logo
Home > Our Services > Emergency Services > About Westmeath Fire Service > Fire Service History

Fire Service History

A Short History of the Fire Service in Ireland.

One of the earliest references to an organized fire response is in a manuscript which gives an account of life in the monastic town of Clonmacnoise in the tenth century.

In the late 17th century, insurance companies, in order to help prevent huge losses from fire, started to form their own fire fighting forces in Dublin, Cork and several other large towns. These small insurance brigades were responsible for the properties which were insured by their own company and were not obliged to respond to other fires.

In order to identify which property was protected by which company, a distinctive type of plaque called a "Fire Mark" was place on the wall of the property. The mark of Sun Alliance showed the face of the sun with rays emanating from it. At certain times brigades would band together to fight a big fire providing suitable recompense followed.

In 1711, one John Oates, a water engine maker, was paid £6 a year at the cities pleasure to retain a fire engine in good order and to engage six men at his own expense to be ready in the event of fire. By 1800 the police and parishes were starting to acquire fire engines to protect their parishes from the ravages of fire. Firemen working for the insurance companies were easily spotted because of their brightly coloured uniforms emblazoned with their employer’s logo.

The Towns Improvement Act of 1854 allowed for local authorities to provide fire fighting and related equipment to be provided at their discretion for towns which were above 1,500 in population.

In 1862, the Dublin Fire Brigade Act came into force which with the creation of the brigade in Dublin. It lessened the need for the insurance companies to provide their own force. In 1907, Section 90 of the Public Health Act enabled local authorities to enter into agreements for the common use of fire fighting equipment. If people in a rural area required assistance from an urban fire service, they were liable for any costs incurred.

In 1877, Mark Wickham, an escape inspector from Dublin, was chosen to command the newly established Volunteer Fire Brigade in Cork, a position he held until 1891. Other firemen from Dublin were chosen to supervise the fire brigades in Clonmel and Kilkenny.

On the 16th of December 1909, the first motor pump arrived in Dublin. Mr. Purcell, an engineer, designed the vehicle and asked Leyland Motors to build it. The engine was a 50 hp four cylinder dual ignition with forced lubrication to all bearings. The rear mounted turbine pump was capable of delivering 350 gallons (420 U.S.) of water per minute. Equipment included carrying 32 feet of 5 inch suction hose, 1,500 feet of delivery hose, standpipes, and various tools.

At the start of 1940, the number of mobile appliances was only 24. War had broken out in the rest of Europe and with the possibility of action occurring in Ireland, an urgent improvement in the fire fighting capability became apparent. Out of this reappraisal, came the Fire Brigades Act of 1940 which was the basis for the first countrywide fire fighting system. Urban and rural authorities were now required to make provisions for the effective and prompt extinguishment of fires, and the rescue of persons, along with the recovery of property from fire.

Modern Times

In 1981, following a tragic fire in the Stardust Nightclub in Dublin, an extensive Fire Services Act was created which laid out an effective level of fire cover, training, fire planning and fire prevention measures. It also detailed powers available to fire service personnel during the course of an incident. This act is still in force at this time.