James Braidwood lived from 1800 to 22 June 1861. He founded the world's first municipal fire service and pioneered the science of modern fire-fighting. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
James Braidwood was born in Edinburgh and educated at the Royal High School. His father was a builder and after leaving school, Braidwood joined the company as an apprentice. Here he learned about construction methods and took a particular interest in the way fires spread in buildings. Edinburgh's New Town was still growing rapidly at the time, and those who could afford to were leaving the Old Town. One result was an increasing number of fires in derelict buildings in the Old Town, which the existing fire fighting capabilities provided by insurance companies were unable to tackle effectively.
In 1824 Braidwood worked with the city authorities and the insurance companies to establish the world's first municipal fire service, the Edinburgh Fire Establishment. Within weeks of the formation of the Establishment it was severely tested in what has become known as the Great Fire of Edinburgh. With his knowledge of building construction he pioneered the use of a scientific approach to fire fighting, often entering buildings to tackle the heart of a fire. He also placed great emphasis on the training of his firefighters.
On 1 January 1833, Braidwood was appointed the first head of the newly formed London Fire Engine Establishment. This was the forerunner to the London Fire Brigade and employed eighty firefighters at thirteen fire stations across London.
On 22 June 1861, fire took hold of a series of dockside warehouses in Tooley Street on the south bank of the River Thames. Braidwood, although now 61 years old, led the firefighters personally, and was killed when a wall collapsed on him. His funeral a week later drew huge crowds. In the 1930s a London Fire Brigade fireboat was named in his honour, and in 2008 a larger than life-size bronze statue of James Braidwood was unveiled in Edinburgh's Parliament Square, commemorating the "Father of the British Fire Service".
James Braidwood is also celebrated in Edinburgh's superb Museum of Fire, housed in the old fire station on the ground floor of Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue Service Headquarters building in Lauriston Place.