Fire Department - History

History

The very first fire department was formed in Ancient Rome by Egnatius Rufus who used his slaves to provide a free fire service. These men fought fires using bucket chains and also patrolled the streets with the authority to impose corporal punishment upon those who violated fire-prevention codes. The Emperor Augustus established a public fire department in 24 BCE, composed of 600 slaves distributed amongst seven fire stations in Rome.

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

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

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

In the 19th century, the practice of fire brigades refusing to put out fires in buildings that were uninsured led to the demand of central command for fire companies. Cities started to form their own fire departments as a civil service to the public, forcing private fire companies to shut down, and merging their fire stations into the city's fire department. In 1833, London's ten independent brigades all merged to form the London Fire Engine Establishment (LFEE), with James Braidwood as the Chief Officer. Braidwood had previously been the fire chief in Edinburgh, where the world's first municipal fire service was founded in 1824, and he is now regarded, along with Van der Heyden, as one of founders of modern firefighting. The LFEE then was incorporated into the city's Metropolitan Fire Brigade in 1865 under Eyre Massey Shaw.

In 1906, the first motorized fire department was organized in Springfield, Massachusetts, after Knox Automobile of Springfield produced the first modern fire engine one year earlier.

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