These are great photos in the panoramic style used in the early to mid 20th century. Some showcasing old apparatus going out with new coming in. Another popular panoramic was photographing the entire department at one time. I hope you enjoy these 9 photographs as much as I did.
The earliest firefighting operations in America saw lines of buckets being passed back and forth between a water source and the structure on fire. This method, the best available at the time, was both labor intensive and ineffective. Large amounts of water were lost as the heavy buckets passed from hand to hand and the actual delivery of the extinguishing agent to the seat of the fire was poor and unreliable.
The introduction of hand-pumping engines greatly improved water delivery to the fire area, but the crude machines still had to be filled by bucket brigades. Gooseneck delivery nozzles on the engines did allow streams to be directed with some accuracy into the burning structure.
In Holland, the Superintendent of the Fire Brigade, Jan van der Heiden, and his son Nicholaas took firefighting to its next step with the fashioning of the first fire hose in 1673. These 50-foot lengths of leather were “sewn together like a boot leg.” Even with the limitations of pressure, the attachment of the hose to the gooseneck nozzle allowed closer approaches and more accurate water application. Van der Heiden was also credited with an early version of suction hose using wire to keep it ridged.
The next major advance in fire hose was made in 1807 by two American firemen from Philadelphia’s Hose Company 1. James Sellars and Abraham Pennock experimented by using metal rivets instead of stitching to bind the seams of leather hose. There efforts paid off and became a huge success.
Leather hose still had many drawbacks, including drying out, cracking and bursting from excessive pressure. The introduction of rivets, however, allowed higher pressures and greater delivery of water on the fireground. The improved hose now was 40 to 50 feet in length and weighed more than 85 pounds with the couplings.
This improvement prompted the further development of suction to draw larger quantities of water much more quickly than before. The water could be delivered directly to the pumper through a hose, thus eliminating the need for buckets. It was said that 100 feet of hose was the equivalent of 60 men with buckets. Hose oilers were developed to keep the leather supple and pliable. Various types of oils and other substances were used to keep the hose in shape. Continue reading
I discovered a “ORIGINAL” 1736 Roster from Benjamin Franklins Union Fire Company while researching online. Mr. Tom Lingenfelter is the proud owner and discoverer of this priceless, one of a kind fire service artifact! I contacted him and spoke with him in length concerning this and several other things. He has graciously given me permission to repost this information for the fire service world to enjoy. I hope the fire historians are as excited about this as I was when I first saw it! Here is the story… GM
America’s history detective, Tom Lingenfelter, is at it again. Lingenfelter has uncovered a document significant to both Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and the nation – an original, handwritten, manuscript featuring the complete list of members of the nation’s first volunteer fire company, The Union.
The Union Fire Company was the first volunteer fire company in Philadelphia and more importantly, the first formed in the United States. Founded in 1736 by Benjamin Franklin, members were required to keep and maintain their own buckets and linen salvage bags to help douse flames and carry away the personal items of those exposed to the ravages of fire.
Each member was further required to make and keep two lists of the names of each member of the company. One list was to remain posted by his bags and buckets; the other was to be carried and presented at all fire company meetings. This list was one of two lists belonging to Joseph Paschall, a member of Philadelphia’s Common Council.
At the time this list was made, Paschall was serving as the Union’s clerk. The job of clerk rotated monthly between members, as did the position of names on the list. Since Paschall’s name headed this list, he was the current clerk of the company. It most certainly was the list he carried with him as is evidenced by the folds in the paper. A lack of holes indicates that it had never been posted. Additionally, the list matches the sequence of members recorded in the manuscript minute book of the Union Fire Company now in possession of the Library Company of Philadelphia signifying that Paschal was the Company’s first clerk.
The Union’s membership featured some of the most prominent Philadelphians of the era. Most notably on this list is Benjamin Franklin, celebrated printer, scientist, entrepreneur and statesman. Other names include: Richard Sewell, Sheriff of Philadelphia; Edward Roberts, Mayor; Edward Shippen, Judge; Philip Syng, Silversmith and Official; Samuel Powel, Jr., Merchant; George Emlen, Brewer; Charles Willing, Official; Hugh Roberts, Hospital Director; Joseph Turner, Sea Captain and Merchant.
Small “X’s” are marked before and after each name. “X’s” on the right of each name are in the same ink as the document. “X’s” before each name are in pencil. Paschall’s name is the only one not marked with an a pencil “X.” Research has uncovered no other surviving example of a similar list either in private or public hands. This fine and exceedingly rare document appears to be the only remaining Union Fire Company roster in existence.
When Peter Stuyvesant, the governor of New Amsterdam, appointed four fire wardens in 1648, the history of organized firefighting in America began. In a stroke of political savvy, Stuyvesant named two Dutchmen and two Englishmen to the posts. These original fire wardens – Martin Krieger, Adrian Geyser, Thomas Hall and George Woolsey – were able and honest citizens, and politically correct public servants of their time.
Krieger owned and operated a tavern across from Bowling Green. Later, when the city was incorporated, Krieger became a member of the governor’s Executive Council and held other important posts until the British took control. Geyser worked for the Dutch West India Company, founder of New Amsterdam. He later served as a member of the Executive Council. Hall was an Englishman who had been taken prisoner by the Dutch and released on parole. He developed strong ties to Dutch power brokers and his popularity grew. Hall owned a large farm near what is now the corner of Beekman and Spruce streets, and held a number of civic offices. Woolsey, the second English fire warden, was the agent of a leading Dutch trader. Continue reading
The history of firefighting in America can be traced all the way back to Jamestown, VA, the first permanent English settlement in the New World. Founded in 1607 by colonists from the London Company, Jamestown was under the command of Captain James Smith. It did not take long for fire to begin taking its toll on the new settlers.
In January 1608, a devastating fire destroyed most of the colonists’ provisions and lodgings. Smith made a concise assessment of the situation: “I begin to think that it is safer for me to dwell in the wild Indian country than in this stockade, where fools accidentally discharge their muskets and others burn down their homes at night.”
Three hundred ninety years later, Smith’s read on America’s safety issues is not that much different than today’s. Our headlines still feature the same two elements – fire and guns.
The population of the New World continued to rise as shiploads of immigrants stepped ashore looking for a fresh start in a new land. Cities began to take shape, and the problems Smith found in the small stockade multiplied as more and more structures were added. The fire load in these cities increased as forests were cleared and wooden homes and buildings were constructed. Continue reading
EDITORS NOTE: Read the NY Times article on the awards ceremony in 1913.
by Paul Hashagen - A composite structure, the Equitable Building actually consisted of five buildings erected at different times, the tallest being ten-stories high. It occupied the entire square block bordered by Broadway, Nassau, Cedar and Pine Streets. The buildings had undergone many alterations, including openings on most floors between various structures, allowing uninhibited travel from one area to another.
On January 9, 1912 at 5:18 A.M., a building employee discovered a wastepaper basket, chair and a desk in the watchman’s office were burning briskly; the employee went to summon help.
The fire traveled from the tiny office down a hallway to a large shaft containing two elevators and eleven dumbwaiters that served the exclusive Lawyer’s Club and the Cafe Savarin from the eighth floor kitchen. There were direct openings on each floor, from the cellar to the roof, with the exception of the fourth floor.
Employees attempted to place a standpipe hose into operation, but stretched short. Finally, an excited employee told a policeman of the fire, and sixteen minutes after the fire was discovered, Box 24 was transmitted. It sent four engines, two ladders, two battalion chiefs and the deputy chief of the First Division. Continue reading
WASHINGTON DC – On April 10th, 1922 the District of Columbia Fire Department responded to a reported barn fire at 36th & N Streets. While enroute DCFD Engine Co. 9 was severely damaged in an accident with a truck.
As Engine Co. 9 passed through the intersection at 21st & Q Street NW a Highland Express Company transfer truck failed to yield to its lights and siren. In the blink of an eye the 7 tons of the red behemoth crashed through the truck and struck a tree shearing off the left front of the rig. Continue reading
BOSTON, MA – On September 24, 1906 the American La France Fire Engine Company loaned an automobile chemical unit to the department for trial. This unit was first placed in the quarters of Engine Co 26/35 on Mason Street and then to the quarters of Engine Co. 22 and Ladder Co. 13 on Warren Avenue where it remained the longest. It was equipped with two (2) 35-gallon chemical tanks, 250 feet of hose and other necessary tools. The unit was built on a Packard chassis and was equipped with a gasoline 30 horse power engine, which could speed up to 30 miles per hour.
The first response was that same night to an alarm in South Boston at 1835 hours to Box 129, Sixth and B Streets for a fire at 276 Dorchester Avenue. The apparatus responded over the Broadway Bridge and made very good time. District Chief Ryder was going to use the new wagon to respond to fires from his quarters on Warren Avenue. The chauffeur was Frank Shea who had been Chief Mullen’s driver and was familiar with the motor apparatus. Other firemen assigned were John F. Watson, William H. Boudreau and William A. J. Drinan. This unit used the designation of Chemical 13 while operating from Ladder Co. 13’s quarters. Continue reading