Braidwood's Fire Prevention Principles

In the year 1824, Edinburgh, Scotland was faced with a fire crises. Major fires were occurring throughout the city, the insurance company fire brigades were less than effective as they lacked discipline and failed to work together. The municipal leaders, not happy with the situation, set out to take control of their fire problem.  So it was that, one of fire service history’s most influential and progressive thinking officers, James Braidwood was selected to become the first Master of Engines for the Edinburgh Fire-Engine Establishment (EFEE).

In 1830, Braidwood wrote, “Not having been able to find any work on fire engines in the English language, I have been led to publish the following remarks, in the hope of inducing others to give further information on the subject.” These “remarks” became the 138-page book, On the Construction of Fire Engines and Apparatus: The Training of Firemen, and the Method of Proceeding in Cases of Fire.

Braidwood's book covers much more than how to build a fire engine. It is a guide to building a fire service. He details fire engine use, maintenance, equipment, and water supply, he discusses hiring practices, firefighter training, and self-escape.  Most importantly, Braidwood's book provides one of the earliest guides "on the causes of fires, and the means of preventing them".

His fire prevention plan can be broken down into the following seven principles:
  1. Know your community.
  2. Have a plan.
  3. Enforce the code.
  4. Conduct plan review and field inspections.
  5. Investigate fire incidents.
  6. Educate the public.
  7. Ensure adequate staffing.

#1 Know your community --

“...every exertion should be used to keep the firemen on good terms with the populace.”
“He should also make himself well acquainted with the different parts of the town in which he may be appointed to act, and notice the declivities of the different streets, etc. He will find this knowledge of great advantage.”

“...[in examining the Table, 1824-1829] serious fires decrease as the number of alarms increase...the cause of so many alarms...arise from foul chimneys...the number of houses, shops, and assessable 29,000...average of fires for...five years is about 105...cases of foul chimneys...being one fire to each 276 houses.”

#2 Have a Plan --

“The person having the principal charge of the engines should frequently turn over in his mind what might be the best plan, in such and such circumstances, supposing a fire to take place.  By frequently ruminating on the subject, he will find himself, when suddenly turned our of bed at night, much more fit for his task than if he had never considered the matter at all.”

#3 Enforce the code --

“As almost all fires arise from carelessness in one shape or another, it is of the utmost importance that every master of a family should persevere in rigidly enjoining, and enforcing on those under him, the necessity of observing the utmost possible care, in preventing such calamities, which, in nineteen cases out of twenty, are the result of remissness or inattention.”

#4 Conduct Plan Review and Field Inspections --

“Great carelessness is frequently exhibited by builders, when erecting at one time two or three houses connected by mutual gables, by not carrying up the gables or party-walls with a skew on the outside, so as to divide the roofs.”

“It is not uncommon thing, too, to find houses divided only by lath and standard partitions, without a single brick in them.”

“In theatres, that part of the house which includes the stage and scenery should be carefully divided from that where the audience assembles.”

“The subject of fire-proof buildings might occupy a considerable space...To make a building fire-proof, the stairs must be of stone, and the doors of iron…”

“...the next thing to be considered is a supply of water.”

#5 Investigate Fire Incidents --

“The most immense hazard is frequently incurred for the most trifling indulgences, and much property is annually destroyed, and valuable lives often lost, because a few thoughtless individuals cannot deny themselves the gratification of reading in bed with a candle beside them.”

“...leaving their houses to the care of children.”

“Intoxication is also a disgraceful and frequent cause of fire.”

“...approaching with lighted candles too near a bed or window curtains.”

“...going under a bed with a lighted candle, and placing a screen full of clothes too near the fire.”

“...cinders falling between the joints of the outer and inner hearths.”

“...foul chimneys.”

#6 Educate the public --

"When a fire actually takes place, every one should endeavor to be as cool and collected as possible…”

“The moment it is ascertained that fire has actually taken place, notice should be sent to the nearest station where there is a fire-engine.”

“...shut all the doors and windows as close as possible, which greatly retards the progress of the flames…”

#7 Ensure Adequate Staffing --

“...however complete in its apparatus and equipments, must depend for its efficiency on the state of training and discipline of the firemen.  Wherever there is inexperience, want of co-operation, or confusion amongst them, the utmost danger is to be apprehended in the event of fire.”

“The description of men from whom I have been in the habit of selecting firemen are slaters, house-carpenters, masons, plumbers, and smiths.”

“In each company there is one captain, one sergeant, four pioneers, and six or eight firemen.”

James Braidwood would eventually leave Edinburgh for London where he became  
Superintendent of the London Fire Engine Establishment. At the age of 62 the "Father of the British Fire Serivce", James Braidwood, was killed in a building collapse, while fighting a large warehouse fire.

In recent years standards such as NFPA 1730, NFPA 1452, NFPA 1300 have been created to discuss and present the "new" concept of community risk reduction or CRR.  I share the story of James Braidwood from 1830 to demonstrate that the principles of fire prevention, and effective fire prevention organizations have been around for a long time. Though the terminology may change, new buzz word may come and go, these seven tenants for effective community fire prevention remain the same.