A Bit of History | Brian Benedict

by Brian Benedict

Pictured: Colorado Springs 1898 Steamer

After visiting Colorado Springs academy, which houses their fire museum, I was determined to research and write about the history of the fire service.  A few interesting facts about how it all began.

History of the Fire Service

24 BC – Rome

One of the earliest fire departments I could find was a public fire department in 24 BC and housed slaves in seven fire stations within Rome.  Believe it or not the streets were even patrolled by the department which had the authority to impose corporate punishment on violators of prevention codes.  I guess politics hadn’t gotten in the way of safety yet.

1736 Benjamin Franklin

In 1736 Benjamin Franklin’s Bucket Brigade initiated a volunteer fire department in Philadelphia called the Union Fire Company.  In the 1884 book “History of Philadelphia”, John Thomas Scharf and Thompson Westcott described the organization of the company:

The Union Fire Company was an association for mutual assistance. Each member agreed to furnish, at his own expense, six leather buckets and two stout linen bags, each marked with his name and the name of the company, which he was to bring to every fire. The buckets were for carrying water to extinguish the flames, and the bags were to receive and hold property which was in danger, to save it from risk of theft. The members pledged themselves to repair to any place in danger upon an alarm of fire with their apparatus. Some were to superintend the use of the water, others were to stand at the doors of houses in danger, and to protect the property from theft. On an alarm of fire at night it was agreed that lights should be placed in the windows of houses of members near the fire “in order to prevent confusion, and to enable their friends to give them more speedy and effectual assistance.’

According to Scharf and Westcott, the company was limited to 30 members who met eight times a year and were fined if they were late to or missed a meeting. The company had no president, but a treasurer and a clerk, take in turns from the general membership, who not only managed communications with other members but also inspected the gear. Scharf and Westcott note that this structure was the basis for all fire companies in Philadelphia until the Revolutionary War.

1600s and 1700s

Fire departments were formed by property insurance companies beginning in the 17th century after the Great Fire of London in 1666. The first insurance brigades were established the following year. Others began to realize that a lot of money could be made from this practice, and ten more insurance companies set up in London before 1832: The Alliance, Atlas, Globe, Imperial, London, Protector, Royal Exchange, Sun Union and Westminster. Each company had its own fire mark, a durable plaque that would be affixed to the building exterior. A company’s fire brigade would not extinguish a burning building if it did not have the correct fire mark.

Amsterdam also had a sophisticated firefighting system in the late 17th century, under the direction of artist Jan van der Heyden, who had improved the designs of both fire hoses and fire pumps.

The city of Boston, Massachusetts established America’s first publicly funded, paid fire department in 1679. Fire insurance made its debut in the American colonies in South Carolina in 1736, but it was Benjamin Franklin who imported the London model of insurance. He established the colonies’ first fire insurance company in Philadelphia named the Philadelphia Contributionship, as well as its associated Union Volunteer Fire Company, which was an unpaid (volunteer) company.

In 1754, established the Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency, which is today Canada’s oldest fire department.

In 1773, the city of Petersburg, Virginia established one of the first fire departments in the United States and it was also made up of unpaid volunteers


In the 19th century, the practice of fire brigades refusing to put out fires in buildings that were uninsured led to the demand of central command for fire companies. Cities began to form their own fire departments as a civil service to the public, obliging private fire companies to shut down, many merging their fire stations into the city’s fire department.

Established in 1853, the Cincinnati Fire Department is the oldest paid fully professional municipal fire department in the United States.

In 1879, Notre Dame University established the first University-based fire department in the United States

Reference wikipedia and History of Philadelphia.

Learn to Build the Business of “U”

Brian JMT B&W 150


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