Frank Rushbrook

Pioneering Fire Master and expert on marine fires whose efforts led to the first university course in Fire Engineering

There is an ancient ritual in Edinburgh. Whenever a new fire master is appointed – or, as we must now say, chief fire officer – the first event is the arrival of the curator of the fire museum carrying a battered bag.

Inside the bag is a book, On the construction of Fire Engines and Apparatus: the training of Firemen and the method of providing in cases of fire. It is written by the first city fire master anywhere in the world, a great man, James Braidwood, who pioneered the beginnings of a modern fire service between 1824 and 1832.

He was poached by the city fathers in London and was their chief fire master between 1832 and 1861, when he perished in the notorious Tooley Street fire. His book has to be signed by an incoming fire chief, and in 1959 Frank Rushbrook applied his signature, the beginning of 11 distinguished years as fire master of Edinburgh and the south-east of Scotland, for which he was made a CBE. He brought many innovations to the training of firemen and fire officers, particularly regarding ship fires. The facilities, unique in Britain for staged ship fires and associated smoke at McDonald Road in Edinburgh, are a testament to his vision.

Particularly during his final term of office he became increasingly aware that the Fire Service needed people with higher academic qualifications to deal with the complex industrial and commercial risks which were becoming increasingly common. He had the intelligence and imagination to realise that the subject of fire engineering had reached a stage in its development that deserved education at tertiary level, and proposes that a university department should be established to produce graduates for the UK Fire Service.

He convinced the principal of the University of Edinburgh, Sir Michael Swann, that Edinburgh should take up the challenge of a department of Fire Engineering. In June 1973 Dr David Rashbash became the first Professor of the discipline and proceeded to develop a groundbreaking postgraduate course.

Rushbrook had also hoped for an under-graduate course, but this was not to happen for another 25 years. It is only in the last 10 years that such courses have been set up at other universities, but the developments at Edinburgh, driven by Rushbrook’s relentless scrutiny, proved to be an essential precursor to these academic developments. Rushbrook’s initiative led to a new academic discipline adopted by universities worldwide.

After 1970 Rushbrook began a second career as a consultant on marine fires, a field in which he characteristically made huge contributions. His book Fire Aboard is recognised internationally and is frequently quoted. He testified as an expert witness in a number of key trials in London and New York following serious incidents at sea. His evidence influenced a number of crucial judgments and led directly to improvements in the safety of those who travel and work at sea. When I asked him when he felt in the greatest danger, he said unhesitatingly that it wasn’t during the London Blitz but much later in his life, when his firm, International Fire Investigators and Consultants, was called in by the Greek government to a fire they had allowed to rage for some days in the great port of Thessalonika.

Although Rushbrook spent much time giving evidence in courtrooms up to the age of 90, he also took up first-hand the task of training ships’ crews and advising them how best to deal with serious live shipboard fires.

Frank Rushbrook was born and brought up in Leith, where he had a sound technical education at Leith Academy. He joined the Edinburgh Fire Service and worked his way up to junior fire officer. He volunteered to go to London in 1940 and spent the Blitz with the East Ham Brigade, with particular responsibilities in the London and Royal Docks.

As a Leither he knew all about shipping, but nothing had prepared anyone for the Blitz. I was told by John Horner, secretary of the fire brigade union and later a Labour MP, that Rushbrook had been quite outstanding, combining skill and bravery, a most welcome Scot among the Cockneys. After the war he returned to Scotland in a senior position with the South Lanarkshire Fire Brigade but was asked back when a senior position at East Ham fell vacant.

In 1959 he returned to Edinburgh to assume the mantle of James Braidwood. It is perhaps a reflection on the public-spirited nature of the Rushbrook family that his son, a successful investment banker, should decide that he didn’t want any claim on his father’s business but that it should go to the technical manager most fitted to run an international marine fire fighting business. 

 

Frank Rushbrook, fire master and businessman: born Leith 6 December 1914; CBE; married Violet (died 2001; one daughter, and one son deceased); died 17 February 2014.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Life and Style
Out and about: for 'Glee' character Bert Hummel, having a gay son was a learning curve
lifeEven 'cool' parents need help parenting gay teens
Sport
Nathaniel Clyne celebrates after salvaging a point with the Southampton equaliser
footballAston Villa vs Southampton report
News
peopleJack Monroe accuses David Cameron of 'misty-eyed rhetoric'
News
Tana Ramsay gave evidence in a legal action in which her husband, Gordon, is accusing her father, Christopher Hutcheson, of using a ghost writer machine to “forge” his signature
peopleTana Ramsay said alleged discovery was 'extremely distressing'
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Windsor and Aljaz Skorjanec rehearse their same-sex dance together on Strictly Come Dancing
TV
Money
Anyone over the age of 40 seeking a loan with a standard term of 25 years will be borrowing beyond a normal retirement age of 65, and is liable to find their options restricted
propertyAnd it's even worse if you're 40
Arts and Entertainment
Perhaps longest awaited is the adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road with Brazil’s Walter Salles directing and Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart and Viggo Mortensen as the Beat-era outsiders
books
Arts and Entertainment
theatreSinger to join cast of his Broadway show after The Last Ship flounders at the box office
Life and Style
fashion'To start singing with Pharrell is not that bad, no?'
News
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Employment Solicitor

£30000 - £60000 per annum + Excellent: Austen Lloyd: Employment Solicitor - Ke...

Argyll Scott International: Risk Assurance Manager

Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: Hi All, I'm currently recruiting for t...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: HAMPSHIRE MARKET TOWN - A highly attr...

Ashdown Group: IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

£23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

Day In a Page

In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible