Origin of the 1st Fire Department.

 

The first American (volunteer) fire department company is often credited to Ben Franklin, around 1736, in Philadelphia. This started as a "club" or co-op, to protect each other's homes in the event of a fire. But there were organizations resembling firefighting "clubs", also known as "Mutual Fire Societies" in Boston prior to this. Boston also had "Firewards" as early as 1711. As early as 1678, Boston had some fire fighting equipment and a paid crew to maintain it and respond to fires. In 1648, New York, and a few other cities, had a volunteer "rattle watch" who patrolled the streets. If a fire was discovered these people would sound an alarm and help organize bucket brigades. As early as 1731 there is a record of the City of New York purchasing fire apparatus that was a hand pump/brake bar engine.

 

Franklin noted in his own newspaper, in 1735, that Boston had "a club or society of active men belonging to each fire engine, whose business is to attend all fires with it whenever they happen. " This may have been one of the concepts that help him go down in history as one of our first, if not THE first, fire chief. The difference between Ben Franklin's "fire brigade" and the other co-ops, of clubs, is that he saw the advantage of protecting all the property of the community and not just those who had joined together to help fight each other's fires. Franklin formed a fire brigade that became know as The Union Fire company. This was made up of about 30 volunteers from the community. These men met monthly to discuss fire fighting techniques. But this was not the only "fire company" in Philadelphia. Soon afterwards there were others known as, the Britannia, the Heart-in-Hand, the Fellowship and others.

 

Many prominent early Americans were volunteer firefighters. After all, in most cases, if people didn't organize and form some kind of co-op, there wasn't anyone to help keep the town from burning down. George Washington was a volunteer in Alexandria, Va. and purchased a new fire engine to donate to the town.

 

While it was more true back then, volunteer fire houses are still a major social organization in many communities. Volunteer departments hold many events to raise money. Usually the prominent leaders of a community are members of the fire department. It is less true today, but 150 years ago, the volunteer fire departments were often powerful political machines in many towns and cities. Probably the most famous example was Boss (William Marcy) Tweed of Tammany Hall Fame who started as a member of the "Americus" (sic) Engine Company Number 6 ("The Big Six") in New York City. The movie, The Gangs of New York, show this period of time.

During the Civil War, entire fire companies or departments would join up and many became the elite Zoave battalions. The Civil War is often credited with helping to establish the fire department rank system that exists today. While fighting in the war, the leaders of the fire brigade received rank and continued to be known by that title long after returning home. See: Ranks and Organization.

 

Between 1800-1900many American cities suffered devastating fires and realized that something had to be done. More and more cities established government sponsored fire brigades. Prior to that, fires were fought by volunteers or private companies.  Some of these private fire brigades were freelance while others were owned by insurance companies.

History of the Maltese Cross

The Maltese Cross is a symbol of protection and a badge of honor. Its story is hundreds of years old. When a courageous band of crusaders known as The Knights of St. John fought the Saracens for possession of the holy land, they encountered a new weapon unknown to European warriors. It was a simple, but horrible device of war.

 

It brought excruciating pain and agonizing death upon the brave fighters for the cross. As the crusaders advanced on the walls of the city, they were struck by glass bombs containing naphtha. When they became saturated with the highly flammable liquid, the Saracens would hurl a flaming torch into their midst. Hundreds of the knights were burned alive; others risked their lives to save their brothers-in-arms from dying painful, fiery deaths.Thus, these men became our first Fire Fighters and the first of a long list of courageous men. Their heroic efforts were recognized by fellow crusaders who awarded each hero a badge of honor - a cross similar to the one fire fighters wear today. Since the Knights of St. John lived for close to four centuries on a little island in the Mediterranean Sea named Malta, the cross came to be known as the Maltese Cross. The Maltese Cross is our symbol of protection. It means that the Fire Fighter who wears this cross is willing to lay down his life for you just as the crusaders sacrificed their lives for their fellow man so many years ago. The Maltese Cross is a Fire Fighter's badge of honor, signifying that he works in courage - a ladder's rung away from death.

History of the American Fire Engine

Before the fire engine, the earliest form of fire protection in North America consisted of citizen bucket brigades.  When a fire occurred, all of the citizens would run to the scene with their buckets. Two lines would be formed from a water source and filled buckets would be passed up the line to the fire, the water would be thrown at the burning structure. The empty buckets would be quickly passed back using the second line of people to be refilled.

 

The first fire engine was invented in the early 1720's, A horse drawn carriage on wooden wheels with hand drawn water pump and a reservoir, and a small amount of hose. It delivered up to 60 gallons per minute, the aproxament equivalent of two standard garden hoses today.

Before sirens, firefighters used bells and whistles. The horses also wore a special covering. They wore it so if the fire dropped on them, they wouldn't get burned.

 

The first horse drawn steam engine water pump for fighting fires was invented in 1829, but not accepted in structural firefighting until 1860, and ignored for another two years afterwards.

Horse traction was replaced in 1907 by the internal combustion engine, the same engine to drive the vehicle was also used to power the water pump. The new era fire engine was born. Built in the United States, lead the decline and disappearance of steam engines by 1925.

 

This basic locomotion wonder quickly assumed its modern roll, bringing fire fighters, water and equipment to the fire much faster over larger distances away. Over the years specialized auxiliary vehicles were also soon developed.