Key SFRS figures to attend James Braidwood Fortrose Service 2024

Members from the Service will pay tribute to the first Master of Engines

This weekend the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) will pay tribute to one of the most important figures in the history of fire and rescue services. 

A commemorative service will be held at St Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Fortrose at 10.30am this Sunday, 23 June in memory of James Braidwood. 

Mr Braidwood’s descendants will be joined by local and senior SFRS staff at the church, overlooking the Moray Firth, to remember an individual who changed the face of fire and rescue – not just in the UK, but globally. 

But who was Mr Braidwood, and why is he such an important figure for fire and rescue services today? 

To understand this, we must go back to 1824 - 200 years ago. 

Following a series of devastating fires, local authorities in Edinburgh and insurance firms worked together to create the world’s first municipal fire service - the first regional government-appointed fire service. 

To achieve this, a Master of Engines would have to be appointed. 

James Braidwood, a trained surveyor with a wide knowledge of building materials, construction and conditions in the Edinburgh area, was the ideal candidate at a time when specific firefighter training did not exist.

Once chosen as the Master of Engines for the Edinburgh Fire Engine Establishment, James appointed various tradesmen who could lend their expertise to firefighting. 

He placed great emphasis and importance on training his crews and took a pioneering approach to firefighting by entering buildings and tackling the heart of the fire – an approach still used by fire services across the world today. 

James is also credited with being the first person to give firefighters in Edinburgh their own Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) by way of a helmet. 

His first big test came weeks after the formation of the establishment, the Great Fire of Edinburgh in November 1824. The fire lasted five days and was one of the most destructive fires in the city's history. 

After a successful spell in Edinburgh, James was appointed as the first Head of the London Fire Establishment, now the London Fire Brigade, in 1833. 

For almost 30 years, Mr Braidwood continued to set the standard for fire and rescue services, overseeing leaps in training methodology, the evolution of equipment and the organisation and formation of a modern fire and rescue service.  

Sadly, in 1861, at the age of 61, James was killed by a collapsing wall after leading his firefighters into a fire at London's Tooley Street.

The fire was noted as the worst experienced by Londoners since the Great Fire of London in 1666. 

On 29 June 1861 a funeral was held for James and his heroism and bravery were acknowledged by a cortege stretching 1.5 miles behind his hearse. 

Now, 200 years on from the formation of that first municipal fire service in Scotland’s capital and 163 years after his death, Mr Braidwood’s legacy and life will be remembered.  

Scotland’s current Chief Fire Officer, Ross Haggart, will attend the event alongside Mr Braidwood’s family.  

He said: “It is a privilege to be the Chief Officer of SFRS at a time where we can celebrate Scotland’s rich fire and rescue heritage.  

“James Braidwood’s legacy can be seen in everything we do today as a modern fire and rescue service, and I am honoured to attend Sunday’s church service in Fortrose alongside his descendants to remember his life and contributions to fire and rescue. 

“It is vitally important that we mark the 200th anniversary of the world’s first municipal fire service and the importance of historic figures like James Braidwood, as without their innovation and sacrifice we wouldn’t be the service we are today.” 

James's legacy lives on to this day, with a statue of him outside St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh and streets named after him in London (Braidwood Street) and in Rainham (Braidwood Forest). 

On James's statue, it states he was the “Father of the British Fire Service” crediting him as being the pioneer of the scientific approach to firefighting. 

Later this year, the SFRS and others will also commemorate the formation of the world’s first municipal fire service on Wednesday, 23 October at St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh. 

In the coming months there will be a plethora of events that members of the public can attend.  

Whether you want to paint your own helmet with the kids, attend a walking tour or listen to informative chats about the role of dogs or the historic importance of the fire service, there really is something for everyone.  

You can find out more about what’s on by visiting Museum of Scottish Fire Heritage website or visiting the Museum at McDonald Road, Edinburgh.