The fireboat is one of the most important fire apparatus for many waterfront cities. Their maneuverability and power, not to mention their supply of water, has proven invaluable in many emergency situations. But do you know how this craft came to be?
The first recorded use of a fireboat in U.S. emergency service dates back to 1809, when a group of New York City volunteer firefighters mounted a hand pump to a small watercraft. By the middle of the 19th century, the fireboat had become a recognized asset to the fire service, with many departments purchasing older tugboats to retrofit with firefighting equipment. Still, the cost and limitations of single-boiler tugs placed the boats out of reach for many cities.
This all changed around the turn of the century. With innovations such as multiple boilers, wide beams, and eventually the diesel engine, the fireboat became much more practical for many port cities. It is, in fact, these early designs that serve as the basis upon which many modern fireboats are created.
Today, the modern fireboat can be one of the most iconic apparatus for port cities in the U.S. One of our country’s most recognizable crafts is the historic Edward M. Cotter of the Buffalo Fire Department. Used for fighting early 20th century warehouse and factory fires across the city’s waterfront, the Cotter is recognized as the worlds’ oldest active fireboat, and was designated a National History Landmark in 1969. There is no question that the fireboat has played a critical part of firefighting history, and will continue to play a part for years to come.
When motorized vehicles first appeared at the turn of the last century, it didn’t take long to adapt the technology to fire apparatus. Fire departments first experimented with motorized vehicles using runabouts, or standard production automobiles, assigned to chief officers.
It soon became clear that there were many advantages to using motorized vehicles, including durability and cost, when compared to horse-drawn apparatus. Nevertheless, some firefighters were reluctant to adopt the new vehicles. Over a period of time the switch was eventually completed nationwide; however, a number of innovations had to take place:
- In 1906, Waterous Engine Works delivered the first gasoline-powered fire engine to the Radnor Fire Company of Wayne, Pennsylvania.
- By the end of 1906, Knox and Combination Ladder Company, originally a manufacturer of horse-drawn apparatus, began to advertise an assortment of motorized apparatus for fire departments.
- In 1909, the Tea Tray Company manufactured the first triple combination pumper on an American Mors chassis. It included a pump, hose bed and chemical tanks. Prior to this, most had operated as two-piece companies, using a steamer and a separate hose wagon.
- In 1909, the International Motor Company (now Mack Trucks) delivered a motorized tractor to Allentown, Pennsylvania that may have been the country’s first motorized ladder apparatus.
- In 1910, American LaFrance began the manufacture of a combination chemical hose wagon for Lenox, Massachusetts.
- In 1912, Christie Front Drive Auto Company began the manufacture of two-wheel tractors that were used to motorize fleets of horse-drawn steamers, ladder trucks and water towers. This market, which lasted about 10 years, made it possible for fire departments to modernize their fleet without having to start from scratch.
- The 1920s saw the introduction of the quad. This apparatus was a stretched triple combination pumper chassis that also carried ground ladders. This provided an attractive option for fire departments that didn’t need to service high buildings, allowing them to save on the purchase of a ladder truck.
- In 1928, Pirsch and Sons introduced the first custom-built enclosed cab fire apparatus for the city of Monroe, Wisconsin. Considered to be ahead of its time, these did not replace open-cab pumpers until the 1950s.
The switch to motorized fire apparatus enabled fire departments to save money and more effectively service their community. For more information on the evolution of fire apparatus, see our blog The Fire Truck: A Representation of Pride and Identity Throughout History.
On Wednesday, May 21st, the 9/11 Museum will open to the public after many years of anticipation. This infographic designed and shared by Fire-Dex details some of the numbers behind the museum. Be watching for more details and pictures about this historic landmark in the coming months.
On December 2, 1998, tragedy struck the town of Linton, Australia. The town’s fire department had been fighting a large bushfire that was quickly burning through private and public land. Late in the day, two firefighting crews were called upon for assistance. As the crews and their apparatus entered the hot zone, the winds shifted direction and engulfed the entire team of five volunteer firefighters.
Soon after the incident, an Australian firefighter named J.J. Edmonson began laying the groundwork for the International Firefighters’ Day. The response to the idea was overwhelmingly positive, and the international fire community quickly came together to help coordinate the event.
May 4th was chosen as the day for International Firefighters’ Day, given its significance in Europe as the “Day of Fire Service”, as well as the feast day for patron saint of firefighters, Saint Florian. The symbol chosen was the red and blue ribbon. Edmonson chose these colors to represent the elements that firefighters work with: red for fire and blue for water.
This May 4th, join in with Fire-Dex and firefighters worldwide in honoring International Firefighters’ Day. Participants are asked to proudly display their red and blue ribbons or to participate in a memorial event, showing gratitude to the firefighters everywhere who dedicate their lives to protecting us all.
To learn more about International Firefighters’ Day, visit the official IFFD website.
In the 1800’s the Great Potato Famine ravaged the Celtic nations. Hundreds of Irish immigrants made their way to the east coast of the United States, bringing with them their traditional bagpipe music.
While Irish immigrants were able to escape the famine, they faced discrimination in the United States. Housing was difficult to find and many businesses would not hire Irishmen. The only jobs these immigrants were able to find were as firefighters or policemen – the jobs that most people thought of as undesirable, dirty, and dangerous. During this time it was not uncommon for several firefighters to die each day while on duty. The Irish firefighter’s funeral was typical of all Irish funerals and included the traditional bagpipe music.
The bagpipes haunting and mournful sounds added grandeur to solemn funeral services, soon families of non-Irish firefighters began asking for the pipes to be played for all fallen heroes. Today, the bagpipe is undoubtedly intertwined with the fire service, with bagpipe bands of 60+ members being a common sight at most fire houses. Together, these musicians honor their fallen heroes, as well as their profession’s noble history.