150th Anniversary of Baltimore City Fire Department

In 1858, the mayor and city council of Baltimore City, after much deliberation, passed an ordinance creating the Fire Department of Baltimore City. Five commissioners were appointed to oversee the organization. The size of the original department was set at seven steam fire engine companies and two hook-and-ladder companies. Final approval was made in an ordinance dated March 30, 1859. Charles T. Holloway was appointed chief engineer. A police and fire alarm telegraph system also was proposed. On Feb. 15, 1859, the fire department was put in place and by Dec. 31, 1859, it was at its authorized strength. The department underwent change as time went on. Increasing units as demands called for and finances allowed.

On Jan. 1, 1893, the fire department became fully paid and the grade of call man was abolished. Ringing of bells in the firehouse towers and city hall was discontinued. By 1900, the fire department began to establish more firehouses. By 1904, the department had 24 engines (including a fireboat), 11 hook-and-ladders, three chemical engines and 10 chief officers led by Chief Engineer George W. Horton.

And so it was on the Sunday morning, Feb. 7, 1904, when a fire erupted in the Hurst Building in downtown Baltimore that resulted by the end of the second day in the total destruction of 140 acres of downtown Baltimore and resulting in the call for assistance from as far away as New York City. As a result of the fire, the reconstruction of the city replaced older buildings with better-constructed ones. The fire department was enlarged and a high-pressure pumping system was installed and completed in 1912. By 1914, there were 40 engines (including two fireboats) and 19 truck companies.

The next important event was that through the 1918 Annexation Act, the City of Baltimore greatly increased in size with the incorporation of part of Baltimore County into the city along with its governmental services. The seven engine companies of the Baltimore County Fire Department, its buildings, apparatus and men became part of the Baltimore City Fire Department.

By 1923, the last engine companies were added to bring the total to 58 engines, including four fireboats. This number would remain until the 1970s, when the reduction of companies commenced. Five hose companies had also been added with two water tower companies. Four chemical (foam) companies were added by 1926. In 1935, Truck 26 was added and the unit size remained at that number until 1951.

The manpower situation was adjusted with a second platoon being added in 1924 and a third platoon added in 1958. The department started handling emergency medical service in 1927 with five ambulances and it grew to 12 ambulances by 1957. From 1920s through 1971, the department remained pretty much stable. The axe began to fall in 1979. To carry on further would require a book and the saga continues. The fire department continues to provide excellent service to the community with good leadership in trying times.

GARY E. FREDERICK retired as assistant chief of the Baltimore City, MD, Fire Department after 37 years service and now serves as safety officer of the Gettysburg, PA, Fire Department. He also has served as chairman of the Baltimore Committee for Firehouse Expo for 25 years.