History of Firefighting
There are more than 200 fire museums in the U.S. and Canada.
Firefighting has a rich historical background that is documented in the numerous firefighting museums located throughout this country and Canada. Years ago, the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) recognized the need to link these institutions, which vary greatly in their makeup, primarily as a method for exchanging ideas. In 1989, the IAFC sponsored a fire museum seminar which took place during the Fire-Rescue International Conference. Representatives from nine fire museums attended, and they decided to make the seminar an annual event. Still, many of the museums wanted even more interaction, something they could rely on throughout the year. They formed a committee to research the possibility of developing an organization of fire museums, and in 1995, the Fire Museum Network was established.
Today the Fire Museum Network is a non-profit organization that allows for networking among the various fire museums, while also promoting the interests of collecting, preserving and interpreting the artifacts, history and traditions of the fire service. It is run by a volunteer board of directors. In addition to the annual Fire Museum Seminar, the organization maintains a comprehensive Web site with a directory of fire museums that belong to the network. This information can be accessed at www.firemuseumnetwork.org.
Sometimes a fleet of firefighters on ground isn’t enough to combat a rapidly-spreading wildfire—especially in areas with more treacherous terrain. In these situations, aerial firefighting helps to control the spread of the fire more quickly than traditional methods.
Aerial firefighting began around 1920 with the first attempts at dropping water from aircraft onto a fire. Most of these attempts were unsuccessful during this era, but they provided a platform for future initiatives through the USFS (U.S. Forest Service). In 1935, the Aerial Fire Control Experimental Project was created. At this point, aircraft became important for fire detection, but were still somewhat incapable of successfully extinguishing rapidly-spreading fires with water and fire retardant. It wasn’t until 1954 when a partnership between the USFS and other organizations produced an effective water dropping system using a TBM-1C bomber. This was put to the test during the Jamieson Fire, which occurred in southern California in 1954.
Inspired by agricultural spraying techniques, “helitankers” soon became the next progression in aerial firefighting. These easy-to-maneuver helicopters could deliver over 100 gallons of water when they were first introduced. With firefighting helicopters came “heli-rappellers”—firefighters who rappelled down to the fire as a ground force.
In the 1960s, surplus military aircraft became another effective way to combat wildfires. Planes like the B-25, Douglas B-26 and Lockheed PSV could carry 1,000 gallons of water. They also deployed “smokejumpers” or firefighters who parachuted from planes to help control ground fire. Smokejumpers became very effective, and smokejumper bases are located across western portions of the United States today.
In August, 1910, a fire called The Big Blowup blazed through parts of Montana and Idaho, burning approximately 3 million acres of land. Edward Pulaski, a U.S. Forest Service (USFS) park ranger, was asked to take a firefighting crew out to help control the fire. Pulaski and 45 firefighters ventured out, but suddenly found themselves trapped in a firestorm.
Luckily, Pulaski knew about a nearby mineshaft where his crew could attempt to take refuge from the smoke and flames. According to the story, Pulaski’s crew was so terrified of the wall of fire that was quickly closing in on them that Pulaski had to hold them at gunpoint to keep them from fleeing. He fought the fire at the mine entrance, but ended up passing out from smoke inhalation. Of the 45 members of Pulaski’s crew, an astonishing 39 of them survived the ordeal—including Pulaski. He continued to work for the USFS after The Big Blowup.
Pulaski is still known today for his contributions to firefighting. He created an important tool called the Pulaski tool, which modern-day firefighters continue to use. This tool has both an axe and a hoe-like feature on it to help with the construction of fire lines.
For years, Dalmatians have been closely associated with firehouses, but why? The answer is really quite simple—if you’re willing to go back in history about 600 years or so. The Dalmatian, named after the Adriatic coastal region of Dalmatia, is an extremely physical breed that can run great distances without tiring. So, during the time when horse and carriage was the primary method of transportation, Dalmatians were the perfect coach dogs. They were trained to run alongside a woman’s carriage, part for protection and part as a companion to the horses. As time evolved, the dogs were used to protect the horses that pulled English stagecoaches, chasing away other dogs that tried to scare the horses. It was not uncommon to see two Dalmatians running next to the horses as they pulled a coach, and soon a close bond formed between dog and horse.
When horse-drawn fire apparatus came into being, it seemed like a natural fit to couple the dogs with the horses that pulled the apparatus. The horses, which had to spend long periods of time at the scene of a fire—and even longer intervals waiting to be called into action—got antsy. Their close companion, the Dalmatian, helped to calm them. The dogs were also used to guard the fire apparatus while the firefighters tended to the fire. Soon it was commonplace to keep a Dalmatian at the firehouse to serve as a companion to both the firefighters and the horses.
Long after the horse-drawn fire apparatus were retired, the Dalmatian remained in many firehouses throughout the United States, Canada and England, serving as a constant, loyal companion to the firefighters and a symbol of fire service throughout the years.