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• BSB      Batalhão de Sapadores Bombeiros

BSB - Batalhão de Sapadores Bombeiros (designation since 1988: RSB-Regimento de Sapadores Bombeiros)


The BSB/RSB is the oldest, largest and better equipped FD in Portugal and, as such, the sector’s leading nation-wide reference. Its historical heritage can be traced as far back as the 14th century, although it was formally established as one distinctive organic unit of Lisbon’s City Council (CML) in 1852 only. Later on, taking inspiration in the French paid FD (Bataillon de Sapeurs Pompiers de Paris, created in 1811), it would eventually become a fully structured and professionally manned Fire Department, under the name of CBML-Corpo de Bombeiros Municipais de Lisboa, still within CML’s institutional framework.


In the year of 1930 an important re-structuring process took place leading to the establishment of the then BSB-Batalhão de Sapadores Bombeiros (Firefighting Sappers Battalion, literally), which would become the current RSB-Regimento de Sapadores Bombeiros, following a 1988 organizational upgrading.


The CBM/BSB/RSB has always been a Government entity (under a militarized rule, with regard to the BSB era and the RSB initial period up to 1992, but never losing its municipal jurisdiction though). This fact had important consequences in the ability to erect and run an important overall operational device, with no match in Portugal, throughout time. This set-up includes a paradigmatic fleet of apparatus with regard to the nature, quantity and city-wide deployment of the rigs and the housing facilities concerned.


Like anywhere else in the world the oldest apparatus operated by this FD were of human and animal traction. The first step towards motorization took place by means of the casuistic and semi-artisanal conversion of ordinary private service cars (also known is Portugal as tourism vehicles). The first of these was a 1905 vehicle initially used as a command transport unit, which active duty life post-conversion  stretched to 1930.


The 20’s have witnessed the acquisition of the first automotive apparatus specifically factory-equipped for FD service, which coexisted for a number of years with vehicles of human and animal traction. That was namely the case of 6 aerial rigs (with fully pivotal wooden ladders: 4 with 25 meter extension and 2 with 30 meters), along with a pumper, all purchased from the lead German manufacturer Magirus. Two golden eras would follow in the history of the BSB’s modernization as far as apparatus are concerned: the 30’s and the 50’s, as illustrated in detail in this platform.


The first relevant impulse under this long-term innovation framework (step 1 of phase 1) was comparatively more consistent than the next one, from both a technical perspective and the time window concerned. It consisted in one order placed in 1929 to the well-known German builder Carl Metz and automotive maker Mercedes Benz for the supply of a set of 29 light duty and heavy duty apparatus. The order, for state of the art equipment at the time, encompassed 7 command cars (of 2 different types), 5 quick-response scout vehicles (for the 1st line operational leadership), 15 heavy duty pumpers and 2 heavy duty tankers/water carriers. All these rigs entered active duty in 1930/31 and did provide the hard-nucleon of the full BSB apparatus fleet for fire-fighting duties until 1955.


As what it may be considered as step 2 of phase 1 the BSB has later procured a set of 19 apparatus built on Morris Commercial chassis (15 of 2,5 Ton and 4 of lighter weights), covering 8 different specialized profiles. All of those were aimed to special-call duties, including the transport of additional manpower to the incident scene. Six of the heavy duty rigs were designed within the scope of what was called at the time Civil Defense operations. All those complementary resources, entered on active duty between 1936 and 1937 and the units concerned were phased-out between 1951 and 1970.


Very few fully operational means were added to the fleet in the 40’s, although some auxiliary vehicles were purchased. New apparatus consisted on 1 ambulance and 1 breakdown truck (both on 1940 Diamond T chassis), along with 1 aerial apparatus (Metz/Mercedes Benz; 30+2 m-metallic ladder), in 1949, while a former Army ambulance (4WD Doge, no images available) was received as a donation in 1946. It is however assumed that several orders have taken place by the end of the decade, considering the significant deliveries that occurred in 1950/51.


The second major impulse in the overall modernization effort took place throughout the 50s’ decade and involved the purchase of apparatus with different operational profiles, all factory-equipped over Ford, Magirus, Bedford and Opel chassis (and, in fewer quantities each, also Morris, Willys, Land Rover, GMC, Fordson, Chevrolet, DAF, DKW and REO). From a total of about 65 apparatus then procured and placed on active duty the initial spotlight goes to 4 modern aerials (with metallic ladders), as well as to several rigs with special fire extinguishing agents, along with a few other rigs for also highly specialized first response or technical support duties. Some of these excellent apparatus have entered in active duty between 1950 and 1955, in what may be called step1 of phase 2.


However the more significant move within this new cycle of modernization (step 2 of phase 2) consisted, indeed, in the acquisition of 20 heavy duty Ford V8 Big Job rigs, of which 10 pumpers (Ford F-750) that entered on active duty in 1956 and 5 tankers/water carriers (Ford F-800) that saw service as from 1958. The end of active life for those magnificent, one time work-hoses, took place between 1973 and 1979 and has included donations to several VFDs in Lisbon and other locations in Portugal. The initial part of the video sourced from YouTube, which link can be found immediately below, illustrates well the variety and dimension of the BSB’s apparatus fleet in last century’s 1950-1959 decade.


The BSB created in 1929 what would eventually become one of the better (if not the best) Fire Museum in Europe, which resident fleet of apparatus is also one of the larger and more diversified, world-wide. Unfortunately this museum, housed since 2004 in excellent purpose-built facilitie, which could host the full content of its heritage, including more than 40 fire and rescue apparatus, was closed in 2015 with no reopening prospects disclosed so far (see also on this the opening presentation).


Ref# 1: Mónica da Anunciata Duarte de Almeida (Coord.); Do Exercício do Fogo. Associação Nacional de Bombeiros Profissionais | Museu do Bombeiro, Lisboa 1997

Ref# 2: Manual do Sapador Bombeiro; CML; Lisboa 1943

Ref# 3: F. H. Santos (Coord.); Bombeiros Portugueses-seis séculos de história (2 vols).SNB/LBP, Lisboa 1995

Ref# 4: R.Metzger: 150 Jahre Metz. Konkordia Verlag, Stuttgart 1992

Ref# 5: http://www.cm-lisboa.pt/viver/seguranca/regimento-de-sapadores-bombeiros/o-rsb

Ref# 6 U. Paulitz: Mercedes-Benz*Fuerwherfotoalbum. Kosmos, Stuttgart 2000


© LIS50 | 2016  50 years of Lisbon’s motorized fire & rescue apparatus - 1930 through 1979 //  (an history-aimed, not-for-profit private initiative)


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