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.
Military General, President, and Firefighter? Not many people associate George Washington’s name with firefighting, but our nation’s first president was fighting fires several years before he was elected into office.
In 1774, two years before the American colonies declared independence, George Washington joined the Alexandria Fire Department as a volunteer firefighter. In 1775 Washington purchased the town’s very first fire engine.
According to the FASNY Fire Museum, after Washington was elected president he would reportedly visit various local fire companies to inquire about developments in apparatus and speak with firemen.
Not much information remains about Washington’s involvement with the Alexandria Fire Department; however, we do have the following graphics. The image on the left depicts a young Washington pulling a fire pumper, while the image on the right belongs to a mural in Cambridge, depicting the firefighters of Engine Company No. 5. George Washington is pictured holding a pail to commemorate the time he spent in Cambridge during the revolution, and in recognition of his service as a volunteer firefighter in Virginia.
The Fire Museum of Memphis, located in downtown Memphis, TN, is dedicated to preserving the local fire fighting history and promoting fire safety. Established in 1998, the museum is housed inside the historic Fire Engine House No. 1.
Visitors to the museum can expect a truly unique experience. The many exhibits all tell the story of Memphis’ expansive fire fighting history… by allowing the viewers to experience a fire emergency as close to first hand as possible without joining the department! Visitors can explore an early 20th century firehouse, ride a snorkel basket and attempt to extinguish a virtual fire, and even step inside the Fire Room and see what it feels like to be inside a burning building. Other exhibits include a number of restored early apparatus, as well as several memorials to fallen fire fighters.
In addition to their large number of exhibits, the museum also holds fire safety workshops, aimed at teaching children how to prevent fire emergencies.
If you are stopping through Memphis you should definitely make a point to tour their fantastic fire museum. However, if you can’t make it right away, the museum offers several “virtual tours” so that you can explore a few of the exhibits right from your desk.
Photo credit: Ol’ Billy from The Fire Museum of Memphis.
“Ol’ Billy – A life-sized animatronic talking horse and the Fire Museum’s official greeter. By listening to Ol’ Billy and watching the accompanying video, children learn about the history of the Memphis Fire Department during the era of the horse drawn fire apparatus.”
On September 11, 2001, 343 members of the New York City Fire Department gave their lives in service of their city. The incredible FDNY Memorial Wall serves as a reminder of their bravery and heroism.
The memorial is located at the FDNY Engine 10, Ladder 10, directly across from the site of the World Trade Center. Emblazoned across the face of the memorial are the words “Dedicated to those who fell and to those who carry on. May we never forget.” Alongside the inscription stands a bas-relief sculpture of the World Trade Center buildings with firefighters on either side. Beneath the scene are the names of the 343 firefighters whose lives are honored at the memorial.
The memorial also pays special tribute to volunteer firefighter, Glenn J. Winuk, who gave his life assisting in the rescue efforts after rushing from his office in New York’s Financial District.
The FDNY Memorial Wall sits in downtown New York and may be freely visited. You can learn more about the wall, and the incredible story of the New York Engine Company 10, on Firehouse 10’s website.
Photo Credit: FDNY Firehouse 10
Take a look at any firehouse around the world and you’re likely to see some form of the iconic cross-shaped fire department logo. Have you ever wondered where this logo originated, and how it came to be synonymous with “Fire Department”? While the evolution of the icon is fuzzy, it can be traced back to two distinct points of origin, one as early as the 4th century.
Saint Florian’s Cross
The earliest origins of the cross trace back to Saint Florian, a Roman officer in the early 4th century who, in addition to commanding the ranks of the Northeastern Roman army, was tasked with organizing firefighting brigades. Florian’s men weren’t the first group of firefighters in Rome, but they were certainly the best. Florian was so dedicated to protecting Roman citizens that he organized and trained an elite group of soldiers whose sole duty was to fight fires.
Later in Florian’s life he was found to have refused to worship the Roman gods, and was sentenced to death. His body was recovered and buried, and he was later venerated and declared a saint. Ever since, fire fighters and military bands worldwide have adopted the iconic cross that can be seen in many depictions of Florian.
The Maltese Cross
Though Florian’s cross is probably the most common, many departments have adopted the “Maltese Cross”. Though similar, this particular icon has a different origin story. The first group to don the cross was known as the Order of the Knights Hospitaller, or the Knights of St. John. This group, founded in Jerusalem during the 11th century, banded together and risked their lives to fight off the attacking Saracens and their deadly fire-bombs. As recognition for their bravery, the Knights of St. John were given the island of Malta. Soon after, the symbol on the island’s flag became synonymous with this order of fire fighters and the bravery they showed in the Holy Land.
Whether your department uses St. Florian’s Cross, or the Maltese Cross, it is clear that the symbol represents the honor and bravery shown by firefighters. As the New York City Fire Department puts it: “The Maltese Cross is a firefighter’s badge of honor, signifying that he works in courage – a ladder rung away from death.”
The San Antonio Fire Museum, located in downtown San Antonio, Texas, was originally proposed in 1997 by a group of San Antonio fire fighters. This group aimed to create a museum that would preserve the rich history of the San Antonio Fire Department, as well as enhance local fire prevention education. However, lack of a site, as well as constant budgetary cutbacks put the project on hold for nearly 16 years! Construction and inspection was finally completed in May of 2013.
After many years of hard work, the museum is now open and ready for business. Members of the museum committee and many other volunteers have gathered a number of historic apparatus and other fire fighting related items. They have even managed to restore the beautiful 1927 American LaFrance Fire Engine to its original state.
The fire education portion of the museum is on track as well. Many educational displays are already available for children, as well as adults. Also, in conjunction with the Fire Prevention Division of the San Antonio Fire Department, the museum will host a variety of educational programs for students, businesses, and the public at large. These programs will cover diverse topics that should be useful for anyone attending.
The San Antonio Fire Museum is set to quickly become a prominent site in the Texas city. If you’re nearby, you’re definitely going to want to visit!
Photo credit: The San Antonio Fire Museum Facebook page.
A massive fire erupted in Chicago, Illinois on October 8, 1871. The devastation of that event included the deaths of 200+ people, the destruction of 70,000 buildings, 73 miles of roadway, and 90,000 homeless. It would be hard to find someone who hasn’t heard some rendition about this monstrous blaze that became known as the “Great Chicago Fire”. But what actually started the fire?
There are many myths surrounding this epic event that destroyed one of the largest cities in the U.S. at that time. Many have heard the version involving Mrs. O’Leary and her cow. After the fire, a Chicago Tribune reporter, Michael Ahern, published the story that the fire started when a cow kicked over a lantern while a woman was milking it. Though the woman was not named in the original report, Mrs. O’Leary was soon identified, since her barn had been the source. Multiple illustrations and caricatures soon circulated depicting Mrs. O’Leary with the cow. The story took the population’s imagination and is still widely spread. In 1893, Mr. Ahern admitted that he made up the story because he thought it would make colorful copy.
While the O’Leary story is the most popular urban legend about the blaze, there are several other myths explaining the start of the fire. Some say it was started by a group of craps players while others believe a milk thief is to blame. Still others attribute it to Biela’s Comet, which was passing over the Northern Hemisphere at the time. Some believe the comet could have dropped methane, which ignited the flames.
What is for certain is this: A warm, southeastern wind blew across the Midwestern Plains on that fateful night. Devastating fires erupted in many cities including Chicago. No one can say for certain the true cause of the fire, however, in 1871 the city was made almost entirely of wood, including wooden sidewalks. As a result, the southwestern wind that blew into the city that night fueled a fiery tempest that demolished the city.
Fire Prevention Week was established to commemorate the Great Chicago Fire, the tragic 1871 inferno that killed more than 250 people, left 100,000 homeless, destroyed more than 17,400 structures and burned more than 2,000 acres. The fire began on October 8, but continued into and did most of its damage on October 9, 1871.
In 1920, President Woodrow Wilson issued the first National Fire Prevention Day proclamation, and since 1922, Fire Prevention Week has been observed on the Sunday through Saturday period in which October 9 falls. According to the National Archives and Records Administration’s Library Information Center, Fire Prevention Week is the longest running public health and safety observance on record.
National Fire Prevention Week kicks off October 6th and lasts through October 12th. The theme this year is “Prevent Kitchen Fires”.
What special events will you be hosting at your firehouse during Fire Prevention Week?
One such story comes from a Regional Sales Representative Lance Matiste. He was in a meeting with FDNY just a few blocks from the World Trade Center when the attacks happened. Lance recalls that day: “It was like a scene out of a movie, like the world ended or something. You’re going through the biggest city in the United States and there was nobody.”
Pat Burrows was several states over, working at Fire-Dex headquarters in Medina, Ohio when the planes hit. Pat still remembers the feeling of shock that she felt that day. Through the years it has served to remind her that when she sews gear she is “sewing the lives of our fire fighters out there.”
No matter what you were doing, everyone remembers where they were on 9/11/2001. You can watch Lance, Pat, and other members of the Fire-Dex team tell their stories by watching Fire-Dex Remembers 9/11 on our blog.
To commemorate the events of September 11, 2001, countless memorials and parks have been constructed. The most notable of these is, of course, the beautiful 9/11 Memorial Park at Ground Zero in New York City. The beautifully designed grounds features artifacts, stories, and photos from the aftermath of the events. The memorial itself honors the nearly 3,000 people that lost their lives on September 11th; each person’s name is inscribed in bronze around one of the twin memorial pools.
Also in the memorial park is the famous “Survivor Tree”. This tree was found on Ground Zero during the aftermath of the attacks and transported to a nearby nursery. In December 2010 after reaching a height of over 30 feet the tree was returned to the memorial park to become a symbol of hope and renewal.
Another such memorial is in downtown Hilliard, Ohio. The First Responders Park is the largest of its kind besides the aforementioned one on Ground Zero. The theme of the park is “We Will Never Forget” and features a stainless steel sculpture that combines elements of light and shadow to cast images depicting the 9/11 attacks.
In addition to these large memorials many U.S. cities, and even cities around the world have established 9/11 memorials of their own, many including pieces of steel that were distributed from the rubble of the World Trade Center.
Jerome, Arizona might not be the first place you think of when talking about firefighting history. However, this small, mountainside town endured four devastating fires within a 5 year span in the late 1800s that nearly destroyed it.
The Four Fires
Jerome was incorporated in 1899, due to a need for a fire department. Before this – when Jerome was just a small mining town – fires ravaged the city. In 1894 two blocks in the commercial district burned to the ground. Three years later in 1897 the entire business district burned down, as well as many nearby homes. In 1898 the business district again went up in flames. Finally, in 1899 multiple saloons and restaurants were burned down. These four fires were destructive enough to be placed in the category of “disaster.” After so much destruction it was clear that Jerome needed a fire department.
The Jerome Volunteer Fire Department
Upon incorporation, Jerome took a number of steps to minimize potential for future disasters. These include the following:
- The building of water tanks downtown
- The burying of fire lines
- The construction of a fire station and volunteer fire department
- Adoption of one of the first building codes designed minimize risk of fire
In the years that followed, the city went through various booms and busts, its size largely tied to the price of copper. Today the city is considerably smaller, but the fire department is still a respected staple of the town, honoring its colorful tradition of fire fighting.
Photo credit: Jerome VFD
The lights, the sirens and the cascade of water are all attributes of the modern day fire truck. For both kids and grown ups, the fuss created by a fire truck in action is thrilling beyond belief. The evolution of the fire truck dates back to the 1700s, when the British built pumps to put out fires in Europe as well as the U.S. While today’s modern fire truck appears quite different from its predecessors, many of the features have been around for hundreds of years.
The first hand-pumped fire engine was developed in Philadelphia in the late 18th and early 19th century. This particular style of engine was pulled by hand to a fire. Pump handles, or “brakes,” and standing boards folded up to maneuver through crowded streets. With these extended, twenty or more firefighters could operate the pumps, with several teams working in short shifts. An engine of this size could throw over 100 gallons a minute on a blaze from a distance of 150 feet or more. Firefighters directed streams either from a long nozzle fixed on top or through leather hoses attached to discharges at the sides. The key difference for this engine as opposed to earlier engines was that it was equipped with suction to draw directly from municipal hydrants and cisterns in lieu of being filled with water by buckets.
A hand-pumped fire engine built by Betts, Harlan & Hollingsworth in 1842 is currently on display at The National Museum of American History. Located adjacent to the Conestoga Wagon on the first floor center area, the display is a representation of the courage and civil service provided throughout history by firefighters across the country.
Photo credit: National Museum of American History Blog
A touching tribute to fallen fighters stands in Colorado Springs, CO. The memorial was put in place by the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Fallen Fire Fighter Memorial Foundation, which was founded in 1976 to honor professional fire fighters and emergency medical personnel who were killed in the line of duty. The foundation also provides assistance to the surviving spouses and children of those who have perished.
At the center of the memorial is a bronze statue that shows a fire fighter descending a ladder, cradling an infant. The title of the statue is, “Somewhere, Everyday”, epitomizing the courage and bravery displayed daily by professional fire fighters across the country.
In 1989, the IAFF erected the first of two granite walls, which hold the names of fallen IAFF members. Although thousands have died throughout history, the names on this wall date back only through 1976, when the U.S. federal government first began tracking line-of-duty deaths in the fire service.
Throughout the years, the memorial has received many upgrades, transforming a small memorial into one of international stature. The upgrades include paving stone, monument lighting, flag standards and walkways, which now add beauty to a hallowed place and create an atmosphere of dignity for all who visit.
The original wall is now filled to near capacity with names of fallen heroes, leading to a second wall that was erected just a few steps from the original. The new memorial wall was dedicated on September 15, 2001; four days after terrorist attacks claimed 347 New York City fire fighters. There are future plans to add to the memorial sites all the names of IAFF professional fire fighters and emergency medical personnel who have died since the founding of the IAFF in 1918.
There is a ceremonial service held every year in September to honor the sacrifice made by the fire fighters and paramedics who gave their lives in the line of duty during the previous year.
Photo credit: IAFF Fallen Firefighter Memorial Foundation Page