For as long as cities have existed, fires have been a problem. People have been concerned with an organized response to firefighting since the Ancient Egyptians used hand-operated pumps to extinguish fires.
In North America, Boston’s governor John Winthrop outlawed wooden chimneys and thatched roofs in 1631. In 1648, New Amsterdam’s (now New York) governor Peter Stuyvesant appointed four able-bodied men to act as fire wardens. These fire wardens were able to inspect all chimneys and to fine any people who violated the rules. The city burghers later created the Rattle Watch. This group was composed of eight prominent citizens. These citizens patrolled the streets at night carrying large wooden rattles. If they spotted a fire, the rattles were spun. This alerted the citizens that there was a fire. The Rattle Watch then directed responding citizens in forming bucket brigades.
In January of 1678, the first fire engine company went into service. The captain (foreman) of the company was Thomas Atkins. In 1736, Benjamin Franklin established the Union Fire company in Philadelphia.
Other founding fathers have played a role in firefighting as well. George Washington was a volunteer firefighter for Alexandria, Virginia. He was part of the Friendship Veterans Fire Engine Company, and in 1774 he purchased a new fire engine and donated it to the town. The fire engine was the first engine for the town.
The United States did not employ professional firefighters in the sense of government-organized departments until the time of the Civil War. Before then, amateur fire brigades competed with one another to be the first to respond to a fire. While it would be nice to think they responded quickly out of the goodness of their hearts, fire brigades responded quickly and wanted to be first in order to receive the payout from the insurance companies.
Underwriters across the country also employed their own Salvage Corps in some cities. The first female firefighter of which we know was Molly Williams. She took her place on the dragropes during a blizzard in 1818. She was responsible for pulling the pumper to the fire through the deep snow.
While now fire houses are a place for professionals to meet, they used to be a sort of social gathering place. The money given to a brigade for fighting a fire went into the fire house’s fund rather than to individual members.
The first fire brigades in the modern sense were established in France during the early years of the 18th century. For more information on fires and their consequences, please visit http://www.burnvictiminjurylawyers.com.