- Early buildings in Brussels—half-timbered houses with thatched roofs — combined with narrow streets created conditions for frequent fires and there were some major conflagrations, notably in 1405. Wars brought fires also, most memorably the bombardment of 1695 when some 4,000 buildings were destroyed. Ordinances — the earliest in 1449 and again in 1550-1551—enjoined residents to replace thatch with tiles, and a decree of 7 January 1556 forbade construction of wood dwellings, but these statutes were not enforced.The earliest fire brigades consisted of members of the craft guilds aided by the general populace, who employed wooden ladders, leather buckets, and barrels of water or liquid manure perched on carriages. Water proved to be recurrently in short supply, although a water service was in existence as early as 1407 and wells were dug. Fire alarms were given by watchmen on duty in church towers. The first hand pumps and leather hoses were in use by the end of the 17th century.The first fire battalion was created by the city council in 1800 with use of French troops. A corps was created by a decree of 9 December 1826 and again in 1846. Steam pumps and escape ladders were in use during the late 1800s and horses were borrowed from the Tramways Bruxellois Company to pull the heavy pumps.Between 1857 and 1880 several communes around Brussels created their own departments staffed by volunteers, police, or civic guardsmen. There were 12 by 1900. Several boroughs signed intercommunal agreements in 1930 to provide mutual help, and, at the outbreak of World War II, the departments amalgamated to form one regional civil defense group. The communes reverted to separate departments after 1945 and not until the devastating fire at l'Innovation department store in 1967 did efforts resume to create a regional service. A wide variety of procedures and nonstandard equipment precluded swift unification. In 1973, area fire fighting and medical emergency services were transferred to the authority of the Brussels agglomeration government. All municipal departments were merged, six new stations were built, the fleet was upgraded, and new services instituted, including a disaster-planning unit.The Brussels Fire and Medical Emergency Service (Service d'Incendie et d'Aide médicale urgent de la Région de Bruxelles-Capi-tale/Brusselse Hoofdstedelijke Dienst voor Brandweer en Dringende Medische Hulp), created by an ordinance of 19 July 1990, is a pararegional organization presided over by the Brussels Capital Region government. An operational command is divided between the central fire station on avenue de l'Héliport and four divisions. There are nine fire stations employing 925 professional firefighters with a fleet of 150 vehicles.
Historical Dictionary of Brussels. Paul F. State.