Located in the Lothian and Borders Fire Brigade Headquarters in Lauriston Place and operated by their Community Education Department, this museum tells the history of the oldest municipal fire brigade in Britain.
The crowded tall tenements of Edinburgh's Old Town had a long history of disastrous fires and fire prevention regulations were introduced as early as 1426. The first fire service was set up in 1703, but this was not well organised. Further services were set up by the insurance companies, but these ignored fires in buildings in which their companies had no financial interest. It was not until 1824 that a series of disastrous fires forced the city fathers to set up a professional and independent Brigade, the first in the United Kingdom, under the visionary leadership of James Braidwood (1800-61). Unfortunately, just weeks after their inception, and before they were adequately equipped or trained, the new brigade was tested in Great Fire of Edinburgh (1824). This began in a printer's shop on the High Street and for four days swept through the Old Town destroying 400 homes and other buildings, including the Tron Kirk. It killed 13, including two firemen, but confirmed the need for the new brigade.
The museum houses a range of fire engines dating from 1806, manual, horse-drawn, steam and motorised pumps, along with many other fire-related items dating back to the 15th Century It was Overall Winner of the Scania Transport Trust Award in 1991 and includes a library and archive for researchers.
Originally located in the McDonald Road Fire Station, the museum moved to its current home in 1988. The elegant Fire Brigade headquarters was built in red sandstone as a fire station by the city architect (1897-1901). It remained operational until replaced by the station at Tollcross in 1988, although, since 1966, it has been converted in stages into an administrative centre. The building was subject to a further major refurbishment and re-opened in 1999.