FIREFIGHTING DURING RUSSIAN EMPIRE
In the end of 19th century the cities of regions Kurzeme and Vidzeme rapidly developed large industry and increased trade turnover in ports. Riga had become the biggest industrial city in the Baltic region.
Expansion of cities and resettling of rural residents to the cities was followed by increasing numbers of devastating fires. The first small city fire brigade was formed in 1845 in Dinaburg (Daugavpils). At that time in Riga four police fire brigades operated. However, they were powerless in fighting great fires of the summer of 1864 in Moscow (nowadays Latgale) suburb. They were technically underequipped and professionally unready.
Traders, industrials and social activists of Riga understood that Riga’s ineffective firefighting systems must be substituted by organized, trained and professional fire brigades. In 1865 Riga City Voluntary Fire Fighters Association was formed and started active work. Afterwards voluntary fire fighters associations started to form in Jelgava, Piltene, Cesis, Valmiera, Limbazi, Jekabpils, Tukums, Liepaja and other cities. Before the World War I more than 90 voluntary fire fighters associations operated in Latvia.
Firefighting had entered a new phase.
On 19 November 1864 founding meeting of Riga City Voluntary Fire Fighters Association took place and Ivan Himiller (1835-1876) was elected as chairman of the Association. On 15 February 1865 statutes of the Association were approved and Riga City Voluntary Fire Fighters Association began its work – gathered donations, procured most necessary equipment, organized trainings and established four divisions.
On 17 May Riga City Voluntary Fire Fighters Association brigade for the first time coordinately responded to the fire accident, which occurred in the house of chimneysweeper on Aleksandra street (nowadays Brivibas street) in Riga. This event is being considered as beginnings of firefighting in Latvia.
In subsequent years, the Association has got recognition of citizens that was followed by generous donations and gifts. It facilitated creation and development of base for technical equipment, procurement of manual and steam pumps or “syringes”, mechanical ladders and hoses. At that time active members of Voluntary Fire Fighters Association were divided in nozzle-carriers, pump-operators, breakers and order keepers.
In 1865 Jelgava city also formed Jelgava City Voluntary Fire Fighters Association and baker Adolfs Eduards Prals was elected as the first chairman. During this period in Liepaja city voluntary and paid fire brigades were formed.
In 1875 with the increasing number of fires Riga had finished installations of fire telegraph that was meant for fire notification in 53 locations.
Public confidence in Voluntary Fire Fighters Associations rose due to its successful work. The number of associations increased, nevertheless the number of fire accidents increased as well. Associations paid great attention to the training process, however at those times each one of them was taught to operate his own equipment. The most valued were the climbers and nozzle-carriers.
In order to improve fire safety in the city, in 1882 Riga City Council formed the so called “Running Column”. Members of this formation were paid as professional fire fighters by the City Council. The “Running Column” consisted of 16 well trained men and was based on Maskavas street.
In 1882 institutions of Riga municipality adopted “Public Fire Safety Program”, which provided significant further development of the industry, including building of fire stations and establishment of professional Riga City Fire brigades.
Great progress in fire notification was facilitated by opening of the first telephone stations in Riga in July 1882.
From 1886 till 1902 in Riga city four fire stations were built – 3 Maskavas street, 9 Matisa street, 17 Akmeņu street and 24 Ludzas street, which were built according to the project of Riga main architect Reinhold Smeling (1840-1917). Buildings were significant because of their specific red brick architectural style. These buildings, except 24 Ludzas street, also nowadays are used as fire stations.
Following the development of industry and trade between 19th and 20th century in Riga, Liepaja, Jelgava and Daugavpils the number of citizens continued to increase. In the cities comfortable residential and labourer neighbourhoods were created, as well as industrial and administrative centres. City municipalities developed subsidized services, including fire services. In order to ensure fire safety in industrial facilities and residential neighbourhoods establishment of new Voluntary Fire Fighters Associations with response teams continued throughout the territory of Latvia.
1905 – 1918
In the beginning of 1907 Riga City Council finished the reorganisation of the firefighting system that resulted in the establishment of Riga City Firefighting Team and was composed of “Running Column” and police firefighting teams. Karlis Summers became the first brand major (chief) of Riga City Firefighting Team. Firefighting team had 5 divisions and each division guarded its own territory.
In 1910 Riga City Council procured first firefighting automobile (steam driven), but Peter’s Voluntary Fire Fighters Associations ordered a firefighting automobile “Russo-Balt” from Riga Wagon factory. Firefighting automobile “Russo-Balt” is the first automobile made in Latvia that survived till nowadays and can be seen in Riga Motor museum. In the following years the range of available equipment extended and in the possession of firefighters came 16 meter long balancing ladders, 24 meter long “Magirus” ladders, manual extinguishing apparatus, sprayers and smoke protectors.
Development of firefighting was interrupted by the First World War. In 1915 the Russian army took out from Latvia the industrial, firefighting and other equipment.
Despite the lack of equipment during war, fire fighters continued to extinguish fires and sometimes also performed police and sanitary duties.