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Firefighters or Firemen

This is a universal project - please link Geni profiles of Firefighters or Firemen to this project.

Image Right - taken from "Ville-Marie, or sketches of Montreal, past and present. ... With ... engravings, etc" Burning Parliament Buildings - 1849 - Public Domain British Library

A firefighter or fireman is a rescuer trained in firefighting, primarily to extinguish hazardous fires that threaten property and civilian or natural populations, and to rescue people from dangerous situations, (e.g. collapsed or burning buildings or crashed vehicles). In some areas, they are also trained in Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and operate ambulances in addition to being a firefighter.

(Fireman can also refer to someone who worked on a Steam engine - usually on the Railways)

See also Firefighters who died on the job


The first organized professional firefighters occurred in Ancient Egypt. The Egyptians used wooden water pumps to extinguish fires.

“200 BC,” - Ctesibius invented a new and improved water pump to put out fires in Rome.

Fire fighters of the Roman Republic were privately organized and funded groups that operated more as a business than a public service. During the Principate period Augustus revolutionised firefighting by calling for the creation of a fire guard that was trained, paid, and equipped by the state - the first public and professional firefighting service. Known as the Vigiles, they were organised into cohorts and also served as a night watch and city police force. Also known as “Spartoli” or “Little Bucket Fellows.” (Graf)

Full sizes of the thumbnail images can be seen in the Gallery attached to the project or by clicking the thumbnail image. TIP - Use ctrl+the link to open the image in a separate tab, or use "back" to return to this project page) Sources for the images can be found in the image details as seen in the gallery.

Names with Bold links are to Geni profiles or projects. Other links take you to external biographical web pages.


Image above - from page 72 of 'The Chronicles of Twyford. Being a new and popular history of the town of Tiverton in Devonshire: with some account of Blundell's School, founded A.D. 1604'. British Library - Public domain

United Kingdom


  • c.1699

The responsibility for fighting fires in London rested with the Lord Mayor, the Livery Companies, and the Parish Councils. Not long after the Great Fire of London in 1666 fire insurance companies were established. The first fire insurance company, “The Fire Office”, was established in 1667 by Nicholas Barbon. In 1699, the Hand in Hand Company formed its own Fire Brigade, recruiting Firefighters and ‘Porters’ (to salvage goods from insured premises) from Thames watermen. The early firefighters were dressed in a flamboyant uniform with a large metal badge on their arm bearing the company motif. As London grew the cost of individual fire brigades grew, prompting 10 companies to form a combined force in 1833 known as the London Fire Engine Establishment.


Image above - in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 100 years or less.
  • 1861

James Braidwood was the first Superintendent of the London Fire Engine Establishment in 1833 with headquarters in Watling Street. 17 Fire Stations crewed by 80 Firefighters developed throughout Central London and the City. In 1861 a Riverside Warehouse in Tooley Street, Southwark, caught Fire and destroyed adjoining Buildings for a Quarter of a Mile. Every Firefighter in London attended the Blaze including the Chief James Braidwood who was killed at the scene. The Insurance Companies, who financed the London Fire Engine Establishment, appealed to the Government to take over responsibility for firefighting in London, resulting in the formation of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade in 1866, with public funding, under the control of the Metropolitan Board of Works. Captain Eyre Massey Shaw was Superintendent.

  • 1897

Captain Eyre Massey Shaw began recruiting ex-sailors as firefighters as they were well disciplined, physically fit, agile aloft, and used to day and night duty. Naval tradition remains in the London Fire Brigade with shifts still known as watches. When the London County Council took control of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade in 1889 there were 56 Fire Stations and 4 River Stations in London. Captain Massey Shaw resigned in 1891 and was knighted by Queen Victoria. In 1904 the title changed to London Fire Brigade.

  • 1940

The Auxiliary Fire Service, employing part-time Firefighters, was formed in 1938 to support the regular London Fire Brigade in readiness for the Second World War. Throughout the ‘Blitz’ of 1940-41 both Forces battled to contain the Fires started by High Explosive and Incendiary Bombs dropped on the Capital by the Luftwaffe. In 1941 the London Fire Brigade and Auxiliary Fire Service became part of the National Fire Service covering the whole of Britain.

  • 1965

After wartime service the London Region of the National Fire Service reverted to London County Council control in 1948. New appliances and firefighting techniques were introduced, with new fire stations built and new uniforms and equipment designed. In 1965 the Greater London Council took over responsibility for the London Fire Brigade and absorbed some of the surrounding Counties’ Fire Brigades into the Force. In 1986, The London Fire And Civil Defence Authority Assumed Control of the London Fire Brigade.


A lot of the equipment used by seventeenth century fire-fighters is similar to what is used today:

  • Fire Hooks - used to pull down roof tiles or even buildings to prevent the spread of fire.
  • Fire Buckets - made of leather, filled with water, were passed along a chain of people from the water supply to the fire.
  • Pick Axes - were used to dig up water pipes which were cut open.
  • Water Squirts - hand-held water squirts were developed that allowed the fire-fighter to aim the jet of water at the fire.
  • Fire Engines - were developed in the seventeenth century and were introduced in large cities from around 1625. These 'engines' allowed a force of water to be directed at the heart of the fire. A good supply of water was needed. Although the new fire engines had tanks that were filled with water, they were soon emptied. They were refilled with water from the river, passed in buckets along a chain of people from the river to the fire.

References, Sources and Further Reading

// Main Reference WIKI Firefighter Information shared under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License - see Creative Commons Licenses

// this project is in History Link