During the 19th century, James Braidwood established what many believe to be the first firefighting brigade in Britain. Because of haphazard and shoddy architectural construction, Edinburgh was prone to constant outbreaks of fires. In 1824, the city fell victim to two such infernos that decimated large portions of the Old Town. Braidwood was appointed by the city council to spearhead what was to become the world’s first municipal fire department.
At the age of 24, he was already working as a firefighter, driving the engines that were employed to put out fires. He also worked as a surveyor, giving him expertise in building materials and construction that allowed him to incorporate this knowledge into new fire-fighting techniques. In his capacity as a fire chief, he hired men who had experience working in the fields of building manufacturing, as well as mariners. Both professions had an understanding and practicality that could be incorporated into fire-fighting techniques that are still utilized today.
Unfortunately, he was killed while fighting a fire in his new home in London. In 2008, a statue was erected in the city of his birth, not far from the site of one of the city’s most disastrous fires and home to the first fire station. The monument was created by Glaswegian sculptor, Kenneth Mackay, and a plaque reads:
“This statue is dedicated to the memory of James Braidwood, a pioneer of the scientific approach to fire-fighting. It also recognizes the courage and sacrifice of fire-fighters, not only in Lothian & Borders Fire and Rescue Service, but all over the world.”
Know Before You Go
The statue is situated at the backside of St. Giles Cathedral, to the left of Edinburgh's Mercat Cross.
The Museum of Scottish Fire Heritage, 1A Dryden Terrace, Edinburgh EH7 4NB, contains a history of Braidwood and some of his personal belongings. Open Tuesday - Saturday 10 am - 4 pm, £3 suggested donation.