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History of the Firebrigade Corporation of Lisboa

Fire has always been a tragedy for cities. Lisboa is no exception, as it is a city with very peculiar features, which add greater difficulty to the titanic and unequal fight against this element.

Some of the specific and modelling factors of the city over several centuries must actually be referred to, as in Lisboa the progress of the fire fighting service was done as they would be gradually overcome. Among others, some of them are the following: the density of the construction, with the use of very flammable materials; the lack of water and its insufficient distribution circuit over the city (throw wells, fountains and water points); the tough topography; the meagreness of the municipal budget; the precarious network of communications and thus the difficulties in accurately locating the place of the accident; the deficient means for fighting the fire and for organizing the fire fighting activities, etc.

So it is not surprising that there are such old news that are known, on the way of preventing and fighting fires in the city of Lisboa, revealing the early weight awarded to the issue.

Precisely, the royal charter of King D. João I dated from August 25th 1395, establishes the first measures that were proposed for an organizational structure (and corresponding to the main motivation) which still remains in our days, materialized in the present Fire brigade Corporation of Lisboa [Regimento de Sapadores Bombeiros (RSB)] and in the mission it fulfils.

Thus the RSB is the oldest fire-fighters corporation in Portugal, and pursues since such medieval times the same public service of caring for the safety of people and assets, and stands out as the heir of a tradition consolidated over its centuries of evolution, side by side with the pulsing of the city of Lisboa itself in its different rhythms of population and urban growth.

Thus, the «Fire fighting Services» (since 1395), the «Pump Company» (since 1834), the «Municipal Fire-fighters Corporation of Lisboa» (since 1852), «the Municipal Body of Public Rescue» (since 1925), «the Battalion of Fire-fighters» (since 1930) and «the Fire Brigade Corporation of Lisboa (Regimento de Sapadores Bombeiros)» (since 1988), all of these are designations of the same and single structure, corresponding to different periods of institutional renewal and modernization, formalized by specific legal measures, especially with a disciplinary character (almost always embodied by regulations).

In the core of the historical development and of the institutional consolidation  of the RSB is the personality presently personified by the Lisboa Fire-fighter (as a career and not just a professional category).

In reality, it is people who actually make up the institutions and, in this particular case, it has received as protagonists, thousands of citizens, embodying the mission of saving others with their work. Among those, we should also mention those that did not receive the designation of fireman (the term was only actually established after 1734…) but that actually performed such functions (from carpenters and caulkers of Ribeira das Naus, to paid officers, and watermen, while also including drivers, workers from the City manpower companies, pump owners, etc., etc.).

There are two other features that have moulded the identity of the RSB all along its past, conditioning their existence: the fact that it is a corporation of professional firemen (in 1646 the first thirty men were hired for such purpose) and the circumstance of having been before a municipal organization, that has always been integrated and almost in an uninterrupted way, in the hierarchy of the service of the City Council of Lisboa.

Very well regarded and very dear to the population of Lisboa, to whom it would resort whenever in a situation of despair, the firemen of the municipality of Lisboa, with the inception of associativism and of voluntary service among firemen (which started in 1868), also started to accumulate the responsibility of belonging to a model institution, dedicated to rendering support and being useful.

 

Presently, the RSB is an institution that identifies itself with its history, of which it keeps a lively memory,  projected into the future, and which can be detected in its own culture as an organization, in its identity.