The man who established the first volunteer fire department also invented bifocals, wrote and printed Poor Richard’s Almanac, studied electricity and helped draft the Declaration of Independence. His name was Benjamin Franklin. The first volunteer fire department began in Philadelphia in 1736.

Ben Franklin moved to Philadelphia from Boston at the age of eighteen. Boston had been greatly affected by fire. The city of Boston experienced major fires in 1653 and 1676. After the fire in 1676, Boston purchased a London pumper. The city then hired Thomas Atkins and twelve other men to fight fires. These were the first paid firefighters in the United States. In 1711, another major fire occurred in Boston. One hundred ten families lost their homes. At the age of six Benjamin Franklin witnessed this fire. Concerned citizens banded together and formed The Mutual Fire Societies in 1711. When fire struck a member of the Mutual Fire Society, other members of the club rushed to help battle the blaze. Each society had approximately twenty members. Dennis Smith stated the following: "The Mutual Fire Societies became social as well as protective associations, setting a pattern for organized volunteer firefighting groups, which would one day be the backbone of firefighting in America and would dominate it for a century and a half."

In 1682, the city of Philadelphia was founded by William Penn. When determining where to locate the city Penn gave careful thought to the dangers of fire. He had witnessed the London fire in 1666 and did not want Philadelphia to suffer the same fate. To reduce the possibility of fire, a fire ordinance in Philadelphia in 1696 required chimney cleaning. Philadelphia also had a large number of brick buildings that made it less susceptible to fire.

In 1718, Philadelphia bought its first engine. It was named The Shag Rag but it was not put into service until 1730 when Philadelphia had a fire that destroyed much of the commercial district along the river. The Shag Rag was no match for the conflagration because it only produced a trickle of water. In the twelve years the city owned it no one had maintained it. Ben Franklin urged the city to get better organized to fight fires. Shortly thereafter the city bought four hundred fire buckets, twenty ladders and hooks and two additional engines.

In 1733, Ben Franklin often wrote about the dangers of fire and the need for organized fire protection in his newspaper The Pennsylvania Gazette. Ben Franklin was familiar with Boston’s Mutual Fire Societies which were also known as "Fire Clubs." But the "Fire Clubs" existed for the protection of its members, not the community at large. Collins wrote that Ben Franklin "wanted organizations that would battle all fires, regardless of whose property was burning."

After an extensive fire in Philadelphia in 1736, Franklin created a fire brigade called The Union Fire Company with 30 volunteers. The first full-fledged volunteer firefighter in America was Isaac Paschal. The idea of volunteer fire brigades gained popularity. Not wanting more than 30-40 men per company, additional companies were formed in Philadelphia. Some of them were: The Fellowship, Hand-in-Hand and Heart-in-Hand, and Friendship Companies. Each of the companies paid for their own equipment and located it throughout town at strategic places. Most early fire companies in Philadelphia and other cities had professionals, wealthier merchants and trades people serving in the volunteer fire department. These citizens were able to afford to purchase equipment and pay fines for missing meetings and fires.

Before 1850 no city in the United States had fully paid full-time firefighters. Volunteer firefighters played and continue to play an invaluable role in protecting lives and property.

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HistoricallyBen Franklin is known as the father of the volunteer fire service and rightly so, to some extent .. as seen above , however American history goes back before that so I postthis, to remind you all ofthe times when firefighting wasnt a"club" system, but more of a unorganized community effort,, when any and all were expected to attend and do they're part....






Firefighting in Colonial America

By Paul Hashagen


The history of firefighting in America can be traced all the way back to Jamestown, VA, the first permanent English settlement in the New World. Founded in 1607 by colonists from the London Company, Jamestown was under the command of Captain James Smith. It did not take long for fire to begin taking its toll on the new settlers.
In January 1608, a devastating fire destroyed most of the colonists' provisions and lodgings. Smith made a concise assessment of the situation: "I begin to think that it is safer for me to dwell in the wild Indian country than in this stockade, where fools accidentally discharge their muskets and others burn down their homes at night."

Three hundred ninety years later, Smith's read on America's safety issues is not that much different than today's. Our headlines still feature the same two elements – fire and guns.

The population of the New World continued to rise as shiploads of immigrants stepped ashore looking for a fresh start in a new land. Cities began to take shape, and the problems Smith found in the small stockade multiplied as more and more structures were added. The fire load in these cities increased as forests were cleared and wooden homes and buildings were constructed.

The communities that sprang up around three of the best harbors – Boston, New York and Philadelphia – soon faced a number of social problems involving housing, sanitation, water supply and the danger of fire. These three cities, and the firefighters who eventually stepped forward to protect them, set the course early on as to the direction and shape the American Fire Service would take.

In 1648, New Amsterdam (later New York) Governor Peter Stuyvesant stood firmly on his peg leg and appointed four men to act as fire wardens. They were empowered to inspect all chimneys and to fine any violators of the rules. The city burghers later appointed eight prominent citizens to the "Rattle Watch" – these men volunteered to patrol the streets at night carrying large wooden rattles. If a fire was seen, the men spun the rattles, then directed the responding citizens to form bucket brigades. This is generally recognized as the first step in organized firefighting in America.

Even earlier, Boston's city fathers took the first steps in fire prevention when Governor John Winthrop outlawed wooden chimneys and thatched roofs in 1631. Forty years later, Boston suffered a series of arson fires and finally a conflagration in 1676. The small "ingine" built by local ironmaker Joseph Jynks, probably a syringe-type pump, had little effect on the swelling wall of flames. Shortly after the fire, Bostonians sent for the "state of the art fire engine" then being made in England. The three-foot-long, 18-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.

The need to coordinate these efforts brought about the establishment of the first engine company in colonial America. Twelve men and a captain were "hired" by the General Court to care for and manage the engine and to be paid for their work. On Jan. 27, 1678, this company went into service. Its captain (foreman), Thomas Atkins, was actually the first firefighting officer in the country.

Two Newsham engines arrived in New York in December 1732. Jacob Turck was appointed to take charge of the engines and to keep them in repair at his own cost after a 10-pound salary was advanced him. Turck also worked on a pump of his own design, perhaps the first mechanical fire pumper built in America.

Most notable among the famous Americans who helped shape the country and the fire service was Benjamin Franklin, a writer, printer, philosopher, scientist, statesman of the American Revolution – and a fireman. Franklin helped draft the Declaration of Independence, served as a diplomat, and invented items that ranged from lightning rods to bifocal eyeglasses. In 1736, Franklin founded the Union Fire Company in Philadelphia, which became the standard for volunteer fire company organization.

Two important "tools" utilized by early American firemen were the bed key and salvage bags. With firefighting apparatus able to supply only a small stream of water, a fire that began to gain any headway was soon out of control. Arriving firemen quite often opted for immediate salvage efforts in the fire building and surrounding exposures. The bed key was a small metal tool that allowed the men to quickly disassemble the wooden frame of a bed, quite often the most valuable item owned by a family, and remove it to safety. Other household goods of any value were snatched up, placed in salvage bags and carried to safety.

The first attempt at fire insurance went bust after a devastating fire in Charlestown, MA, in 1736. Ben Franklin then organized the "Philadelphia Contributorship" to insure houses from loss by fire in 1740, a venture that was a success. The company adopted "fire marks" to be affixed to the front of the insured's property for easy identification.

With rules to provide for buckets, hooks, ladders and the formation of volunteer companies, firefighting started to become formalized. The chain of command fell in place as officers of various ranks were established. Firemen devised new and better ways to accomplish their mission; everything from helmets to hoses were invented or improved. Firemen in Philadelphia, New York, Boston and other cities made major advances in the technology and theory of firefighting.

The legacy of colonial firefighters can still be seen in fire department operations and organization across the country to this day. The wooden hydrants are gone but the iron willed determination of American firefighters is as strong as ever.


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About the Author: Paul Hashagan, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a fire service historian and author of several books about the history of firefighting. He is an FDNY firefighter assigned to Rescue Company 1 in Manhattan and an assistant chief of the Freeport, NY, Fire Department.
Everyone one on firefighter nation should read this history it puts all of the things we take for granted into prospective its amazing how far we have grown past all of this but at the same time how close we still are to the begining thoughts and problems and how the basic problems for them are still the same for us.
I agree Wes, we tend to think tomuch without thinking about it...lol there is a post elsewhere on blogs that discusses "how old your department is" and one person commented how the east coast has lots of 200 year old FD's I didnt get into it really, But San Fransico, LA,as well as Texas, Florida and La have been settled way over 200 years, though we have to admit In cally the major Growth didnt occur until the Gold rush era your still talking the 1840's The saving grace I guess for The southwest and texas was building construction, adobe and sod doesnt burn so good and other parts like Chicago, St Louis, Norlanz boomed because of the same westward expansion, firefighting may have only been bucket brigades outta the watering troughs But it was done, out of NEED to protect nearby dwellings and sheds and barns without which even the sod farmers would be facing starvation... those places that were part of the rush, were a stepping stone to wilderness often had some form of brigade mentality even places later on like Deadwood needed one because of the rush into the blackhills cause quick shotty wooden construction in close quarters, a fire could and often did lay to ruin a good part of "towns" and that is part of the lesson learned as well.. Name a city and check out what year it had its "confligation" ..lol
The first firefighters came from way back in the day from the nights of Saint john. When the nights of St john tried to attack the sacrens the sacrens would dump what we call today napalm on the knights. After the knights where saturated with this they would throw flamming torches down and ignite the knights. The knights who saw this would run in with there shields and pull there brothers from the flames. This is where we get the first firefighters. For there heroic efforts the knights where awarded with a badge of honor similiar to the one we wear today. This is also where we get the cross that all firefighters where the Maltese cross. For 4 centuries the knights lived on a island in the mediteranean sea called Malta thats where we get the maltese cross.
Firefighting goes back further than some might think, in 6AD the Romans established Bucket Brigades to report to fires and assist home owners, at the right price of course. Since that time all the major civilizations had some sort of Fire Brigade and most of these were volunteer obligations by a community or area.

The major changes to the field of firefighting happened in 1666 after the Great Fire of London, when it was realised that a fire that could destroy 2 square miles of one of the major cities in europe, required some sort of organised group, thus the Insurance companies got in on the act, they controlled the Brigades and only home or business owners with insurance would be assisted in the event of a fire.

The technology of Firefighting also changed around this time, with the Fire hose being designed by Jan Van Der Heyden in 1672, 50ft lengths of leather hose with brass couplings. then in 1725 the first horse pulled fire cart with a crew of firefighters.

Ben Franklin had a vision of the way firefighting should be done in the United States, and believed that a volunteer firefighter will work harder and longer than any paid firefighter, because they choose to be there.

We owe a debt to all the firefighters that served before us, because we are one of the oldest professional organisations still in business today.
besides hookers that is
The Roman bucket brigades were called "The Vigils" and they were made up of slaves. They patrolled the city after dark, and not only warned the surrounding residents of impending conflagrations, but fought the fire as much as they could. The threat of fire was so great during this time period that most of the residents donated their slaves to the cause. And the wealthy didnt want the fire to spread to their own belongings too. The fire service in one form or another has been alive for over 2000 years

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