Museum of Firefighting Returns to Edinburgh After Long Absence

Submitted by edg on Wed, 28 Jun '23 3.53am
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A museum telling the story of firefighting in Scotland opens this Thursday, almost a full century after pioneer James Braidwood took command of the world’s first municipal fire brigade in Edinburgh.

The Museum of Scottish Fire Heritage is opening at McDonald Road Fire Station off Leith Walk, which was the home of the previous Edinburgh Museum of Fire for 25 years, and remains a working fire station to this day.

The new museum is operated by the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service as a “community hub” and for educational purposes, with admission free.

The previous Edinburgh Museum of Fire closed in 2016. The museum was then housed in the old Central Fire Station, a  red brick building in Lauriston Place, which opened in 1900. The building was sold to the University of Edinburgh, and is now part of the Edinburgh College of Art. 

The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service said after the closure that they expected to open the new museum at McDonald Road in 2018, so the wait has been a long one.

World’s First Municipal Fire Brigade

The new museum uses historic fire vehicles, appliances, uniforms, photos, and interactive exhibits to bring the story of firefighting to life for youngsters and old alike.

The museum has five main themes in its gallery. 

In "Early Days", it looks at the rise of James Braidwood, who in 1824 became the first Firemaster in the world’s first municipal fire brigade, then called the Edinburgh Fire Engine Establishment.

A surveyor by trade, Braidwood brought a level of professionalism and scientific approach to firefighting. He introduced helmets and protective uniforms. He trained teams to enter buildings to get closer to the fire instead of standing outside pointing a hose at the building. 

His men drilled at 4am in the morning, practising climbing skills on North Bridge so they could escape burning buildings. Many similar principles of fire-fighting introduced by Braidwood are still applied today (his contribution to the profession was recognised in 2008 with a memorial statue on the Royal Mile).

The museum covers the impact of the Great Fire of Edinburgh (1824) and the role of private fire brigades, paid for by insurance companies.

“On the Run”, looks at how firefighters, over the years, have kept themselves and their equipment, serviceable and ready for Call Outs.

“Being a Firefighter” looks at what it takes to become a firefighter in terms of the skills and training (including for dogs) and how it has changed since Braidwood recruited part-time firefighters from the trades for their knowledge of the buildings and construction materials of the Old Town.

“Your Safety” covers the history of public information messaging showing how the fire service has used comic strips, posters, and radio to educate the public about fire risk. 

Finally, a temporary exhibition looks at how World War I and World War II impacted the formation of Fire Brigades across the UK, causing changes in the status of women.

Visitors will also be able to view the drill ground where current firefighters train. 

When it was announced that the Museum of Fire would close in 2016, there was some outcry. A petition calling for the Scottish government to preserve the museum garnered 5,425 signatures. The sale of the building went ahead. The new museum building at McDonald Road may not have the same character and heritage value, but the re-opening of the Museum should provide some consolation.

Admission is free to The Museum of Scottish Fire Heritage. Open daily 10am-4pm (closed Sunday & Monday) from Thursday, 29th June 2023.