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History of the Brussels fire brigade

Fire Brigade and Emergency Medical Service of the Brussels-Capital Region (SIAMU/DBDMH) - history

The Brussels City Council set up a fire service made up of 100 men in 1800. As well as fighting fires, the service was also responsible for keeping order in the city of Brussels. In those days, firemen were armed.

The constant expansion of Brussels meant that the authorities had to set up new units. In 1857 the Anderlecht unit came into being, swiftly followed by Schaerbeek, Molenbeek-Saint-Jean, Ixelles and then Laeken.
In the late 19th century, Brussels was therefore protected by around a dozen fire-fighting units. These units operated autonomously, but were nevertheless characterised by the wish to cooperate.

After the First World War, a number of the municipal units disappeared, making way for the territorial expansion of the area covered by the Brussels city fire-fighting service. Some of the remaining municipal units signed a cooperation agreement providing for mutual assistance in the event of a major incident.

During the Second World War, the nine remaining units were combined under the command of the GRDI (Groupe Régionale de Défense contre l'Incendie - Regional Fire-fighting Group).   This regional group ceased to exist with the liberation. For thirty years, the people of Brussels were protected by a series of municipal units whose areas of competence were usually limited to their own commune.

After the dreadful fire at the Innovation store on 22 May 1967, calls were again made for the various fire-fighting units in Brussels to be amalgamated. It appeared, in fact, that the various municipal units found it difficult to cooperate as their equipment lacked compatibility and their hierarchy was dispersed.

On 1 January 1973, responsibility for fighting fires was transferred to a new institution pursuant to the law of 26 July 1971: the conglomeration of Brussels.

Following the creation of the Brussels institutions as part of the State reforms, responsibility for fire-fighting and emergency medical services was transferred to the regional authority on 12 July 1989. The Executive of the Brussels-Capital Region entrusted a Minister (or in his or her absence, a Secretary of State) with the task of managing this vital public service.

With a view to ensuring that the Brussels service operated as efficiently as possible, it was decided (order of 19 July 1990) to reorganise it as a para-regional service under the name: Service d'Incendie et d'Aide Médicale Urgente (SIAMU) or Fire Brigade and Emergency Medical Service of the Brussels-Capital Region.

If you are interested in the history of the Brussels fire service, we can recommend a comprehensive and richly illustrated work on this subject:

La lutte contre le feu à Bruxelles (Fire fighting in Brussels), Jean-Paul Dockx, 2003, 265 pages

The central fire station, located at avenue de l'Héliport, also includes a mini museum containing some old equipment and period photographs. Visits are arranged upon request. Contact the SIAMU documentation centre if you are interested.