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  1. #1
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    Default Firefighting History Timeline, 1608-1909 - Input Wanted

    I recently went looking for a detailed timeline on the early history of firefighting in the United States. I couldn't find one with enough detail, so I skimmed a bunch of books and a bunch of web sites and created the following. Please add, edit, correct, or debate anything. It's America-centric, alas. And is not annotated with sources.

    1608 (or 1607) - First recorded fire in America, Jamestown, VA.

    1615 - Crude hand pumps mounted on skids or wheels used in Germany by this time.

    1638 - First no-smoking law in America, MA. Due to numerous fires, residents not allowed to smoke tobacco outdoors.

    1648 - First fire wardens appointed, New Amsterdam. The four are charged with the responsibility of checking residential chimneys and levying fines as necessary.

    1653 - Boston burns, leads to laws requiring all houses having at least one ladder. Also leads to public purchasing of fire equipment.

    1654 (or 1653) - First fire engine used in America, Boston.

    1657 or soon after - First night watch created, New Amsterdam. Eight men walk the streets after dark, watching for fires and stopping anyone who looks suspicious. They carry rattles to sound a fire alarm.

    1658 ? - First fireman in America.

    1666 - Great London Fire inspires new firefighting techniques, such as using gunpowder to create fire breaks. Also inspires development of hand-powered piston pumps.

    1672 (or 1673) - First fire hose / leather fire hose, Holland. Fifty-foot sections of leather hose stitched together like boot legs. Fifty-foot section lengths remain standard to this day.

    1676 or soon after - First state-of-art fire engine in America, Boston. Ordered from England after conflagration in 1876. Replacessmall "ingine" built by local ironmaker.

    1678 - First fire engine company organized, Boston.

    1725 (or 1721) - First fire engine to throw continuous stream of water patented, England.

    1736 - First volunteer fire company in America by Ben Franklin, Philadelphia.

    1740 - Felt top hat adopted for firefighting by Jacob Turck, New York. Leather hat has high crown and narrow brim.

    1743 - First successful fire engine designed and built in America, New York.

    1750, ca - Cash awards for first-arriving fire companies started. Companies begin racing each other to fire scenes.

    1752 - First successful fire insurance company founded by Ben Franklin, Philadelphia.

    1768 - First American fire engine manufacturing company formed, Philadelphia.

    1794 - First protective capes used for firefighting, Philadelphia.

    1794 - Philadelphia-style apparatus developed.

    1796 - First water main system installed, Boston.

    1799 - First hook and ladder truck used, hand-drawn, Philadelphia.

    1800 - First fireboat, New York City.

    1801 - First post-type hydrant, Philadelphia.

    1803 (or 1807) - First hose wagon and hose company, Philadelphia.

    1803 - First apparatus gong, Philadelphia.

    1803, ca - First apparatus siren, Philadelphia.

    1807 - First metal-riveted leather hose, Philadelphia.

    1808 - First two-wheel "jumper reel" developed.

    1810 - First professional firefighting organization formed, Paris.

    1811 - Friendly competition between fire companies begins with formation of second fire company in Philadelphia.

    1812 - First four-wheel hose reel.

    1817 - Standards for manufacturing of leather hose appear.

    1818 - First female firefighter, New York.

    1819 - All New York engines retrofitted with suction capabilities, now that strong suction hose is available. No more dumping water into apparatus by hand.

    1819 - First booster tank, Boston. Quickly abandoned.

    1820 - Savannah, GA burns, 463 buildings.

    1821 - Rubber-lined cotton-web fire hose patented, America.

    1823 - First firefighter's strike, Boston.

    1823 (or 1810) - First apparatus manufactured with suction hose fittings.

    1824 - Metal wire framework added to fire helmet.

    1828 - Fire helmet redesigned by Henry T. Gratacap with longer rear brim and curved sides, New York.

    1828-29 - Steam fire engine invented, London. Not accepted for use in structural firefighting for decades.

    1829 - Cincinnati burns, 33 buildings, all of downtown.

    1830 - First railroad to evolve into major system. Apparatus can now travel for competitions and mutual aid.

    1832 - First fire horse, New York.

    1835 - New York burns, $20M, worst urban fire since 1666.

    1836 - New York volunteer brawling becomes increasingly violent.

    1836 - Fire helmet brim bent downward and metal attached to top edge, New York.

    1838 - Charleston burns, $4M damage.

    1839 - First insurance patrol, New York.

    1839 - Mobile, AL burns. 600 buildings.

    1839 - First electric telegraph fire alarm system installed, Boston.

    1839 or about - First rubber fire hose.

    1840 - Red flannel shirt adopted as fireman's uniform, New York. Later spreads across the country.

    1841 - First American steam fire engine, New York, used only a few months.

    1845 - Philadelphia burns, 900 buildings.

    1847-1854 - 1.6M Irish immigrate following famine, many take to firefighting.

    1840s-1850s - First facilities for hanging hose in fire stations.

    1848 - Albany burns, 600 buildings.

    1849 - St. Louis burns, 430 buildings and 23 steamboats.

    1851 - Cincinnati suffers major fire while volunteer firefighters riot. City commissions building of steam engine and organizes salaried department.

    1851 - Buffalo, NY burns. 200 buildings.

    1851 - Philly burns. 400 buildings.

    1852 - First fire box alarm, Boston.

    1853 - Cincinnati becomes first fully-paid fire department.

    1853 - Cincinnati tests first successful American steam engine.

    1857 - Louisville KY and then St. Louis MO become second and third fully-paid fire departments.

    1863 - Fire extinguisher patented.

    1864 - Chemical fire engine invented, France.

    1865 - New York forms fully-paid FD.

    1868 - First successful aerial ladder invented by Daniel Hayes, San Francisco.

    1870 - Rubber, cotton-covered hose developed.

    1870 or so - Red brick architecture begins to dominate municipal buildings.

    1870 or so - Isolated residential districts are rare before this time.

    1871 - Philadelphia forms fully-paid fire department.

    1871 - Quick horse hitch likely invented, Saint Joseph, MO.

    1871 - Great Chicago Fire.

    1872 - Automatic sprinkler patented, Abington, MA.

    1873 - Hanging horse harness invented, Cambridge, MA.

    1873 - First iron-hull fire boat, Boston.

    1873 - International Association of Fire Engineers holds first convention and adopts standard hose coupling size.

    1876 (or 1879) - First water tower developed, consisting of 50-foot mast sections assembled at scene and raised by cranks and gears.

    1878 - First fire pole, Chicago, IL.

    1878 - Seamless cotton hose appears by this time. The hose is also capable of being packed flat, unlike rubber hose which required rolling on a reel. Hose wagons are developed to transport the new hose.

    1880 - First brass fire pole, Worchester, MA.

    1882 - Pompier/scaling ladder patented, St. Louis.

    1901 (or 1902) - Spring-raise aerial ladder invented by Seagrave, Columbus, OH.

    1903 - Iroquois Theater burns, Chicago, spurs new fire inspection laws.

    1906 - San Francisco earthquake and fire.

    1906 - Motor apparatus appears in America, notably Waterous pumper entering service in Wayne, PA.

    1909 - First triple-combination apparatus, built by Tea Tray Company on American Motors chassis and delivered to Middletown, NY.

    mjl
    Last edited by legeros; 02-13-2006 at 06:33 PM. Reason: Correction

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    You can add the Great Epizootic Fire, Boston, MA November 9,1872.

    A year after a the great Chicago fire, a fire broke out in a building the leather district of Boston and quickly spread to adjacent buildings.

    There was form of equine distemper (virus) that raged through the country that year. Boston was not spared. Many of Boston's fire horses had either died from the epizootic or were unfit for fire duty.

    Until the epidemic ended, firefighters with the aid of citizen volunteers often found it necessary to drag the equipment to fires manually.

    The telegraph allowed the Boston Fire Department to ask for help from aid came from all over New England to battle the conflagration. Steamers, hose reels and hand tubs were placed on flatbed railroad cars and brought to Boston by train.

    The Great Boston Fire burnt continuously for sixteen hours. It consumed 776 buildings, left 20,000 unemployed and 1,000 homeless. There were 30 fatalities.

    here is a link with pics...

    http://www.damrellsfire.com/Boston_1872_Fire_1.html
    Last edited by CaptainGonzo; 02-13-2006 at 08:17 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by legeros
    1750, ca - Cash awards for first-arriving fire companies started. Companies begin racing each other to fire scenes.
    Was the cash for "first arriving" , .. or "first water"?

    I've always read that it was a first water bonus that many cities paid to first company to get water onto the fire. It did spawn races, fights, zig zagging down streets to prevent being passed.. LOL I even read that one company elected to pull their engine already loaded with water, and that another company complained, and that they stopped as a result. It was said that it was many years later before the idea to carry water on an engine, was tried again.

    Anyway, just wanted to clarify .. I guess it's the same thing for the most part.

    BTW, greal list, it must have taken a little time to put that together. Well done.
    Last edited by 33motor; 02-14-2006 at 03:23 AM.
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    1672 (or 1673) - First fire hose / leather fire hose, Holland. Fifty-foot sections of leather hose stitched together like boot legs. Fifty-foot section lengths remain standard to this day.
    My old report shows 1672, made by Jan & Nicholaas Van De Heide, in Amsterdam, Holland.

    1807 - First metal-riveted leather hose, Philadelphia.
    James Sellers & Abraham Pennock. This was needed as a result of the increasing pressures being created by more modern engines. It was said that the greater pressures were leaking through the stitching too much, or blowing them apart completely.

    1678 - First fire engine company organized, Boston.
    I have that this was when the first "practical" fire engine was imported from London, to Boston, which for the most part, could be the same thing. It was supposed to be "the first fire engine in america". It was a wooden box, with handles on the sides that exteneded past the ends, 3' long and 18" wide. It was filled by bucket brigades, and it's important feature was it had a flexable nozzle that could be trained onto the flames.

    1725 (or 1721) - First fire engine to throw continuous stream of water patented, England.
    I think this one would be, Richard Newshams model. It was supposed to be the best in it's day, and could throw water 4 times farther than any comptetitors, and deliver up to 170 gallons a minute.

    1736 - First volunteer fire company in America by Ben Franklin, Philadelphia.
    Founded as: The Union Fire company

    1868 - First successful aerial ladder invented by Daniel Hayes, San Francisco.
    "The Hayes Hook & Ladder and Fire escape Combined" was it's official name

    1878 - First fire pole, Chicago, IL.
    3" in diameter, made of sanded wood with an oiled finish, Cpt. David B Kenyon; creator. It is said that the first firefighter slid the pole to a fire on April 21, 1878.

    1880 - First brass fire pole, Worchester, MA.
    Cpt. Charles Allen of Engine Co. 1 WFD

    1796 - First water main system installed, Boston.
    I have that Manhatten had the first underground water system, but I don't have a year. The info I have says that because manhatten slopes from North to South, water flowed through streams and springs north of city hall, to a 132,000 gallon reservior that fed the underground system, which was made of hollowed pine logs. Firemen would dig down to the shollowly placed logs and cut a hole to receive water, which purged out under it's own pressure. After it's use it was "plugged" which is where the term "fire plug" came from. Take that for what it's worth.

    9- 14- 1875 ca - Paul Porto's Aerial ladder, (built at the same time hayes was making his) one of 3 purchased by New York, fails durring a public demonstration, killing 3 firemen. memory tells me one of the FF's killed was a popular, or famous officer, but I'm blocking on the name.

    I found it:

    September 14, 1875

    At The Tweed Plaza, Canal St. and East Broadway

    An Aerial Ladder was to be tested. Several public trials of the Invention had been given and the dangerous character of the Invention had been commented on. On one occasion when one of the Ladders appeared to be ready to topple over, Chief Bates prevented it by slashing a line, which carried to the top of the Ladder. (editor's note: Chief Eli Bates was Chief of Department in 1875.)

    The final experiment was made on the Plaza, in the presence of a vast crowd and many Firemen and others interested in such matters. The Ladder was raised in eight sections to a height of 97 feet and Chief William H. Nash of the 4th Battalion ascended followed by Firefighter Philip J. Maus of Hook and Ladder 6, Firefighter William Hughes of Engine 9, four other Firemen and a Lieutenant.

    Chief Nash had reached the summit of the Ladder when it snapped far below him and dashed Nash, Maus and Hughes, who were above the fracture, to the cobble stones of the square. Nash and Maus were instantly killed and Hughes died within an hour. No one else was injured.

    The accident revived gossip which charged there was a corrupt understanding with the inventor and the payment from the City of $25,000 (editor's note: that's a huge sum of money in 1875!) for his Patented Rights. Public indignation ran to an intense pitch. The Fire Commissioners promptly shut down the Aerial Business.

    September 15th Commissioner King offered a Resolution which was adopted prohibiting the further use of Aerial Ladders as it had been demonstrated they were useless and there was good reason to believe that the Invention was foisted on the Department at an enormous expense and by corrupt means.

    Chief Nash was buried form 149 Clinton Street and his Funeral was attended by six Companies formed of details from the various Battalions. Maus was buried from 159-1/2 Essex Street and Hughes from No.10 Monroe Street.



    1819 - First booster tank, Boston. Quickly abandoned.
    This was due to the "first arriving" or "first water" bonus, and was called "foul play" by other companies, so the boston vols. dumped their tank.



    Man.. that's enough for me.. it's pretty amazing you compiled all that. My hats off to ya. I just added the info in the event you wanted it, or anyone else was curious.
    Last edited by 33motor; 02-14-2006 at 03:51 AM.
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    legeros, I have one or two you didn't list

    1609 --
    • January 7. Jamestown settlement destroyed by fire. All provisions lost and many die of hunger and exposure.

    1613 --
    • Dutch trading ship Tiger burns in New York Harbor, forcing her crew to be first settlers on Manhattan.

    1623 --
    • November 1. Fire destroys seven dwellings at Plymouth and nearly ends settlement.

    1676 --
    • November 27. Fire at Boston destroys large part of North End, including Increase Mather's church.

    1679 --
    • Boston imports fire engines from England.

    1711 --
    • "Towne House Fire" in Boston.

    1718 --
    • Mutual Fire Society organized in Boston by progressive citizens, This first volunteer fire company in America only battled fire amongst its members homes.

    1776 --
    • September 21. New York burned. American patriots believed to have "scorched earth" for the British by fire that destroyed 493 buildings.

    1788 --
    • March 21. New Orleans destroyed by fire on Good Friday. The fire was started by a curtain blowing over an open candle. Over 900 buildings (seven-eighths of town) burned.

    1803 --
    • Fort Dearborn (Chicago) founded.
    • Volunteer fire department established in Cincinnati, OH.
    • Wooden hydrants installed in Philadelphia.

    1805 --
    • June 11. Detroit, Michigan destroyed by fire.

    1806 --
    • In the aftermath of a major fire in Philadelphia, hydrant inspections began.

    1807 --
    • Early fire prevention activity in Washington, DC resulted in all chimneys being cleaned.

    1808 --
    • Fire Bucket Company formed in Cincinnati Ohio.
    • NYC got first hydrant attached to underground water main.

    1809 --
    • The first fireboat (Engine 42 of New York) was hand-rowed and hand-pumped.

    1811 --
    • Philadelphia diverted water from storage trunks in the street for use in fighting.
    • Philadelphia Hose Co. formed.
    • May 3 1. Fire destroys 250 buildings in Newburyport, MA

    1816 --
    • Richmond, VA organized the Richmond Fire Society for the purpose rendering mutual aid.

    1819 --
    • Philadelphia organized a special fire patrol group to perform salvage work.

    1820 --
    • January 11. Fire destroys 463 buildings, mostly dwellings in Savannah, GA.

    1837 --
    • June 10. Broad Street Riot in Boston. Firemen fight Irishmen all day.
    • Milwaukee, WI formed its first volunteer fire company.


    1845 --
    • Dr. William F. Channing of Boston invents the fire-alarm telegraph.

    1845 --
    • April 10. Great Fire at Pittsburgh; 982 buildings burned, mostly dwellings.


    1846 --
    • July 13. Fire in Nantucket; 300 buildings destroyed. Brought an end to the town's whaling supremacy.

    1849 --
    • San Francisco. A conflagration caused by arson results in $12 million in property damage. Following the fire, vigilante groups are organized to patrol the city and watch for more arsonists.

    1850 --
    • Fire destroys 400 buildings in Philadelphia and kills thirty-nine people.

    1851 --
    • May 4. The worst of six big incendiary fires that swept San Francisco between December, 1849, and June, 1851. This one destroys almost the entire city.

    1852 --
    • First fire-alarm telegraph central office and street box system inaugurated at Boston.
    • Patent issued for first sprinkler-perforated pipe system. This was the first recognized installation of fire protection equipment.

    1853 --
    • Latta Brothers steam fire engine, "Uncle Joe Ross," revolutionizes firefighting. Cincinnati becomes the first American city to replace volunteers with the horse-drawn steam fire engine, and to form a paid fire department.
    • December 27. Great Republic, biggest clipper ship ever built, burns in New York on eve of her maiden voyage.

    1858 --
    • Crystal Palace fire, in New York City .

    1860 --
    • January 10. Pemberton Mills Fire in Lawrence, Mass.; 115 killed.
    • February 2. Elm Street Tenement Fire in New York City; 200 killed. Laws requiring fire escapes were passed as a result of this fire.

    1861 --
    • Milwaukee, WI establishes a paid fire company.
    • Washington, DC fire department becomes a fully paid organization and installs a fire alarm telegraph.
    • Fort Sumter attacked. Civil War begins. New York City firefighters organize the first Fire Zouaves regiments and leave for the battlefront.
    • December 11. Most of Charleston, South Carolina is destroyed by fire.

    1864 --
    • November 8. "Southern Conspiracy" to burn New York City.

    1865 --
    • April 27. S.S. Sultana explodes in Mississippi River; 1450 killed.


    1866 --
    July 4. Great Fire in Portland, Maine. Firecracker starts blaze that destroys 1500 buildings.

    1870 --
    • Philadelphia PA gets a paid fire department.
    • Daniel Hayes, a San Francisco fireman, develops the first successful aerial ladder truck.


    1872 --
    • November 9. Great Fire of Boston..
    Great Fire of Boston destroyed 776 buildings and one square mile of the business district.
    More than seventy insurance companies went bankrupt as a result of the Great Fire of Boston. The companies that survived formed the National Board of Underwriters and established safeguards for insurance companies to follow.


    1873 --
    • First sliding poles, (made of wood), were installed in some New York engine houses. OUCH

    1874 --
    • First high-pressure water system for fighting fires installed in Rochester, NY

    1876 --
    • December 5. Brooklyn Theater Fire; 295 killed.

    1880 --
    • Frederick Grinnell improved upon the automatic sprinkler. Insurance companies cut rates to businesses installing Grinnell sprinklers.

    1889 --
    • June 6. Fire destroys thirty-one blocks in center of city and along the waterfront in Seattle, Washington.

    1900 --
    • June 30. Fire sweeps through the Hoboken water front; 400 killed.
    • September 8. Galveston (TX) Flood kills 5,000.

    1901 --
    • May 3. Fire destroys 1700 buildings in Jacksonville, Florida.


    1904
    • Successful breathing apparatus invented but not adopted for a number of years.
    • February 7. Great Fire at Baltimore. eighty downtown blocks, 1343 buildings burined. The Baltimore fire raised national attention for the need to standardize fire hose couplings and screw threads.
    • June 15. General Slocum, an excursion steamer with combustibles on board, catches on fire while crusing in New York's East River. 1,030 lives were lost, mostly children. This fire lead to inspection of ships in New York Harbor.

    1907
    • Gasoline-powered motors and pumps begin to appear in the fire service.
    • Underwriters Laboratories initiated its factory inspection service and began to issue labels for "approved devices."
    • Invention of first pumper with a single engine to do both driving and pumping.

    1908
    • March 4. Fire at Lakeview Grammar School in Collinwood, Ohio. 175 children and one teacher are killed.
    • April 12. Conflagration in Chelsea, Massachusetts, burns 3,500 buildings and kills eighteen.

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    Thats a pretty great list there guys. Well done.
    If you don't do it RIGHT today, when will you have time to do it over? (Hall of Fame basketball player/coach John Wooden)

    "I may be slow, but my work is poor." Chief Dave Balding, MVFD

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    Get it up. Get it on. Get it done!

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    1735 - Very first fire insurance company established in Charleston, SC. Went bankrupt after the fire of 1740. Hence in 1752, the first successful fire insurance company founded by Ben Franklin, Philadelphia.

    Here is a list from my research from Charleston, SC since its inception in 1670.

    1670: CHARLESTON IS FORMED on what is now "Charlestown Landing"
    1690: CHARLESTON IS MOVED to present location
    1698: Fire destroys 50 buildings on Feb.24
    1699: Fire destroys the rebuild from 1698
    1700: Fire destroys most of the rebuild from 1699

    1704: Board of Firemasters was created
    1731: Fire roars out of control and threatens to level the city

    1734: First fire "Engin" (For Charleston area) offered for sale on Sept. 7
    1735: First Fire Insurance Company in America established
    1740: Fire almost destroys all of Charleston on Nov.18

    1740: Fire Insurance Company goes bankrupt from 1740 fire
    1778: Fire destroys half of Charleston (250 buildings) British Loyalists are accused of arson. Jan15
    1779: Fire destroys much of the 1778 rebuild

    1784: 1st "hand in hand" fire company being created
    1788: Suspicious Fire destroys the SC State House
    1796: Fire destroys 500 buildings

    1801: Fire Company of Axemen created
    1810: Fire burns 194 buildings on Oct.9

    1816: Eagle Fire Engine Company created
    1819: Vigilant Fire Engine Company created
    1826: Charleston Fire Engine Company created
    1826: Phoenix Fire Engine Company created
    1829: Aetna Fire Engine Company created
    1835: Fire destroys St.Philips Church and 63 houses on Feb.16
    1835: Fire destroys 400 buildings on June 6
    1838: Fire destroys St.Marys Catholic and Jewish Synagogue

    1838: German Fire Engine Company created
    1839: Marion Fire Engine Company created
    1840: Palmetto Fire Engine Company created
    1842: Hope Fire Engine Company created
    1849: Washington Fire Engine Company created
    1859: 1st steam engine in SC purchased by Charleston Axemen
    1861: Fire burns the lower city on Dec.11. Worst Charleston fire on record.
    1861: Fort Sumter fires are put out with the Axemen's Steamer

    1861: Fire Engine Co. of Axemen changes name to Pioneer
    1861: Niagara Fire Engine Company created
    1865: Confederate ammo burns at Railway station killing 150

    1865: Charleston evacuated after much of city is burned and destroyed.
    1865: Stonewall Fire Engine Company created
    1865: Hook and Ladder #1 Company created
    1865: Hook and Ladder #2 Company created
    1866: Young America Fire Engine Company created
    1869: Ashley Fire Engine Company created
    1869: Union Star Fire Engine Company created
    1870: Hook and Ladder #3 Company created
    1870: Comet Fire Engine Company created
    1870: Promptitude Fire Engine Company created
    1870: Prudence Fire Engine Company created
    1870: Union Fire Engine Company created
    1882: Charleston becomes a fully paid fire department
    1886: GREAT CHARLESTON EARTHQUAKE on Aug. 31st
    Last edited by sconfire; 02-14-2006 at 02:41 PM.
    Always remember the CHARLESTON 9

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    "You'll never know where you're going until you remember where you came from"
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    Also add the Great Peshtigo Fire that occurred at the same time as the Great Chicago fire. It was a very, very, very bad fire.

    It occurred on the evening of October 8, 1871 and is still listed as the worst recorded forest fire in North American history. It raged through Northeastern Wisconsin and Upper Michigan, destroying millions of dollars worth of property and timberland, and taking between 1,200 and 2,400 lives. It covered 2,400 square miles or about 1.5 million acres.

    The Chicago fire killed 300 people and destroyed more than 17,000 structures and over 2000 acres in 27 hours.

    Funny you do not hear alot about Peshtigo... if at all.
    Always remember the CHARLESTON 9

    Captain Grant Mishoe, Curator of History
    North Charleston and American LaFrance Fire Museum
    "You'll never know where you're going until you remember where you came from"
    www.legacyofheroes.org
    www.firehistory.org
    www.sconfire.com

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    This list of historic fires from Wikipedia has world-wide as well as U.S. fires.
    -------------------
    "The most mediocre man or woman can suddenly seem dynamic, forceful, and decisive if he or she is mean enough." from "Crazy Bosses"
    -----------------------------------------------
    Genius has its limits, but stupidity is boundless.

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    Thanks for everyone's input. Here's what I get when I add everything together:

    http://www.legeros.com/temp/timeline/

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    Default This article first appeared in American Heritage November/December 2005

    It's a little long, but interesting reading.Firefighters

    This article first appeared in American Heritage November/December 2005

    Firefighters

    The people who stand ready to trade their lives for ours are part of a tradition that goes back 400 years
    By Terry Golway


    Confronting the unimaginable: New York firefighters on the morning of September 11, 2001.
    Confronting the unimaginable: New York firefighters on the morning of September 11, 2001.
    (JOSE JIMENEZ/PRIMERA HORA/GETTY IMAGES)

    In the days immediately following the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, a 77-year-old man from Teaneck, New Jersey, tried repeatedly to cross the George Washington Bridge. He was turned away. But he tried again, and again, until finally police and military personnel waved him through, and soon enough, he was among those thousands who were putting their lives at risk in what proved to be a vain attempt to find and rescue survivors in the smoldering ruins of the Twin Towers.

    The man from Teaneck knew something about rescues, about building collapses, and about fires. Reginald Julius had joined the Fire Department of New York in 1949 after giving up a job as a letter carrier for the Post Office. His motivation was simple: The Post Office job paid $2,400 a year; the Fire Department paid $3,000. “No decision necessary,” he would say many years later. Julius went on to serve in the FDNY until the late 1980s, when he retired as chief of the Twelfth Battalion, which covers parts of northern Manhattan. As with so many other firefighters around the country—from the largest paid department to the smallest volunteer organization—Reginald Julius’s “retirement” from the fire service simply meant an end to collecting full-time pay. Although he moved to suburban New Jersey, he stayed in touch with colleagues (like his brother, Vincent Julius, a retired FDNY captain), regularly visited firehouses, and kept up with the latest developments in fire science.

    So when 343 members of the department he loved were killed on a single, awful day, Reginald Julius grabbed the rubber boots, turnout coat, and white chief’s helmet that he had never put into storage, and he went where he was needed. When he finally got into Manhattan, he drove to his old firehouse in Harlem, boarded a commandeered city bus, and made the journey to hell. As he reported for duty at Ground Zero, a much younger firefighter took one look at him and said, “Well, I guess they’re calling in all the old buffaloes.” Retired Chief Reginald Julius smiled at the semi-affectionate nickname for firefighters of a certain age. “Let me do my work,” he replied. He pulled four consecutive 12-hour tours, picking through the horrible wreckage and sickening carnage. He found bodies and pieces of bodies, but never did he find the two people he was looking for, the chiefs who had succeeded him at the Twelfth Battalion. They were among the 343.

    Reginald Julius was hardly the only retired firefighter at Ground Zero in the dangerous days just after the attack. There were dozens there, some of them searching for the sons who had followed them into the fire service. Firefighters from around the country flew in to assist the FDNY, and they worked Ground Zero for weeks, long after hopes for rescue had given way to the bleak ritual of recovery. Still others boarded airplanes or trains, put on their white gloves and dress uniforms, and traveled to New York to offer a final salute to their fallen colleagues during the funerals and memorial services that followed September 11. In their stories, rituals, and sense of fraternity, they represented traditions linking the firefighters of Ground Zero to American firefighters of past centuries.
    September 11 was unprecedented, but a 1740s fireman would have recognized the selflessness shown that day.

    Firefighting in America, one of the nation’s most colorful, storied, and dangerous jobs, is a 400-year-old tale told in three volumes. During most of the seventeenth century, as European settlements grew, firefighting was a civic obligation for all able-bodied males; in the eighteenth century America’s fledgling cities formed volunteer fire departments; and a century later the volunteer departments began to give way in the cities to paid, professional ones. While the popular image of today’s American firefighter is of a highly trained urban professional, more than 70 percent of the country’s more than one million fire-fighters are throwbacks to another era; they are volunteers, many of them working in rural and exurban departments. Most cities are protected by a combination of paid and volunteer companies. Even in New York, home of the world’s most famous professional fire department, 10 volunteer fire companies still operate.

    Whether professional or volunteer, American firefighters share a sense of common history and sacrifice. The tragedy of September 11 was unprecedented, but a firefighter from Los Angeles in 1940, Chicago in 1840, or Boston in 1740 would have recognized the selflessness and devotion shown on that day. September 11, 2001, was the worst day in the history of the fire service in America. And during that terrible day, and in the days that followed, centuries of tradition and years of transition commanded the public’s attention as never before. Tradition? Firefighters in America have been putting their lives at risk since the seventeenth century. Transition? As the number of serious fires have declined in recent years, America’s firefighters quietly have taken on new responsibilities as first responders to all kinds of emergencies, from bomb threats to heart attacks, and many firefighters are now trained in CPR and other first-aid techniques. In fact, of those 343 heroic FDNY members who died at the World Trade Center, two were not firefighters but emergency medical technicians. They are included in the FDNY’s total because New York’s fire department, like many across the country, has been merged with the city’s emergency medical services.

    While Americans have long admired their firefighters, not until September 11 did many of us fully appreciate the job’s heroism and dangers. Popular culture and the media have made many of us experts in police work (or so we think). Firefighters, however, were nearly invisible in paperback novels, films, and primetime television. Then, suddenly, they became international symbols of sacrifice, courage, and dedication to duty. They achieved a status seldom granted to mere mortals: They have become models for action figures, available in toy departments and stores near you.
    A Baltimore fireman about 1850.
    A Baltimore fireman about 1850.
    (LIBRARY OF CONGRESS)

    Less celebrated are controversies that also have their roots in the history and traditions of the fire service. The American firehouse has been an outpost of masculinity like few others in contemporary life. Long after women police officers, soldiers, and sportswriters have become commonplace, women firefighters remain a rarity. New York offers the most explicit example, with no more than 30 women among its more than 11,000 firefighters. It is no coincidence that one of the many books celebrating firefighters after September 11 used the word Brotherhood in the title. Similarly, fire departments remain overwhelmingly white even in cities that are majority-minority, or close to it. The Fire Department of New York is 90 percent white; the departments of Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago between 70 and 75 percent white. Those statistics obviously indicate that fire departments have been slow to accept African-Americans, Latinos, and Asians. They also are reminders of the American fire service’s guildlike traditions, which may be out of favor in the twenty-first century but nevertheless offer the service a cohesion and sense of family crucial in times of peril and tragedy. Firefighters often have a combat soldier’s view of the larger world (and of their superiors). They trust each other, and only each other. And they take dim view of those they consider outsiders.

    The public, however, seems willing to grant the fire service a pass on its struggles with workplace diversity. And while the outpouring of affection for the nation’s fire departments after September 11 may have marked a change in cultural priorities—suddenly the fame and achievements of athletes and movie stars seemed shallow and trivial—it was not the first time America so publicly embraced its firefighters. More than a century and a half ago a fictional volunteer firefighter from New York named Old Mose took the nation’s stages by storm. He was the central character in a play called A Glance at New York, and both the character and the play were so popular around the country that a series of sequels—called, inevitably, Mosaics—followed. Old Mose was a giant who drank beer from 50-gallon kegs that dangled from his belt, and whose personal consumption of oysters and beef was so prodigious that the rest of New York had to do without when he was on a binge. Historians have described Old Mose, a superhero who rescued women and children from burning buildings, as urban America’s answer to Paul Bunyan. He was a Bowery b’hoy, a brawling character born of the new America taking shape in the nation’s cities. The b’hoys had a “rolling gait” and “surly manner,” wrote one historian, adding that they usually wore a “shiny stovepipe hat tipped over the forehead, soap-locks plastered flat … against the temple.” And, like many of America’s volunteer firefighters—including an ambitious young man in New York named Bill Tweed—Old Mose wore a bright red shirt and loud suspenders. The character of Old Mose was based on the exploits of a real-life New York firefighter, an Irish-American printer named Moses Humphreys, who was famous not only for his bravery but for the quick work his fists made of competing fire companies.

    By the time Old Mose became a pop culture icon in 1848, America’s volunteer firefighters had established themselves as local heroes, capturing the public’s imagination with their brawny masculinity and larger-than-life escapades. Prints and illustrations from the middle of the nineteenth century depict them as dashing, gallant, and kindly urban knights who were both courageous and chivalrous, who asked for and received no pay for their services to the community. They also were the bane of many a politician and law-enforcement officer, for they took pride in their skepticism and sometimes outright defiance of civilian authority, and they seemed to enjoy fighting one another in streets as much as they did fighting fires.

    The raucous firefighters portrayed in the Martin Scorsese film Gangs of New York were very much a part of the Jacksonian tradition, a time when, as one of Andrew Jackson’s critics sniffed, it seemed as if anybody could become President. Or a fire chief, for that matter. Firefighting had been a gentleman’s vocation in the early years of the Republic, and volunteer fire companies in cities like Philadelphia actually functioned like private clubs. By the 1840s, however, urban companies were drawing from skilled craftsmen and laborers who insisted on electing their own officers, including, in some cities, the fire chief and fire commissioners. These rough-and-tumble volunteers horrified the gentry, sometimes with good reason. While the volunteers were brave, they were also undisciplined and often seemed more interested in exacting revenge on a rival company than in actually putting out fires.

    Still, when disaster struck, the firefighters of the 1840s showed they had at least one thing in common with the more genteel volunteers of the past. The organizer of Philadelphia’s first volunteer fire company, Benjamin Franklin, observed that his colleagues in the firehouse “have a Reward in themselves, and they love one another.”

    As America learned on September 11, 2001, that hasn’t changed.

    The fire service in early colonial America was a form of mandatory community service. When fire broke out, adult males roused themselves from bed or left their work to man bucket brigades, taking their place on one of two lines. One line passed buckets filled with water from a well or reservoir to the fire; the other line passed the empty buckets back to the water source. It was tedious work and not intended to save the burning building so much as it was a defense against a larger conflagration. Unfortunately, the citizen firefighters of seventeenth-century America had plenty of opportunity to learn their vocation. Capt. John Smith said of Jamestown that he would consider himself safer in “wild Indian country” than within the settlement because of the tendency of “fools” to “burn down their homes at night.”
    Ben Franklin said his colleagues in the firehouse “have a reward in themselves, and they love one another.”

    Decades later, authorities in Boston and New Amsterdam shared Smith’s frustration. The frequency of fires and the dangers to the community at large inspired colonial officials to initiate a struggle that continues to this day: imposition of a rudimentary fire code, which placed the interests of the public in general and firefighters in particular against the rights of property owners and developers. Boston authorities and the famous Dutch reformer in New Amsterdam Peter Stuyvesant outlawed roofs made of grass and thatch, and they also banned the use of wooden chimneys—yes, wooden chimneys.

    Fire was something of an obsession with Stuyvesant (that and the tendency of New Amsterdam’s settlers to drink heavily and behave badly; modern mayors of New York no doubt will sympathize). He raised a property tax in order to buy 150 new leather fire buckets. And he purged New Amsterdam of its curious wooden chimneys and thatched roofs. Few government officials respected the rights and privileges of property more than Peter Stuyvesant, for he was, after all, an agent of Holland’s business interests. Still, he recognized in the 1650s that public safety and fire prevention required at least limited government control over private property. And so was born the centuries-old debate between firefighters and real estate developers over just how much regulation in the name of safety is enough. More than 300 years later, in the late 1990s, some of New York’s firefighters battled developers over legislation that would have required all residential buildings to be retrofitted with sprinklers. It was a bitter battle, one the firefighters lost. The city council decided the measure would be too expensive.

    Stuyvesant also took a tentative step toward a paid fire department in New Amsterdam, hiring four fire wardens, supplying them with buckets and hooks and ladders, and sending them out on patrol at night. They were empowered to examine private homes to make sure that chimneys were properly swept. Later citizens of the colony established a “rattle watch,” in which a captain and eight men were given rattles to sound an alarm when they spotted a fire (or a crime in progress). The patrols were so successful that Stuyvesant soon had a complement of 50 fire wardens. While they were not paid firefighters per se, these men certainly were the ancestors of today’s FDNY.

    Firefighting as a profession began in Boston in 1678, about a quarter-century after the city had ordered its first, primitive fire engine from an ironmaker named Joseph Jynks. The city hired a professional fire company of a dozen men and an officer to operate another engine the city had recently purchased from London. No other cities immediately followed Boston’s lead in hiring and training a corps of professional firefighters. In fact, New York waited until 1865 before establishing a paid fire service. But as fire equipment became more sophisticated, colonial officials realized that they could no longer depend simply on the civic spirit of brave but untrained civilians. In 1731 New Yorkers assembled near City Hall to witness the arrival of the very latest in firefighting technology, two pumpers that could throw water on a fire through a primitive nozzle. The engines had been developed in the shop of a savvy English inventor named Richard Newsham, who had the foresight to publicize his machines in broadsides published in the New World. The advertisements noted that Newsham’s fire engines had so dazzled the Old World that no less a figure than King George II had ordered one to protect his palace. Thus was born, long before Madison Avenue was so much as a cow path, the celebrity endorsement.

    The arrival of these sophisticated engines and the growth of settlements along the New World’s Eastern Seaboard soon required a trained corps of firefighters. Volunteer fire departments were organized in New York, Philadelphia, Boston (to complement the paid fire company there), and other towns. To encourage recruitment, city officials offered volunteer firefighters an exemption from jury service—a tactic that might be employed to good use today—and from militia duty.

    Of course, not just any citizen was welcome. From its very beginnings, fire service was considered man’s work, and in most cities, Charleston, South Carolina, being one exception, white man’s work at that. What’s more, those white men were expected to be, in the words of a law that created New York’s volunteer fire department, “sober” and “discreet.”

    There certainly was enough work, and enough danger, to keep the volunteers on the straight and narrow. Even as America’s emerging cities added to their fire codes by regulating building materials and restricting the storage of explosive material, fire was a constant worry. “By one thoughtless act,” wrote a Philadelphia citizen, “a whole neighbourhood, town or city, may be shortly reduced to ashes, great numbers of lives lost, and numbers ruined … in the dreadful conflagration.”
    From the beginning, fire service was considered man’s work, and, in most cities, white man’s work at that.

    In the decades leading to the Revolution and for a time afterward, America’s volunteer fire companies included people of the caliber of Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Adams, and George Washington. Franklin, who surely was not the most objective source on the subject, described volunteer firefighters as “brave Men, Men of Spirit and Humanity, good Citizens, or Neighbours, capable and worthy of civil Society and the Enjoyment of a happy Government.” They certainly were worthy of admiration, for they were expected to respond instantly to an alarm, and more often than not, that meant leaving their homes at night, when more fires occur, and returning hours later—wet, cold, and exhausted, with no reward other than the admiration of fellow citizens and the camaraderie of their fellow firefighters.

    One of firefighting’s hardiest traditions, the firefighting family, can be traced to the early volunteer days. The Stoutenburghs of New York served on the Common Council, won appointment to early patronage jobs like oversight of the city’s night patrol, and were prominent members of the city’s volunteer fire companies. One of them, Jacobus Stoutenburgh, was given the title of “chief engineer” of New York’s volunteer fire department in 1760. He was among America’s first fire chiefs.

    He also was part of another fire department tradition—the convergence of firefighting and military service. Firefighters to this day tend to be veterans in numbers disproportionate to the general population (Chief Reginald Julius, for example, served in the Navy in World War II), and during the Civil War, firefighters formed their own regiments in the Union Army. Stoutenburgh was a patriot, and when George Washington evacuated New York in the fall of 1776, leaving the city to the British, he and many other volunteers under his command joined the American army. Legend has it that Stoutenburgh formed a battalion of firefighters and was commissioned an officer, and Stoutenburgh’s name does appear on muster rolls from the war.

    The volunteer fire departments and fire clubs of the 1760s and 1770s played an active role in patriot agitation, as Benjamin L. Carp noted in an October 2001 article in The William and Mary Quarterly. Carp found that of the 36 men who turned out at the inaugural meeting of the Albany Sons of Liberty in 1776, 20 were volunteer firefighters or firemasters, who inspected buildings for fire hazards. “These social bonds,” Carp wrote, “… provided the structure for the formation of organized resistance to the Stamp Act.” At least seven fire companies in Philadelphia, Carp noted, instituted their own nonimportation agreements during patriotic boycotts of British goods in the 1760s and 1770s. (Among other measures, the firefighters swore off all but domestic beer.)
    To be given the nozzle for the first time is to know that you’ve arrived as a young firefighter.

    The end of the Revolution brought a reorganization of the young Republic’s volunteer fire departments. The model created under British rule remained largely intact, but over the first five decades of American independence, the profile of the volunteer firefighter changed. Businessmen and other civic leaders gave way to blacksmiths and cobblers and other skilled laborers in the 1830s. Soon the indefatigable diarist George Templeton Strong was complaining that “a large part of the firemen do nothing but bustle around in their caps, swear at everybody and try to look tremendous.” Strong found that every aspect of firefighting in the post-Jacksonian age was “as badly conducted as possible.” He did not mention, however, that he chose not to follow the fine example of his aristocratic uncle Benjamin Strong, a financier who had served as a volunteer years before.

    For better and worse, this was the golden age of urban America’s volunteer fire departments, roughly from 1835 to the Civil War. In their less savory moments, these firemen would look not unlike today’s English soccer hooligan. Every company wanted the honor of what they called “manning the pipe”—in modern terms, working the nozzle. Racing to a fire only to be relegated to a supporting role, like relaying water to the main pumper, was nothing short of humiliating. (That point of pride remains intact. The nozzleman remains the envy of every self-respecting engine company, and to be given the nozzle for the first time is to know you’ve arrived as a young firefighter.) Brawls occasionally decided which company would work the pipes and which would provide unglamorous support.

    Political clubhouses and gangs looked to firehouses as fertile recruiting ground in the 1840s for any number of reasons, not the least of them being that the neighborhood firehouse served as a social center. Not only the volunteers congregated there. So did young boys and teenagers who looked up to the firefighters as neighborhood celebrities. One New Yorker came to personify the intersection of politics, gangs, and firefighting: Bill Tweed, the onetime leader of the Cherry Street gang, the foreman of Engine Company 6 in downtown New York, and the boss of Tammany Hall. For Tweed, one job led naturally to the next.
    Firefighters around the country have taken on new responsibilities—and, with them, new dangers.

    Clubhouse and gang loyalties gave an added ferocity to rivalries between companies. A nineteenth-century history of New York’s volunteers is filled with admiring references to manly displays of fisticuffs between companies before, during, and after conflagrations. Philadelphia’s firefighters in the 1840s and early 1850s were notorious for settling their intramural disputes with, in the words of a contemporary observer, “pistols, knives, iron spanners and slung shot, whenever they met, whether at fires or in the streets.” A civic committee charged in 1853 that there was “scarcely a single case of riot brought before the court that has not its origin in the fire departments… .”

    Even where riots were uncommon, disorderly behavior was not. In Nashville, authorities in the 1850s cracked down on firefighters who thought that battling a blaze required the assistance of liquids stronger than mere water. In Pittsburgh in 1842 firefighters took it upon themselves to identify and then protect thoroughly houses that served as brothels. A Pittsburgh firefighter, William G. Johnston, wrote that “a rowdy element managed to get a foothold” in the fire department, and those rowdies believed that “fighting was no small part of the duties of a fireman.”

    So was electioneering. Volunteer firefighters became a potent political force in New York, Baltimore, St. Louis, and other cities, to the dismay of reformers and, increasingly, the emerging nativist movement, which noted that the volunteer firefighters were becoming Irish and Catholic through the 1850s. As the historian Amy Greenberg noted in her study of nineteenth-century volunteer fire departments, Cause for Alarm, the first elected mayors of Baltimore and St. Louis were firefighters; so were several antebellum mayors of New York. In fact, when the New York Common Council fired a popular and decidedly independent fire chief, James Gulick, in the aftermath of the aptly named Great Fire of 1835—it burned 52 acres in the financial district and destroyed 700 businesses—the firefighters countered by nominating and then electing Gulick to the minor post of city register.

    Firefighters were a natural voting bloc in the 1840s for the very reasons that firefighting remains one of the nation’s last guilds. Despite the violence between companies in the 1840s, firefighters were and still are intensely loyal to one another. They share dangers that no outsider can know. They were and still are quick to perceive disrespect or claim a collective grievance. Volunteer firefighters walked off away from their vocation in New York in 1836 and twice in Memphis, in 1858 and 1860, when they felt insufficiently appreciated. And, as firefighters proved in Baltimore, St. Louis, New York City, and elsewhere in the early days of the urban machine, they were happy to vote together when they felt slighted or their interests were at stake. The implications of this chip-on-the-shoulder insularity are being played out in firehouses throughout the country today, as women and minorities try to get a foothold in many professional departments.

    Today’s firehouse culture, where firefighters literally live together and form bonds far stronger than in most civilian professions, has its roots in the intensely masculine, parochial, and raucous world of the Jacksonian volunteers. When cities began disbanding their volunteer departments before the Civil War and replacing them with professionals, the days of riot and rowdy behavior were over, but the culture was passed on—generally for the better, sometimes for the worse.

    Professional firefighting in the cities of the late nineteenth century was something like indentured servitude. Firefighters were on duty all the time. They lived in their assigned firehouse 24 hours a day, save for three meal breaks, when they were allowed to return home for an hour or so. In some cities, chief officers lived with their families in their assigned firehouse. Days off were rare, perhaps one or two a month.

    Still, the job was coveted, in part because professional firefighting retained the glamour and prestige it had when the work was performed by volunteers, in part because firefighting became, albeit slowly, a gateway job into the middle class. It was dangerous work, but with the coming of civil service reform in the 1880s, it also was secure work. Firefighters didn’t lose their jobs in hard times. City hall never went out of business.

    Understandably, then, immigrants and the children of immigrants in the roiling cities of late nineteenth-century America coveted firefighting jobs. While immigrants from Germany, Poland, Italy, and Scandinavia show up on the rosters of fire departments in the 1880s and 1890s, no group became more identified with fire service than the Irish. Like many other immigrants, the Irish craved economic security, having fled that most insecure of worlds—tenant farming—in the old country. By the time cities across the country began forming professional departments, the Irish already were a powerful voting bloc. They were more than happy to work for city hall, and often their friends in city hall were more than happy to accommodate them.

    Inquiries into the distinct, insular, cohesive phenomenon known as firehouse culture have launched a thousand dissertations, examining American firefighters from the perspectives of gender, class, and ethnicity. Few, if any, have pointed out that at least in large cities like Boston, Chicago, New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, firefighting in the late nineteenth century not only was masculine, working class, and Irish, it was Catholic too. In the firehouse, Catholic immigrants and their children found a society and culture they recognized. Firefighters even in the volunteer days came to regard themselves as a community unto themselves, a separate society self-segregated from politicians, civilians, and all other outsiders. Catholic immigrants, particularly those from Ireland, had set up their own institutions to separate themselves from Protestant nativists in the 1840s and 1850s. The fire departments of many large cities became almost an extension of the Catholic parish, school system, and social services networks.

    Firefighting was transformed into fire science in the late nineteenth century with the introduction of training academies, civil service exams, and tough physical standards for candidates. But not all firefighting was done in tenement houses and factories, of course, and not all firefighters were from the streets of urban America. On October 8, 1871, the very day that the nineteenth century’s most famous fire broke out in Chicago, the Wisconsin lumber town of Peshtigo went up in flames. By the time it was put out, the fire had killed at least 1,200 people and destroyed more than a million acres of forest and rural settlements. Forest fires were common in Wisconsin, as they continue to be in the West, but the Peshtigo fire was unlike any other wildfire before or, in terms of lost lives, since. The Chicago fire, which killed at least 300 people, remains better known, but the Peshtigo fire was by far the greater catastrophe. And it continues to speak to another, less celebrated tradition of American firefighting, the professionals and volunteers who battle fires in rural and wild America. In Ghosts of the Fireground, a memoir of fighting recent wildfires in the West, Peter M. Leschak noted that the largest group of wildland firefighters are, in essence, freelancers who work sporadically for low wages and few, if any, benefits. Still, when fires break out, they put their lives on the line as surely as any professional firefighter in any American city or suburb.

    Several twentieth-century fires stand out as tragic milestones: the blaze aboard the excursion boat General Slocum, which burned in New York’s East River in 1904, killing more than 1,200; the fires set off after the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco; the Cocoanut Grove nightclub fire in Boston in 1942, which killed nearly 500; the Hartford circus fire in 1944, which claimed 163 lives, many of them children; and the Happy Land social club fire in the Bronx in 1990, which killed 87. The worst fires often led to changes in firefighting tactics or building codes. After the blaze in Our Lady of the Angels school in Chicago in 1958, which killed 92 children and teachers, the city demanded that all schools have automated sprinklers, among other safety measures, and as was and is so common after such tragedies, observers wondered why such an elementary step had not been in place before the fire.

    But no fire in American history had the impact of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in New York in 1911. The deaths of 146 garment workers, most of them young women, led to the passage of an array of laws regulating workplace safety and helped launch the careers of Alfred E. Smith, Robert F. Wagner, and Frances Perkins. It’s hard to imagine the New Deal without considering the outrage and reforms inspired by the Triangle Shirtwaist fire.

    That blaze, which burned the eighth, ninth, and tenth floors of a building that still stands near Washington Square Park, also inspired the fire service in New York and around the country to press for stronger fire codes, mandatory fire drills, and more extensive use of technology like sprinklers. Even as the Triangle blaze was roaring, Edward Croker, one of the great fire chiefs in New York and American history, was denouncing the employers, like the owners of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company, who refused to conduct fire drills. Croker, the nephew of the notorious Tammany boss Richard Croker, soon retired from the FDNY to become a full-time advocate for fire prevention.

    Just a few years after the Triangle blaze, America’s professional fire departments began to evolve into the highly trained corps of emergency workers we know today. Those in New York and Boston organized their first rescue units, a foreshadowing of the role firefighters were to play on September 11, 2001—that of first responder to an emergency. Rescue companies were to become the elite units of the professional departments throughout the country. Armed with special tools and training, they were prepared for just about any emergency, even those unrelated to fire. Nearly a century later, firefighters around the country—professional and volunteer alike—have taken on new responsibilities and, with them, new dangers in a world where fire and murder can be exported from caves in Third World countries. To cite just one small example, during a panel discussion among fire chiefs in suburban New Jersey not long ago, firefighters told of the hazmat training they now receive as a matter of course after September 11. None of these departments had more than 100 members, which indicates just how widespread special training has become. In a sense, all firefighters belong to rescue companies now, although, given that firefighters have never lost the competitiveness that is the flip side to their intense solidarity, no rescue company member would ever concede such a premise.

    Still, all firefighters know that if terrorists strike their city, or if some other catastrophe threatens lives and property, they will be on the front lines, risking their lives, as their predecessors did decades and even centuries ago. Volunteer or professional, urban or rural, whether battling blazes in apartment buildings or national parks, our firefighters share more than history and tradition and a sense of duty. They also share our admiration. With good reason.

    Terry Golway, scholar in residence at Kean University in Union, New Jersey, is the author most recently of So Others Might Live, a history of the New York City fire department.

    Against this enemy, courage alone is not enough. From the beginning, firefighters have had to find ways to climb higher, shoot water farther, spot fires sooner. Here are some of the milestones in the history of fire-extinction technology.
    By Andrew Coe

    Buckets

    For almost a century these were the only way of putting water on the flames. In many cities, each house and business had to keep at least one bucket, sometimes painted with the owner’s name. At the cry of “Fire!” everybody was required to race to the site and join the bucket brigade.

    Hand Pumpers

    Since at least the ancient Romans, man has sought a mechanical means of spraying water on fires. One of the first people to make it practical was Richard Newsham of London. In 1731 New York City purchased two of Newsham’s simple hand-pumped engines, eventually building its first firehouse to store them. When fires broke out, men dragged the engines to the site and formed a bucket brigade to fill their reservoirs. Then the pumps were manned and water began to shoot out of a gooseneck nozzle emerging from the top.

    Hoses

    Leather fire hoses, invented in seventeenth-century Holland, leaked and needed too much care to be very useful. But when, in 1808, a Philadelphia company devised a method of closing the seams with copper rivets, leather hoses quickly made buckets obsolete. However, they still needed constant maintenance with grease and oil to keep them from drying and cracking. With the arrival of canvas and rubber hoses in the 1820s, firefighters thankfully said goodbye to leather hoses forever.

    Water Mains

    Until the early nineteenth century firefighters had to rely on wells, rivers, ponds, and reservoirs for water. If one of these wasn’t nearby, the building burned to the ground. New York City’s first water mains were hollowed-out logs. They leaked and clogged, but they were better than nothing. In 1808 one was fitted with the first fire plug—a sort of large cork—and the first real fire hydrant came in 1817. Today firefighters in most high-rise areas use high-pressure mains as their source of water.

    Fire Alarms

    The first fire alarm was somebody seeing smoke and yelling. By the mid-nineteenth century New York City had a series of eight watchtowers manned by sentries looking for signs of flame. In 1852 a Boston doctor named William Channing invented an alarm system that could send a telegraph signal from a street box to an alarm office. Soon every big city had telegraph alarm boxes, which lasted until the 1970s, when more efficient telephone systems were developed. Today most alarms come in from home phones and cell phones, with the information sent to centralized dispatch centers.

    Steam Pumpers

    Many volunteer fire companies fought tooth and nail against the purchase of the first steam-powered fire engines. At demonstrations, the men proved they could pump harder and shoot water higher than the early smoke-belching machines. But for government officials, the clincher was that the steam-powered engines never got tired. Starting in Cincinnati in the 1850s, every major city switched over to steam. By the turn of the century the most powerful of these could generate more pressure than the average modern-day fire engine.

    Fireboats

    Ship and dock fires were once regular occurrences in every American port. In 1800 New York firefighters built the first fireboat, really a hand-pumped engine attached to a barge. In 1867 New York hired a tugboat for putting out fires and outfitted it with hoses and other equipment. In 1873 the Boston Fire Department launched the William F. Flanders, the first fireboat specifically built for that purpose. New York City’s largest fireboat, the Fire Fighter, is one of the most powerful pieces of fire apparatus ever built, capable of pumping 20,000 gallons of water every minute.

    Ladders

    As buildings rose to 5, 7, and even 10 stories, firefighters had to figure out how to keep up. In 1882 the FDNY purchased French-made scaling ladders—short ladders with hooks on one end that could be moved up floor by floor—and soon brought its first aerial ladder into service. Today aerial ladders can reach as high as 130 feet, and they ride on special ladder trucks. After the tragic consequences of the first skyscraper fires, however, fire departments realized that they needed a whole new array of tactics.

    High-Rise Building Codes

    After 146 people died in the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire, in 1911, citizens’ outrage led to a wholesale revamping of New York City’s fire code. Buildings had to strictly control the storage of flammable materials; fire doors had to open; fire escapes had to be firmly attached; and sprinkler systems were required in every factory. Other cities followed suit, usually after their own deadly fires, as people realized that the best way to stop fires is to keep them from starting.

    Motorized Fire Engines

    The beloved fire horses were the muscle that moved the steam pumpers. In 1901, when New York’s fire chief bought a Locomobile to travel to fires, some firefighters may have suspected that the horses’ days were numbered. The FDNY bought its first (not very fast) gasoline-powered engine in 1909. On December 20, 1922, a team of horses made its last run pulling a fire engine through the streets of New York and then was sent off to a peaceful retirement.

    Hazardous Materials Units

    Modern technology has brought great benefits to human life, and also great dangers. In 1945 New York City’s fire department formed the nation’s first fire, gas, and chemical unit in response to the threat of attack during World War II. Its preparation proved crucial in 1949, when a truck carrying chemicals exploded in the crowded Holland Tunnel. Radiation training was added during the Cold War. This unit has since become the model for hazmat squads across the country.

    A Step Too Far

    In 1965 the FDNY purchased the Super Pumper, the most powerful land-based apparatus ever developed. It was capable of shooting 8,800 gallons of water per minute (still less than the big fireboats). It was the size of a large semi-truck, however, which made it difficult to navigate narrow city streets, and it needed special tenders—“satellite trucks”—to help it operate. Although it performed well at a number of fires, it was eventually deemed too complicated and expensive and was retired from service in 1982.


    There aren’t any. A man who helped keep the Bronx from burning explains why.
    By Paul H. Chrystal, Jr.

    While Hollywood has effectively captured the essence of many professions, it has consistently missed the mark with firefighting. The three main efforts, The Towering Inferno, Backdraft, and the recent Ladder 49—along with the cable TV series “Rescue Me”—contain some drama but have very little to do with actual fire conditions or the people who fight the fires.

    I have heard actors say that humor is the most difficult part of their trade. Firehouse humor is especially hard to mimic.

    George Hall and Tom Wanstall, in their perceptive book FDNY: New York’s Bravest, captured the flavor perfectly. “Their sense of humor is uproarious and utterly tasteless, often bewildering to outsiders and newcomers on the job. Nothing—but nothing—is sacred in the firehouse—not your race, your gender, your mother, your wife, your kids. Not even your fellow firefighter who’s in the burn ward after going through the roof at last night’s job. Everyone and everything is hammered mercilessly, to the endless delight of all.”

    Hollywood thinks of the firefighter’s profession as a drama, when it is actually a comedy, albeit a comedy interspersed with terror, chaos, professionalism, and split-second heroism. When I was newly assigned to Engine 43 in the Bronx, we were preparing lunch after a late-morning fire. One firefighter who looked, and acted, like the cartoon character Yosemite Sam was standing next to the knife drawer. Another firefighter was making such rude remarks about Sam’s wife that I thought he was going to grab a knife and start a fight. Everyone else in the room, accustomed to this sort of dialogue, appreciated the exchange. So did Sam. He quickly took his revenge by mixing the salad with his unwashed, sooty black hands. In the firehouse, everyone’s ego is a target. Experienced firefighters understand that with constant fires threatening life and nerves, with serious injury or excruciating death a real possibility, it’s better to just give up your ego. It’s very liberating.

    In addition to its endless entertainment value, the humor mitigates the horrors firefighters deal with. The firefighters have figured out how to be totally rude without being malicious. I never recognize the characters in any of the Hollywood firefighter movies, yet when I sit with my kids and watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas with Jim Carrey, Shrek, or, again, cartoon characters like Yosemite Sam, I can immediately find the corresponding character in the firehouse.

    Also, the historical context of the firefighters is absent from the movies. If you were to check the census figures of New York City and compare 1970 to 1980, you might wonder where a million people went. This dramatic drop represents the result of 135,000 arson fires that killed thousands of citizens and hundreds of firefighters.

    I asked my captain, Tommy Anello, who spent as much time in the worst neighborhoods of New York as anyone, what he was thinking as he came to work in the late sixties and had to respond to an exploding fire load. “I thought we were winning,” he said, “because we were putting the fires out.” The firefighters never quit. The arsonists ran out of buildings to burn. To omit this sort of historical context is like making a wholly generic war movie. Consequently, Hollywood misses the relationship that existed between the firefighters and the people trapped in those crimeand arson-filled inner-city neighborhoods.

    During the seven years I worked in the Bronx, I must have gone to more than 300 structural fires. I cannot recall one time coming out of a burned apartment or house that one of the people still in the hallway or out in the street didn’t say, “Thank you, fireman.” That alone made the rigors of the job worth it.

    Next, the fires.

    You can’t see. Most of the danger comes not from the flames, which could be extinguished or avoided in a burning apartment if there was any visibility, but from the smoke, which is so thick that a high-intensity light worn on a helmet does not even cast a perceptible glow. If you are on the forcible entry team, your job is to break down a metal door, crawl in as fast as you can, locate the fire, leave one member with a pressurized can of water to try to keep the fire at bay, then search the entire apartment for victims before the fire comes and traps you—all while you’re virtually blind. If you stand up, as is done in every firefighter movie I have ever seen, the next stop is the cemetery because it is over 1600 degrees at chest level.

    I once spoke with a professional screenwriter about making better firefighter movies. He said that Hollywood wants conflict between the firefighters. I told him that there was very little. Whatever conflict might arise would ignite such general ridicule that it would quickly be extinguished. Another advantage of that raucous, bawdy firehouse humor.

    The firefighters I worked with were both blue collar and college-educated —ex-military men, sons of firefighters, and people escaping the corporate world: lawyers, teachers, accountants. There were musicians, professional cooks, accomplished tradesmen, and athletes, all with a sense of humor whether or not they’d had one when they came on the job.

    The Hollywood stereotypes simply don’t hold up in this world. This is tough on moviemakers, but if Hollywood wanted to get the story right, it could start by leaving any formula at home and getting the firefighters just to be themselves. Also, a thermal-imaging camera might really capture the feeling of crawling into a burning apartment. All the firefighters who have paid the price for their career choice deserve nothing less.

    Paul H. Chrystal, Jr., was a member of the FDNY, Engine Company 43, from January 1979 to April 1980, and then of Ladder Company 59, until March 1986. He is currently a fire commissioner in Eastchester, New York.

    Thread Killer Extraordinaire!

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    Richmond, VA Established 1782 Paid 10-25-1858

    First major fire 1-7-1787, 50 homes and stores, $500,000.00 damage

    First major fire death loss 12-26-1811 Richmond Theater, 75 lives lost, including Virginia Governor George W. Smith

    First blacks hired (2), 1-5-1864 one as a hostler and one as a fireman


    First Members to die, (2) 8-30-1854







    Norfolk, VA Established 1788 Paid 12-15-1871
    Stay Safe and Well Out There....

    Always remembering 9-11-2001 and 343+ Brothers

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    Cap... what is a "hostler"?
    ‎"The education of a firefighter and the continued education of a firefighter is what makes "real" firefighters. Continuous skill development is the core of progressive firefighting. We learn by doing and doing it again and again, both on the training ground and the fireground."
    Lt. Ray McCormack, FDNY

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    Quote Originally Posted by CaptainGonzo
    Cap... what is a "hostler"?
    Dont have a dictionary handy, but I think that would be in reference to some one who works the stables or to do with livestock.

    Of course I could be "outstanding" in a Field somewhere......
    If you don't do it RIGHT today, when will you have time to do it over? (Hall of Fame basketball player/coach John Wooden)

    "I may be slow, but my work is poor." Chief Dave Balding, MVFD

    "Its not Rocket Science. Just use a LITTLE imagination." (Me)

    Get it up. Get it on. Get it done!

    impossible solved cotidie. miracles postulo viginti - quattuor hora animadverto

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    From the Boston fire dept website

    A Brief History Chronology Of The BFD
    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    1631
    First fire prevention ordinance banned thatched roofs and wooden chimneys.

    1653 Contract made with Joseph Jynks for fire engine to be brought to fire.

    1678 Building laws required slate or "tyle" roofs and brick walls.

    First paid (call) municipal fire department organized.

    Thomas Atkins first fire chief.

    Building provided to house fire engine.

    1715 Boston had 6 engine companies.

    1718 First mutual fire society for salvage of members’ goods from fires.

    1799 First leather fire hose imported from England.

    1837 Present fire department organized.

    1851 First municipal fire alarm telegraph system installed with alarm office in city hall tower.

    1859 Steamers replace hand engines.

    Permanent engineers, drivers, and firemen appointed.

    1863 Adjustable fog nozzles placed in service.

    1871 11 -inch fire hose introduced and pronounced success by Chief Damrell.

    1872 Famous Boston fire led to appointment of a board of fire commissioners. Fire destroyed 776 buildings, 13 killed, and a $75,000,000 loss.

    1873 Boston’s first steam fireboat.

    Self-propelled steam engine towing hose reel placed in service.

    1874 Permanent District Chiefs appointed and a number of companies fully manned by permanent men.

    1875 Locks changed on fire alarm boxes to reduce false alarms.

    First fire department repair shop under a superintendent of apparatus and fire alarm.

    Dial lines installed for communications between headquarters, alarm office, and District Chiefs. Telephone not invented until 1876.
    1876 Aerial ladder placed in service. Earlier "Skinner" ladder place in shop.

    Relief valves installed on all engines and shutoff nozzles issued to all engine and hose companies within a year.

    Library books issued to all fire stations for study and recreation.

    "All out" signal 2-2 2-2 established for use on multiple alarms and was not used for first alarm fires. This apparently released call men required to standby.

    1877 Signal 1-1-1-1 given on tower bells and gongs directed companies responding to disregard saving the horses for long runs.

    Bangor extension ladders issued to ladder companies replacing spliced ladders.

    1880 Legislation passed to permit underground electric wires.

    New pension law and Firemen’s Relief Fund organized.

    Fire Department owned 260 spittoons and 30 manure forks. Sale of manure credited to Fire Department.

    1881 Sliding poles installed.

    Bunkrooms placed on apparatus floor in several stations to speed response.

    1882 Electric firehouse gongs installed

    Private fire alarm boxes installed in schools, theaters, stores, etc.

    1883 First aid kits distributed to fire companies.

    1885 Horatio Ely pensioned after 15 years service. Pension $1.00 a day.

    Life nets issued.

    1889 Thanksgiving Day fire required 8 alarms and outside aid, 2 firemen killed, widows got $300 pensions.

    1895 Board of commissioners replace by single fire commissioner after Roxbury conflagration which destroyed 216 buildings including a fire station during previous year.

    1901 Rubber tires installed on fire apparatus.

    1904 Detailed mutual aid plans adopted with 8 adjoining departments.

    1905 Fire Chief had electric automobile

    Thirty-two automobile fires in city during year.

    1908 Annual pressure test of hose (200 psi) instituted.

    1914 Civil Service exams instituted for all ranks below Chief of Department

    1921 High pressure pumping stations placed in service replacing old salt water fire main system supplied by fireboats.

    1925 Last fire horses retired.

    Radio installed in fireboats, chiefs’ cars, and rescue companies.
    Last edited by Bostonjake1240; 03-02-2006 at 07:38 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by CaptainGonzo
    Cap... what is a "hostler"?

    It is one of the members that handles the horses and harnesses and also works in the stables.
    Stay Safe and Well Out There....

    Always remembering 9-11-2001 and 343+ Brothers

  17. #17
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    Talking And.....................

    I would like for the record to show that I was NOT in attendance at any of the Fire events listed in this thread.
    Never use Force! Get a Bigger Hammer.
    In memory of
    Chief Earle W. Woods, 1912 - 1997
    Asst. Chief John R. Woods Sr. 1937 - 2006

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    I Refuse to be a Spectator. If I come to the Game, I'm Playing.

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    Quote Originally Posted by CaptOldTimer
    It is one of the members that handles the horses and harnesses and also works in the stables.
    Thank you...
    ‎"The education of a firefighter and the continued education of a firefighter is what makes "real" firefighters. Continuous skill development is the core of progressive firefighting. We learn by doing and doing it again and again, both on the training ground and the fireground."
    Lt. Ray McCormack, FDNY

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    Quote Originally Posted by hwoods
    I would like for the record to show that I was NOT in attendance at any of the Fire events listed in this thread.
    Why not? Were you on holiday at the cottage again? LOL

    ps.. Chief, I hear you had a visitor from Front Royal the other day. Got a pm regarding.
    If you don't do it RIGHT today, when will you have time to do it over? (Hall of Fame basketball player/coach John Wooden)

    "I may be slow, but my work is poor." Chief Dave Balding, MVFD

    "Its not Rocket Science. Just use a LITTLE imagination." (Me)

    Get it up. Get it on. Get it done!

    impossible solved cotidie. miracles postulo viginti - quattuor hora animadverto

    IACOJ member: Cheers, Play safe y'all.

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    To read some of the newspaper articles about early disasters try this site
    amazing reading

    http://www.gendisasters.com/
    "In Tempore"

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    Default Wow

    Great work guys I . You all did an excellent job of researching this stuff.

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    1648 - First fire wardens appointed, New Amsterdam. The four are charged with the responsibility of checking residential chimneys and levying fines as necessary.
    Might want to make a note that New Amsterdam is now known as New York.

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    Smile Old United Fire Co.

    Can anyone tell me about the Old United Fire Co. dating back to the 1880's. My husbands Great Grandfather was part of that and we are looking for any information that someone might have. This was in the Norfolk VA area.

    Mary

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    Default Firefighting History Timeline

    My great-grandfather, Edward O'Sullivan, invented a horse collar for fire stations (patent no. 171,190, December 14, 1875). The collar was suspended from the ceiling and would drop down onto the horse thereby increasing the speed at which "engines" could leave the station.

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    "History of Firefighting" by Dennis Smith. Excellent resource if you can get your hands on it.

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