Early Fire Apparatus: The Hand-Drawn Era

For years bucket brigades served as the best method for transporting water to extinguish a fire—at least until hand pumpers came on the scene. These were actually more like hand tubs with long, parallel handles, and they required many volunteers to pump up and down rapidly in an effort to continuously transport water from the tub. Although they were a giant step up from the old bucket brigades, the hand pumpers were limited as people quickly grew tired from the pumping. Nevertheless, they were widely used throughout the 1700s.

Enter the steam pumper, a major advancement that first appeared in the United States in 1840. The steam pumper, with its ability to supply continuous water, did so without using human muscle. As steam pumpers became more widespread, fewer volunteer firefighters were needed in major cities. Instead, the first paid fire departments emerged. Beginning in Cincinnati in 1853, paid firefighters ushered in an era of firefighting that included new concepts and inventions and widespread technological advances. These included the telegraph alarm system, alarm box running assignment cards, sliding fire poles—and horses. The entire landscape of firefighting was changing.

Photo from the FASNY Museum of a hand drawn apparatus that was later converted to a horse drawn apparatus.

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