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No Plaque?: A History Of The Fire Brigade

Aug 4, 2008
Ray Bradbury's seminal book Farenheit 451 is known, above all, for its warped vision of a future fire brigade. The firefighters in Bradbury's book are assigned not to put out fires, but to start theme's specifically, to burn books. One of the most chilling moments in the story is to see the main character reading information about the history of the fire department, established to "burn English-influenced books in the Colonies. First Fireman: Bejamin Franklin" How false, and how chilling!

But the real history of fire fighting is equally distorted, albeit in another direction. Early fire brigades were not entirely put together for altruistic reasons, and it wasn't until the late nineteenth century that fire fighters became known as selfless heroes. Earlier, fire fighters were something rather different.

The Great London Fire of 1666 was a key moment in the establishment of fire fighting groups. Although there had been organized fire fighters before notably in Rome and post-Hundred Years War Europe most brigades were run on a volunteer basis, were underfunded, and were above all inefficient. The vast destruction caused by the Great London Fire, however, made everyone aware that it was time for a drastic change.

"The Fire Office" was established in London in 1667 by a company of Thames watermen. The principle was simple. If you were a property owner who felt at significant risk of fire, you'd sign a contract with The Fire Office. If your building caught fire, members of The Fire Office were responsible for fighting the flames. In return, they'd be paid based on how good a job they did at stopping the fire.

Sounds simple too simple, in fact. Plenty of rival fire brigades sprung up, each with their own variant contract/insurance schemes. There was no public money appointed to the fire department and thus no reason to put out a fire in a building that you didn't carry the contract for. In fact, there was every reason to encourage a rival building's destruction, the rival company's reputation would go down and your own reputation would rise.

Soon the fire-fighting world of London was a bevy of fistfights, blockades, seized fire hydrants and any number of underhanded tactics in order to ensure that the insurance money would flow into the right hands, our hands! Isn't that right, boys! Overturn that hose reel now!

Eventually, local governments realized that this was no way to run a city, and public money began to be set aside for the fire brigade. And funnily enough, the fire fighters began to acquire their present reputation as selfless life savers, and heroes. Funny, in the end, what a little bit of money can do.
About the Author
Fire brigade equipment can include fire hose, stand pipes, hose couplings, branchpipes and more. See it all at www.FireProtectionOnline.co.uk
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