The Barcelona Fire Service as it is known today was born in 1865 when the City Council of Barcelona assumed the Fire Company, created years ago by the Society of Mutual Insurance against Fires. Long before, however, the city already had different organizations, usually formed by union volunteers who, in a more or less successful manner, intervened in the extinction of fires.
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Construction workers, carpenters and locks of each District were called by the “ring of fire”, the insistent ringing of bells, and were directed in the operation by the first councilor of works of the City Council that reached the site of the accident . The neighbors also intervened but the lack of means (buckets, a manual bomb and some stairs), the little preparation and the city’s own urban planning – with narrow streets, small, tight houses and industries within the urban center- made it very difficult to succeed in the interventions. The fire ended up extinguishing, but too often it dragged whole buildings, private properties and some lives.
Regulation of the Mutual Insurance Society of Barcelona 1836
To try to minimize the damage of fires, the Society of Mutual Insurance against Fire, a philanthropic organization that was driven by property owners and members of the municipal government, was established in 1835. The burning of Convents of the Night of Saint James in 1835 gave the final impetus to the constitution of the Mutual Society, that together with the City Council of Barcelona created the first Fire Company.
Ramon Soley Cetó. Arxiu Històric de la Ciutat de Barcelona. 1835
The company consisted of 30 construction workers or maneuvers, 8 carpenters and 2 locksmiths at the orders of a commander and 4 chaplains. It had a budget of 1,000 Catalan pounds per year plus monthly installments and daily expenses for each fire. The architect Josep Mas i Vila was the first leader.
Gravat procedent de La Ilustración. Periódico Universal (Madrid), 7, 15 febrer 1851, p. 49. La descripció dels fets a la mateixa revista, número 6, 8 febrer 1851, p. 41-42. Arxiu Històric de la Ciutat de Barcelona. 1851
In 1851, when the Mutual Society was fully responsible for the Fire Company, the architect Antoni Rovira i Trias was appointed head of Fire. In 1856, Rovira published the Manual for the Stopping of Fire, a treatise on theorizing the best way to organize the fire service management based on his own experience and taking as a reference the organization of the fire brigade companies in France. In this theoretical treatise on the management of the fire service Rovira indicates that the management can be municipal, military or private – three models that the city had experienced – but strengthens the municipalization of the service. In that sense, Rovira emphasizes the need for municipal governments to commit themselves to the extinction of the fire through a well-prepared, equipped and targeted company and in a prevention policy, especially in the most popular areas such as theaters and party halls. Six years later the flames completely destroyed the Teatre del Liceu.
Sanz, F. Arxiu Històric de la Ciutat de Barcelona. 1861 Incendi del Gran Teatre del Liceu el 9 d’abril de 1861. Les flames surten de darrere l’edifici. En primer terme, els bombers apagant el foc.
The fire of the Liceu Opera Hall in 1861 will be a turning point and will start a decade of change and modernization in the city and in the service of Firefighters: Barcelona demolishes its walls and the city breathes and widens with the Cerdà Plan. The City Council collects the insistent requests and civic proposals for the regulation of the fire service and in 1865, the Fire Brigade is definitively located in order to protect the safety of the citizens of Barcelona.
Imatges i records, p. 18
This is the beginning of a stage of innovations and advances in the Firefighters Service of Barcelona that will become a benchmark and a model both national and internationaly.
Bonet, Pere Joan. Arxiu Històric de la Ciutat de Barcelona. 1888
Volleyball has been the most popular sport in the history of the Barcelona Fire Brigade. In 1950, a volleyball court was painted in the Central Fire station and the Firefighters Team played in the Catalonia Volleyball Championship together with other teams such as Hispano-Francès, El Picadero and El Sitjar. The first successes came on the next year when the firefighters won the Catalan championship against their main rival, Hispano-Francès, and a few months later when they won Real Madrid in the first Spanish Championship.
The celebration of a new International Exhibition in Barcelona in 1929 was decisive in boosting the modernization of the Fire Brigade. Taking advantage of an extra budget, the City Council acquired a full fleet of 14 cars from the German house Magirus.
On Christmas of 1932 a fire was declared in El Siglo Warehouses in the high part of the Ramblas. These stores, the largest and most popular of the time, were considered by the firefighters as one of the most dangerous buildings to face in case of fire, like the Liceu, the Teatre Principal or other public places where many people could be concentrated and there were large quantities of flammable materials. For that reason, the firefighters had raised the planes of the different floors of the building a few years before the location of the nearest hydrants.
The fire station in Lleida St. was opened in September 1928, on behalf of the Universal Exhibition. It was the first fire station of the Barcelona Fire Brigade designed and built for this use.
For several decades, its tower has been the symbol of Barcelona Fire Brigade and therefore, of the care of the city and its people.
It was operative a a fire station until 2000 and hosted the Fire Laboratory. In 2017 the building is returned to the citizens with a different use as the headquarters of the Espai Bombers-Parc de la Prevenció.
In 1974 the fire laboratory activity started in Barcelona and was the first one in Spain. This laboratory was conceived as a research and experimentation center for prevention and extinction systems and advice to industries, people and entities. There could be held tests of the fire resistance of different materials or observe the behavior of extinction products. The Fire Laboratory was active until December 2000.
The Barcelona Firefighters’ health service was pioneering in Spain. It was the first non-hospital health service. In the old times, the firefighter himself made the rescue and the first relief. From 1929 on, due to the professionalization of the body, they realized that they needed a health service to help the victims and their colleagues who also suffered injuries during the interventions. During that time, the firefighters made first aid courses and during the 50s and 60s they began to train as health workers. Thereafter, medical ambulances were incorporated into the car fleet. In 1979, graduates in nursing, medical media technicians (TMS) were incorporated in Bombers de Barcelona and it is not until 1986, to a new call for TMS, when the first women were incorporated into the Fire Department.
The health work is the most unknown of the firefighters Service. The TMS, like the other firefighters, intervene in the proceedings. They do rescue in difficult situations. Whenever there is an injured person the TMS must enter and intervene: they attend the injured, they do the necessary treatments and they stabilize the wounded until they can go outside and be transferred to the hospital.
The attack on Hipercor (Barcelona based popular mall) on Avenida Meridiana on June 19, 1987 was the most tragic accident of the decade. It was caused by ETA terrorist organization after leaving a car bomb in the underground of the crowded mall. The attack caused 15 dead and 28 seriously injured. The firefighters had many difficulties in performing the rescue tasks due to the large amount of smoke that filled the parking lot and that caused suffocation of many victims. It was the worst terrorist attack ever in Barcelona and was a real shock for citizens.
Firefighters risk themselves to help others. What makes them happy and proud is to finish a successful service and the best gift they can get is people’s gratitude.
The most exciting moment is when the “lights go on” . Although firefighters give their best, there are not always happy endings. The death of peers or accidents with victims, especially children, are the toughest strokes in a firefighter’s career.
The firefighters are admired by children: They all imagine themselves wearing boots, jacket and a helmet and holding a hose ready to extinguish fire, or climbing up a ladder on a rescue ?
La complicitat ve de lluny: els Bombers de Barcelona al llarg del temps han contribuït a mantenir viva aquesta il·lusió a través de les visites escolars, orientades a donar consells de prevenció, participant a les festes populars o acompanyant els Reis d’Orient a portar regalsals nens hospitalitzats.
The Great Flood of Valencia or colloquially, “La Gran Riuà”, was the last flood of the Túria river in the city of Valencia that occurred in October 1957 when the river was overflowing as a result of heavy rains.
The flood reached heights of more than three meters in points of the center of Valencia and many buildings (even some historical ones) were seriously affected. Many human losses also ocurred.
Barcelona firefighters were voluntarily displaced to Valencia to help in rescue operations.
On August 1, 1945, 31 new young firefighters were admitted in the service causing a great change in the internal activities of the Barcelona firefighters. A group of this firefighters promotion founded on October 1 the Penya Borinot, focused on the organization of the library and the organisation of sports championships such as the Basque pelota, chess and domino.
In August 1946 they organized a party in the courtyard of the Central Fire Station to celebrate the first anniversary of their access to the service. The good reception of the party encouraged them to create the Cultural and Sports Group of Fire Brigade that would be known as La Cultural.
In October 1969 there was a fire without precedents in Spain due to its magnitude at the Oil Refinery of Escombreras (Cartagena). The first to intervene were the firefighters of Murcia as well as firefighters of the Air Force and the Spanish War Navy . Vehicles and firefighters from other main cities throughout the country including Barcelona also attended.
The Barcelona firefighters had a brilliant performance at Escombreras that brought to them a great recognition nationwide.
The racord is an important piece of metal that allows connections between the hoses of the fire brigades and the fire hydrants.
The Barcelona Racord is the model used by Barcelona Fire Brigade since its invention. It was designed and produced in a cast in Sabadell and had the peculiarity of having two symmetrical pieces and three components.
In 1969 there was a great fire at the refinery in Escombreras (Cartagena, Spain) and several firemen moved from all over Spain. Since there was no standard model in Spain, they realized that not all fire brigades had a compatible model with the American standard used by the refinery. The Barcelona firefighters soldered their Racords to the refinery’s water points to use the mouthpieces. In recognition for that successful performance, the Barcelona Racord was chosen as a standard in Spain.
On May 17, 1890 there was a fierce fire in a warehouse in Havana where illegal gunpowder and dynamite were stored. The fire and the subsequent explosion caused the death of 38 people (25 volunteer firefighters among them).
The commotion was general and crossed borders. Barcelona firefighters, in solidarity with the Havana firefighters, later sent an album with images of the body and a plaque in memory of the firefighters affected. This gesture meant a series of exchanges of letters and documentation between the firefighters and municipal representatives of Havana and Barcelona.
The first issue of the Magazine Alarma! (Alarm!) was published in September 1949 with the intention of being a bulletin that echoed the different activities of the ACE- Cultural and Sports Association, and also the latest news, improvements, techniques and innovations relating to the service.
The Genoveva, is the name of the most popular vehicle of the Barcelona Fire Brigade. It was acquired between 1921 and 1922 and, along with the rest of Delahaye vehicles that were bought during those years, The Genoveva meant a great modernization of the service. It’s a first-aid fire truck with a pump and an auxiliary tank of 400 liters. After its useful life in the Fire Brigade, Genoveva became one of the attractions of the popular fiestas in Barcelona. You can now see it exhibited at the Espai Bombers i Parc de la Prevenció.
At the beginning of the 19th century, Barcelona did not have a professional fire service. As in other cities, the fires were suffocated by construction workers, locksmiths, carpenters and volunteers led by the councilor of constructions. The lack of a prepared team implied that only the small fires could be extinguished without great losses while the majority of fires ended with the collapse the building.
In 1926 a municipal regulation was approved to pay small salaries, wages and allowances and to give little equipment to a 25-man firefighting brigade led by the municipal construction master. Despite of the goodwill of the firefighters, their abilities were scarce . In the following years the regulations followed until 1933 when the General captain of Catalonia, Manuel de Llauder, recovered the proposal to constitute a company of mutual insurance against fires that finally was founded in 1935 with the name of Sociedad de Mútuos Seguros contra incendios that was known as “La Mútua”.
La Mutua had a philanthropic character and together with the City Council of Barcelona they created the first Bombers company in Barcelona. The company consisted of 30 pallets or maneuvers, 8 carpenters and 2 chains at the command of a commander and 4 chaplains. It had a budget of 1,000 Catalan pounds per year plus monthly installments and daily expenses for each fire. The architect Josep Mas i Vila was the first leader.
In 1851, when La Mútua was fully responsible for the Fire Company, the architect Antoni Rovira i Trias was appointed head of Firemen. In 1856, Rovira published the Manual for the Stopping of Fire, a treatise on theorizing the best way to organize the fire service management based on his own experience and taking as a reference the organization of the fire brigade companies France. In this theoretical treatise on the management of the fire service Rovira indicates that the management can be municipal, military or private – three models for which the city had passed – but in defense of municipalization. The City Council collects the insistent requests and civic proposals for the regulation of the fire service and in 1865, the Fire Brigade is definitively located in order to protect the safety of the citizens of Barcelona.
On Christmas Day 1962 a heavy snowfall occurred in Catalonia, affecting especially the Vallès, Maresme, Barcelonès and Baix Llobregat areas.
This exceptional snowfall surprised the city of Barcelona that was not prepared for a similar situation. The city did not have a snowplow that had to be requested from Andorra and the citizens did not have snow chains to circulate.
During those days the Barcelona Fire Brigade had to carry out many and very unusual services- such as accompanying a pregnant woman to a hospital that had been isolated by the snow. In the mechanics workshops of the fire stations, firefighters began producing snow chains to facilitate the mobility of the population.
The physical training of firefighters was considered essential for a competent service. In the 1903 regulation a professor and a gymnastics assistant were incorporated to the group of commanders of the service.
During the 50s, actress Mary Santpere became the driving force behind the Summer Festivals, the Christmas Campaign and the various charity events organized by the Barcelona Fire Brigade. Because of her dedication, Mary Santpere was appointed honorary firefighter, upon the proposal of the Commander .
Gymnastics, a traditionally exercise for firefighters, took a striking relevance during 1950’s when the firefighters shared public exhibitions with the great gymnast Joaquim Blume who had reached an agreement to train the firefighters. Unfortunately, he finally could not do so because he died prematurely in an aviation accident.
On September 7, 1976, the elevator of the Columbus monument broke and fell down . Luckily, at that time the elevator was empty but 13 people were trapped 55 meters high, in the Colón viewpoint.
The situation was serious, because the Fire Brigade did not have mechanical means to reach this height. That was a true creativity test for the Barcelona Fire Brigade.
The Firefighters decided to climb up the elevator hole with the help of a hook ladder subjected to elevator guides that were 4 meters one to each other. To save the trapped people, a platform was installed in the middle of the elevator hole, thus saving the long distance and being able to use the rescue material. Two firefighters in real good shape and great gymnasts were chosen to climb. The ascension was complicated due to the lack of grips where the stairs were anchored and the amount of grease inside the elevator hole. Finally, a single firefighter accomplished the ascent and was able to raise the materials of rescue to help and rescue the trapped people.