colour.
The men were drilled every Wednesday morning at four o’clock so that it did not interfere with their daily work, there was less chance of crowds forming and half the time it was dark so it gave them practice in the dark.
James Braidwood pioneered going into the building to fight the flames rather than standing outside and shooting water at a building when very little of the water actually hit the fire. He looked after the safety of his men and would only let them go into a fire if there was at least two of them and he also taught them to get down to the floor to breathe the six inches of air rather than standing up in the smoke.
(from A History of the British Fire Service by G. V. Blackstone.)

The first petrol motor engine put in commission in Edinburgh about 1913 was a Merryweather with a Hatfield Pump.
Leith amalgamated with Edinburgh on 2nd November 1920. They took over from Leith Two Halley Fire Engines. The Firemaster, (who later accepted the post of Senior District Officer in the Edinburgh Fire Brigade) one Station Officer and fifteen firemen were transferred to Edinburgh.
In 1935 Edinburgh did no use ordinary ordinary wheeled escapes, they had 40ft extension ladders on each fire engine. These were necessary owing to the very narrow closes in Edinburgh where they could not take a wheeled escape.

Date of last using Manual Engines

1893

Date of last using Manual Escapes

1894

Date of last using Horsed Steam Fire Engine

1915

Date of last using Motor Steam Fire Engine

1922

Date of last using Horsed Escapes

1918

Date of first using Horsed Escapes

1890

Date of first using Motor Appliances other than Fire King & Hatfield

1913

Date of first employing whole-time firemen

1877

Date of installation of First Fire Alarm System

1905

(From letters written by Firemasters to the late T. Dennis Barclay.)

 

The Third Statistical Account of Scotland

The City of Edinburgh Vol XV (1966)

Page 442
The Fire Service
Edinburgh firemen make the proud claim that since they date back to 1703 they are the oldest municipal fire brigade in the world. It was that year, apparently, which saw the first recorded attempt to form a fire-fighting organisation in the city, according to a document long treasured at the Central Fire Station. Little organised procedure, however, was possible in 1703, since there was no piped water supply to fire hydrants, no firemen on constant watch, no telephone system to raise the alarm and no fast fire appliances. Instead, as all calls were on foot, there was a long delay before the alarm was given; manpower was widely dispersed; and water was obtainable only from wells and inadequate wooden mains. But the water, carried to the scene by water caddies in 300 leather buckets by the Town Guard, had a curious ally in large quantities of muck and horse dung. This was carried in creels.
As the 18th century wore on, there were fires from time to time in the Old Town, as indeed in other populous centres, which did great damage. Early in the next century, too, there were so many serious fires that in 1824 the Police Commissioners took fire protection over, and duly recruited and trained a body of 80 firemen under the command of a superintendent, James Braidwood, who later went to London and was killed on duty at a great fire in Tooley Street. Six insurance companies then agreed to contribute the sum of 200 each, with Police Funds adding a further 200, to purchase new appliances. The new brigade known as the Edinburgh Fire Engine Establishment till 1870 when title was changed to the Edinburgh Fire Brigade.
Some of the old record books give detailed items of expenditure which show that firemen in those days were paid for services rendered and not on a weekly basis. For example:
10th September, 1826 at 10 p.m.
The fire began in the roof and machinery over the thrashing-mill course which were destroyed. It was prevented from extending to the barns and other offices. The Yellow Engine (the only one that played) could not be wrought with much effect on account of the great scarcity of water- water was obliged to be carried from an old quarry about a quarter of a mile distant. Bill 14-16s.-0d.
A scrap book in the Fire Brigade's possession which gives particulars of large fires, shows that the old Theatre Royal had fires in 1853, 1865, 1875 and 1884. Later still, in November, 1892, Jenners' shop in Princess -Street suffered an "immense destruction of Property." As one Press report put it: "When the whole building was ablaze the roar of the flames could be distinctly heard and the Waverley Hotel was lit up as at noonday.... As the fire began to die out the scene assumed a grand appearance. In the foreground was the Scott Monument swathed in the ruddy glare the blazing pile, behind which there stood the spectre-like walls of the gutted warehouse, picked out on the sky like some quaint picture in a lime-light exhibition."
With this lurid scene burning in everyone's mind, plans were made for a new Central Fire Station at Lauriston Place. This was duly opened in June, 1900, and is one of Edinburgh's six stations. the newest (1961) being the one at Sighthill; the others are still on the original sites.
But how great the changes since the turn of the century! In 1900 stations were manned with hose-carts or pumps, horse-drawn. There were links between stations, better piped supplies and more men available to make an immediate response to a call. Nevertheless, progress to and at fires was a good deal slower than it is today, when to deal with a fire in the city one dials 999 on the telephone to call the brigade from its half dozen stations, all armed now with the latest pump appliances, turntable ladders, reasonably adequate water supply, alarm systems in buildings to give early warning, and the machinery to order any additional pumps required from stations beyond the city.

REORGANISATION BETWEEN THE WARS

At the end of the first World War the spread of mechanism and a general demand for higher wages and salaries had a twofold effect on Edinburgh's fire brigade. In 1920 the Edinburgh Town Council approved the raising of a Firemaster's salary from 650 a year to 800, that of a Superintendent from 375 to 470, and the pay of a 3rd Officer from 315 to 380. The fireman's rate became 70s. per week rising to 90s. Between 1920 and 1930 the fire brigade also became completely mechanised, and the work of the brigade began to take on the familiar pattern of today.
With the outbreak of the second World War the Auxiliary Fire Service was mobilised, and with this expansion a large number of auxiliary stations were opened to accommodate the greatly increased number of appliances and personnel. Although Edinburgh had no serious raids during the war, the men and their equipment were used in the fierce raids on Clydeside; and soon, as the very serious fires caused by enemy raids continued, the Government was compelled to re-consider the system of control. In May, 1941 it was announced that the fire service would be nationalised, by August the National Fire Service was formed.
This eventually caused a complete upheaval in the fire-fighting organisation. In Scotland the whole country was divided into six fire areas with a Fire Force Commander who was responsible to the Secretary of State for Scotland. Within each fire area, divisions and sub-divisions were formed with senior officers in command. At each level there was a fire control room, reporting to the level above, until the last link was made with the major control for the United Kingdom based in London.
The next steps in the evolution of Edinburgh's fire brigade as part of a national service are important to note if we are to understand its position and potentialities today. With the return of peace, the political promises of 1941 to return the fire services to local authority, control had to be honoured, but many thought that the lessons learned during the years of the National Fire Service would be lost if all pre-war fire authorities, 1,400 in number, were to regain control of their small fire brigades After long discussions with the associations representing local authorities it was agreed that larger units were desirable, and in the Fire Services Act of 1947 provision was made for the establishment of 11 Fire Areas in Scotland, instead of 288 separate fire brigades as formerly.
As the result of this, the fire service in Edinburgh today forms part of what is called the South Eastern Fire Area, and Edinburgh itself naturally provides the headquarters for an area of about 2,500 square miles, covering the city itself, the Lothians and Peebles, and the three Border counties of Berwick, Roxburgh and Selkirk. The combined population exceeds 820,000 and is served by 32 fire stations in all. The Area is administered by the South Eastern Fire Area Joint Committee, consisting of eight councillors from the city and one from each of the seven counties which make up the South East of Scotland. The Town Clerk of Edinburgh acts as Clerk; the Treasurer is the City Chamberlain; and the money required to meet the costs of the fire brigade is supplied by each of the eight authorities on a basis of an agreed proportion and with regard to their rateable value.
Costs are arrived at by taking average annual figures. The highest costs in a fire brigade are related to salaries and wages for staff: the next block of expenditure relates to buildings and their upkeep, fire appliances and their maintenance plus running costs, equipment for men and appliances, and fire hydrants. The total cost we can see from the Final Estimates for the year commencing 16th May, 1963. These totalled 453,855 of which 382,075 went on salaries and wages, and 32,500 on an item called "Pensions etc." In addition capital expenditure on such items as new hydrants accounted for 149,400.

CONDITIONS OF SERVICE

Comparing the pay and conditions of service of firemen today with those of 1900, the picture is one of considerable change. The pay of a recruit fireman today is 700 a year, rising to 930 after seven years. His predecessor of 1900 had 22s. per week, which after 10 years service rose to 27s. Moreover, whereas the fireman of 1900 had one day off per month, the present day fireman in the South Eastern Fire Area has a 48-hour week, operating a 3-watch system of 3-day shifts of 10 hours, 3 night shifts of 14 hours with sleeping allowed, and 3 days off. In addition he has 21 days annual leave, 6 public holidays and overtime payment. This system applies to Station Officers, Sub Officers, Leading Firemen and Firemen on operational duties at fire stations. In 1964 there were about 406 of these on whole-time duties in the area, and in addition there were nearly 300 men described as "Retained" men. These hold the same rank as wholetime firemen, and are attached to stations outside Edinburgh in places where more whole-time men would be difficult to justify, or where the station is only used on a part-time basis. There are 22 such stations in the South Eastern Fire Area.
Each whole-time man is issued with standard kit on joining at a cost of' 100, spends three months at the training school on full pay, and on return is fully conversant with most types of fire appliance and equipment. From the moment of joining he is covered by a large protective umbrella in matters of pay, medical benefit, pension scheme, clothing issues, and regular leave breaks, all of which have been developed to ensure his acceptance of the hazards of his job. There is an examination system for promotion, and all ranks from firemen to firemaster are filled by promotion from within the service.

HEADQUARTERS

The headquarters of the South Eastern Fire Brigade Area is situated at the Central Fire Station in Lauriston Place. At this centre are concentrated the Administration of the Brigade, the Firemaster and his Assistant Firemaster, the two Divisional Officers, each controlling 16 of the 32 fire stations in the Area-with their Assistant Divisional Officers and Instructors, the Fire Prevention Section under its Divisional Officer-this gives specialist advice on fire subjects-the Area Workshops, which repair and maintenance the 100 vehicles in the Brigade fleet, the Area Stores and the Area Fire Control. This latter is under a Sub-Officer who is the mobilising officer, and is manned by four Leading Firewomen and four Firewoman Their job is to see that the appropriate stations send the requisite number of appliances to a fire call and to inform others concerned such as the Police, who in turn notify Gas and Electricity Departments.

FIRE PREVENTION

Away back in 1585 (says a Fire Brigade record), a very destructive fire, with a tragic human consequence, which broke out in Peebles Wynd (now Blair Street) was caused by a baker's boy setting fire to a stack of his master's peats. At the time peat was a cheap and popular fuel, as too were heather, broom and whins, all stacked up in the wynds and closes or indoors. So once a fire got hold in such narrow confines, the result was usually calamitous. And so it was for the unfortunate boy, for according to this record, he "met with a severity of punishment highly disproportionate to his offence, being burnt quick at the cross next day."
This fire and one or two others had one good effect however. The Town Council by edict abolished the custom of heaping up fuel within the city; which brings us to the whole question of fire prevention today. That this is a vital problem can hardly be gainsaid, since the number of calls dealt with, as well as the number of lives lost in fires, increases annually. In 1962, to cite a recent year. the South Eastern Fire Brigade dealt with 5,029 calls, including 2,206 fires requiring the use of pumps. The biggest involved a loss of 450,000, and the next biggest 200,000. Six lives were lost in that year.
Since much of this damage and loss could have been prevented, the Fire Prevention Department plays an increasing role in efforts to achieve this. Hundreds of inspections of factories and offices are carried out annually; plans are examined and discussed with architects on a variety of projects involving protective measures; talks are given to outside associations and schools, all stressing naturally such obvious dangers as leaving matches within the reach of children. Moreover, there is a growing awareness by members of the public of the free service available to them, and more than 1,000 persons in a year have sought advice at the brigade headquarters on such matters as heating appliances, treatment of fabrics, the provision of suitable fire extinguishers, and whether it is dangerous to sleep with electric blankets switched on and television sets indefinitely plugged in.
Some of these and other dangers were taken up early in 1964 by Firemaster Frank Rushbrook who succeeded Firemaster A. B. Craig, when presenting his annual report on the work of the South Eastern Fire Brigade during 1963 and, in some detail, his building programme and staffing report.
He thought new fire stations were needed in the city's outlying districts and extra staff in the city itself. Two large fires at the same time, as had already occurred, could strain the brigade to breaking point. Deaths through fires in 1963 were 17, the same as two years before, compared with the previous highest figure of 14 in 1954. Altogether, be said, in the 2,500 square miles of the South Eastern Fire Brigade's area there had been 5,001 fires as against the previous year's 5,029. Seventeen of the 35 fires in the area, causing more than 2,000 damage, had occurred in Edinburgh. In the light of these fires it is regrettable that there should be people in the city base enough to make malicious false alarms. Most of these culprits are teenagers, young men and children; together, in 1963, they put in 294 false alarm calls compared with 206 in the previous year.
However, if this sounds gloomy, at least we can leave the Edinburgh firemen and their colleagues in the South Eastern Fire Brigade with praise for three striking innovations which came about in 1963. These were (1) a "press-button" control room, (2) an all-purpose emergency tender, (3) the inauguration of an apprenticeship scheme under which boys of 15 1/2 years of age can don firemen's uniform. Now, as the result of the new system the control consol at the Lauriston headquarters considerably reduces the time lapse between receipt of the telephone call and the arrival of the appliance at the scene of the fire. Two-way radio contact too can be maintained with 55 tenders, and all calls passing through the central switchboard are tape-recorded. This device has many advantages, not the least of which is that it can be used to trap anyone sending a false alarm.
The pantechnicon-like emergency vehicle, which weighs eight tons and cost 10,800, carries more than 700 separate items of equipment, thus enabling the firemen to deal expeditiously with any form of emergency from a train crash or street accident to a collapsed building. It has hydraulic rescue gear which can lift 50 tons, resuscitation and first-aid apparatus including stretchers; a generator, a searchlight, and flood lighting equipment that can operate up to 900 feet away from the vehicle. It also carries oxy-acetylene and oxy-propane equipment, and radio and walkie-talkie apparatus to maintain contact with the main control centre.
The Junior Firemen Apprenticeship Scheme, the first in Scotland, as these words are written, provides for the enrolment of lads between the ages of 15 1/2 and 16 1/2, at wages ranging from 225 to 285 per annum for a five-day week. On enrolment as regular firemen at the age of 18, the wage rises to 700. And with this our survey must end-with the reassuring, if obvious reflection that, the stream-lined fire service of today presents a remarkable contrast to the days when the tolling of the big brass fire bell brought out a boiler on wheels, belching smoke and drawn by galloping horses.

 

10/10/1867    10-10pm    Fire 125 High Street

Attended

Captain A. Spalding, 2 Pn, 6 Firemen.

Captain I. Spalding, 1 Sergeant, 3 Pn, 7 Firemen.

Captain I. Armstrong, 1 Sergeant, 4 Pn, 5 Firemen.

Captain D. Braidwood, 1 Sergeant, 3 Pn, 6 Firemen.

Captain R. Onock, 1 Pn, 2 Fm

They were paid 2/6 for turning out and pay for the first hour 7/-

At a drill at 4am on 14/4/1866 the above 5 Captains and their men attended along with

Captain I. Hogg, 4 Pn, 5 Firemen.

(Record of Fires January 1866 - February 1870. Pages 101-103. This book is kept in the City Archives, Edinburgh).

 

 

If you know of any mistakes in this or have any additional information please let me know.

 

 

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