The History of the Fire Service
Did you know that the earliest form of firefighting took place in Rome in 24 B.C? After almost being destroyed by unruly conflagrations, Rome created a fire department consisting of about 7,000 paid firefighters. Their fire crews responded to and fought fires, and also patrolled the streets with the authority to fine anyone who disobeyed the fire prevention codes (Hashgan). The major piece of firefighting equipment the Roman's used was the bucket, which was passed from hand to hand to deliver water to the fire. Additionally, they used an ax, which was utilized to remove the fuel and prevent the spread of fire, as well as to make openings that would allow heat and smoke to escape a burning building. Furthermore, in major conflagrations long hooks with ropes were used to pull down buildings in the path of an approaching fire to create firebreaks. And finally, when explosives were available, the Roman's would use them to also form firebreaks (Hashgan). Now that we know the very beginnings of the fire service, let's explore its creation in America.
Firefighting history in America can be dated all the way back to Jamestown, Virginia, where the first English settlement took place. Founded in 1607 by colonists from the London Company, Jamestown was under the command of Captain James Smith (Britannica). Just as things seemed to be going great, a destructive fire demolished most of Jamestown, including
the colonists' provisions and lodgings. It was clear that Smith had to do something in order to control these devastating fires, but he was not sure what that was.
Fire prevention in the United States is said to be created in 1630 in Boston. At this time, Boston's Governor John Winthrop outlawed wooden chimneys and thatched roofs. Later, in 1648, Governor Peter Stuyvesant of New Amsterdam (New York City) was the first in the New World to appoint men as fire wardens (Hashagan). These fire wardens were permitted to inspect chimneys and to fine any violator of the fire prevention rules. The fire wardens later appointed eight honorable citizens to the "Rattle Watch". The job of the "Rattle Watch" was to patrol the streets at night carrying large wooden rattles. If a fire was seen, the men spun the rattles, and then directed the responding citizens to form bucket brigades (Hashagan) Bucket brigades are teams of people passing leather buckets full of water down a human chain. At the end of the chain the water is thrown on the fire, and the empty buckets are passed back to the water source. Using the human chain, a constant supply of buckets could be rotated through, providing a steady supply of water (Hashagan). This is recognized as the first step in structured firefighting in America.
About thirty years later, in 1676, Boston suffered numerous arson fires and then finally, a conflagration (Hashagan). This encouraged the Bostonians to send out for the "state of the art" fire engine then being made in England. The three-foot-long, eighteen-inch-wide wooden box arrived with carrying handles and a direct-force pump that fed a small hose. The tub-like section of the engine was kept filled with water by a bucket brigade (Hashagan). These devastating fires also led to the organization of the first paid fire department in North America. On January 27, 1678 the first paid fire department was established in Boston.
Twelve men and a captain were "hired" by the General Court to care for and manage the engine and be paid for their work. Its captain, Thomas Atkins, was actually the first firefighting officer in the country (Hashagan).
Many years later, in 1736, Benjamin Franklin began asking readers of his "Pennsylvanian Gazette" to establish firefighting companies. Franklin himself founded the Union Fire Company in Philadelphia, which became the standard for volunteer fire company organization (Hashagan). Soon after that, six volunteer corps were created in Philadelphia. Among the jobs of these...
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