FIREFIGHTING DURING TIMES OF SOVIET LATVIA
The Second World War, the occupation of Latvia, repressions and emigration of thousands of people stopped the economical development in Latvia, including the development of firefighting. At first the regulations of firefighting existing in the USSR were introduced, then new changes that were introduced by German occupation, which was afterwards followed by uniform development in the field of firefighting in all Soviet Union.
In the after-war period firefighting became one of priorities of the state: factories, collective farms and other institutions organized voluntary firefighters unions, special garages for firefighting automobiles were built, a lot of fire-preventive work was being done and fire sports competitions were frequently organized. Political classes became part of everyday life of firefighters. Technical base of firefighting was formed mainly by equipment that was produced in the Soviet Union.
Along with growth of the number of inhabitants and the development of industry came more and more fire brigades and voluntary firefighter’s teams. Great attention was paid to fire safety, control and education.
Training of firefighters was very important; they could learn their profession not only in Latvia but anywhere in the USSR.
After the renewal of the independence of Latvia many requirements in firefighting, fire prevention and organization of work were adopted from Soviet times and are used also nowadays.
In 1940 after Soviet occupation of Latvia changes in the firefighting system took place. Regulations existing in the USSR replaced those of independent Latvia. After reorganization voluntary firefighterswere prohibited to wear their uniforms and insignia, they had to deliver their flags. During German occupation the structure of Latvian firefighting associations was renewed.
In the autumn of 1940 the fourth city militarized firefighting team (Hanzas street, Riga) organized training that became the Preparatory school for junior commanding staff of the militarized firefighting service. The education process was stopped by war and the school was renewed in 1945.
On February 1941 “Fire Safety Regulations of Latvian SSR” confirmed the basis of fire safety and fire prevention development.
Firefighting Division under the Latvian SSR Peoples’ Commissariat of Interior was established that controlled the city militarized fire brigades. In 1945 it was renamed Fire Department and included state fire safety control, operational, technical support divisions and normative-technical group.
During the Second World War in Latvia firefighters extinguished vast fires; they also had the task to guard significant economical objects. On 29 June 1941 during the artillery shooting in Riga the tower of St. Peters’ Church caught fire, and the fire spread to the House of Blackheads, the Town Hall and buildings beside them. Firefighting was hampered by lack of water because of the damaged Riga waterline.
At the end of the war fire equipment was taken away by both armies and after the war had ended firefighters got back only part of it.
At the end of 1945 the first after-war Voluntary firefighters association conference took place. At this conference joint Latvian SSR Voluntary Firefighters Association guided by Central Council was founded.
In 1946 the Council of Ministers of the USSR issued the regulation “On militarized fire service of the Ministry of Interior of the USSR”, stating that militarized fire service was to be organized in administrative centers and largest industrial objects. The staff of militarized fire service was subjugated to army regulations; they wore army pattern uniforms and insignia.
On 18 September 1947 militarized fire departments from Riga and Liepaja participated in the first competition in fire sports that took place in Riga.
In 1953 Militarized Fire Service Junior Commanding Staff School was reorganized as Fire Board Militarized Fire Service Training Unit.
Renewal of state economical level came with the need for fire prevention in industrial enterprises, offices, schools and raising awareness among inhabitants.
Again in 1956 reorganization of fire service took place: fire brigades were renamed independent militarized fire units and their chiefs were responsible not only for firefighting but together with inspectors also for fire safety of corresponding region. The staff had to regularly attend political classes.
Number of voluntary firefighter’s societies grew, and on 1958 they had more than 57000 members.
At 1960 Fire Board and militarized fire units gradually turned into engineering-technical service, with engineers involved. On 1962 Fire testing station was established for investigating large fires, giving conclusions, doing scientific research work, testing various materials and substances for fire hazard.
The largest fires of this time: fire at the train station “Skirotava” after the collision of two trains (1961), fire on steamer “Janis Rainis” (1961), fire in repair manufactory of Riga Tram and trolleybus board (1963), fire in State Philharmonic Hall (1963) and fire in Mezaparks open-air platform.
In January 1964 All-Union Fire Sports Federation was founded within USSR Sports Societies and Organizations Union. After a month the Latvian Fire Sports Federation was founded. In September Latvian SSR Fire Sports Championship took place at “Dinamo” stadium. The following year Latvian national team took part in USSR championship in fire sports for the first time.
In 1965 Association the 100th Anniversary of the foundation of Riga Voluntary Firefighters Association was celebrated together with the opening of first exhibition on history of firefighting.
In May 1966 the Council of Ministers of the USSR decision “On improvement of organization of firefighting” determined two types of firefighting services: first – professional, that includes militarized and non-militarized firefighting under the Ministry of the Interior and the second – voluntary.
In September 1966 in accordance with the Decision of Latvian SSR Council of Ministers professional fire service under the Ministry for Maintaining Public Order was established which controlled the firefighting services of administrative centers, towns, villages and industrial enterprises. Fire prevention work was done by professional, militarized and voluntary firefighters prevention groups.
In 1974 the Training Unit was moved to Kengaraga Street 3 in Riga where a new station was built with garages for 10 vehicles and all the necessary equipment for training.
In the 1970s the Firefighting Board formed Civil defence and mobilization department, and its task was the management and coordination of civil defence in the territory of Latvia.
In 1972 for the first time All-Union Competition in Fire Sports took place in Riga.
After the Training Unit was moved to Kengaraga Street reorganization and reconstruction took place in the building on Hanzas Street. In 1978 Communications Center was set up in this building. During international competition in Riga fire-technical exhibition was opened in another part of the building on Hanzas Street, but in 1980 it became Latvian Firefighting Museum.
In 1980 Training Unit was transformed into Ministry of Interior Training Center, but in 1989 it was renamed Fire and Rescue Service Department Training Center.
At the turn of 1970s-1980s firefighters had to extinguish several large fires. In 1976 firefighters saved more than 40 people from a fire in cultural center “Ziemelblazma”. In 1983 the work for extinguishing fire of Central Market vegetable pavilion lasted for several days. On 6 March 1985 firefighters extinguished a severe fire that broke out in Ventspils port on tanker ‘Ludvigs Svoboda”’ threatening town of Ventspils and its inhabitants.
Largest industrial enterprises and collective farms had their own voluntary firefighters brigades. Voluntary firefighters association had become a vast enterprise comprising many fields. In cooperation with state insurance companies they did fire prevention work among the inhabitants. Very popular, especially among youths were fire sports competitions. In 1986 in Soviet Latvia there were 2822 voluntary firefighters associations with more than 200 thousand members and 762 youth voluntary firefighters units.
In the end of 1980s the largest fire broke out in factory “VEF” in 1989 that ravaged two blocks of the factory at an area of 8700 square meters.
At the end of the 1980s National Awakening started in Latvia. Ideas of state independence spread and became more and more popular. Society of Latvia as well as firefighting awaits great changes.