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ormed in 1824 under the supervision of James Braidwood, the Edinburgh Fire Establishment was the U.K’s first municipal fire brigade and the one that set the pattern for the brigades created all over the world during the Victorian period. To ensure that the engines arrived at an emergency as quickly as possible, the brigade’s four fire stations had been built on high ground. Consisting of a captain, sergeant and eighteen firemen, each company had its own colour for identification purposes. The engines, fire-fighting equipment and firemens’ helmets were painted in the company colour. The firemen wore dark blue tunics with brass buttons and white canvas trousers. Each fireman carried an axe, hose coupling, spanner and a length of cord on their black leather belts.

The four divisions of the Edinburgh Fire Establishment

Red Watch (Central & Eastern Division) was stationed in Fishmarket Close next to the Burgh Court and Police headquarters in the High Street, while Blue Watch (Western Division) was stationed at Fountainbridge. Yellow Watch (Northern Division) was stationed at Rose Street and Grey Watch (Southside Division) at Teviot Place.

Firefighting equipment

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The fire engines were designed to be pulled either by a horse or four firemen manning a pole attached to the fore-carriage, and drag ropes were used to control the engines when manhandling the machines downhill.

By the 1860s, the firemens’ cork helmets had been replaced by leather helmets bearing the coat of arms of the City of Edinburgh.

Major fires during this period

During this period the brigade had to deal with fires at Old Greyfriars Church, the Adelphi Theatre, the Royal Theatre, the Southminster Theatre and the Theatre Royal. The brigade also took part in the rescue operations following the collapse of Smith’s Land tenement in the High Street.

Firemasters

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Last modified 19 March 2014