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BW Fire Security Talks Firefighting History

19 October 2015   BW Fire Security Systems | Sponsored Content
TS (A), Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard University

Firefighting has a long and storied history through the ages

Did you know that ancient Rome had a fire department? This first century fire department conceived by the Roman emperor Augustus, had thousands of firefighters on the payroll. Their duties included responding to and fighting fires and enforcing fire code violations. Watchmen were stationed in cities and sounded an alarm if a fire was detected. Fires at that time were fought by the “Bucket Brigade”, passing buckets of water hand to hand.

The first fire pump was invented in Egypt in 200 B.C., but the knowledge of it was lost. The device did not reappear until the 1500’s A.D when it was reinvented. In the 1600’s, the first “fire engines” were tubs that were placed on poles to be carried or on wheels to pull water to the fire. The early firefighting equipment in America and Europe was simple and crude. In 1666, lacking proper means of fighting fires, the London fire burned for four days. After this devastating fire, insurance companies formed fire brigades. It was not until 1830 that the first standards for the operation of a fire department began to be implemented in Scotland. The modern fire department did not come into being in America until the 1830’s.


1648: Governor Peter Stuyvesant of New Amsterdam, (New York City), appointed fire inspectors. Fines were levied for fire code infractions.

1679: Imported from Europe, the first American fire engine arrived in the city of Boston.

1672: Introduction of the leather hose and couplings.

1725: Invention of the ten-person pump.

1743: Invented by Thomas Lote, the first fire engine was made in America

1850: The beginning of the use of steam pumpers

1870: Fabric and rubber-treated hoses appeared, and the aerial ladder wagon came into use.

1871: Use of the hose elevator began

1871: Use of gasoline engines for pumping engines and for tractors to pull the equipment.

1910: The use of the gasoline engine able to both run the truck and the pump.

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In the late 19th century, Dalmatians were used to protect the horses that were used to draw the fire carriages. Thus, they became a canine firefighting symbol.

The “Rattle Watch” of the 1740’s was made up of volunteers that patrolled the streets at night. They carried wooden rattles that they used to warn the townspeople when there was a fire.

Benjamin Franklin was instrumental in forming the Union Fire Company in Philadelphia.

George Washington, once a volunteer firefighter in Alexandria, Virginia, gave a new fire engine to the town.

Molly Williams, an African American slave, is known as the first female firefighter in the United States. In the blizzard of 1818, she helped to pull the pumper through the snow to a fire in New York City.

In 1852, Dr. William F. Channey of Boston invented the first fire alarm box using telegraph technology.
The first full-time fire department in the United States to be staffed with paid professionals, the Cincinnati Fire Department was also the first to use steam driven fire engines in 1853.

The steam engines disappeared in the early 1900’s with the advent of the internal combustion engines.

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Photo Credit: "TS (A), Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard University"