Tuesday, July 24, 2018


Recently, a brush fire broke out on the hills near my house and I marveled at how quickly and efficiently firefighters put it out.  It wasn't always that way.

During the 19th century fire was one of the biggest environmental threats facing the nation.  Something as simple as a dropped candle or overturned lamp could wipe out entire towns and cities in a flash.
Line of Fire
When a fire broke out in those early days, a bell (usually the church bell) rang, and volunteer firemen dropped what they were doing and raced to join the bucket brigade.  (The rounded bottoms on fire buckets prevented them from being used for other purposes.)
Volunteers were a mixed bunch and included immigrants and native-born, merchants and laborers.
Being a volunteer fire-fighter was considered an honor and united men in a brotherhood of masculinity and skill.  It provided men from all walks of life with an elevated social status. 
Surprisingly, women started serving as volunteer firefighters as early as 1818. The first known woman to do so was a black slave named Molly Williams.
The main challenges firefighters faced in those early days were poorly constructed wood buildings and lack of equipment and training. The appearance of fire insurance companies in the mid-1800s created yet another challenge.
Some fire brigades were either owned or paid for by insurance companies. Homes and businesses with paid fire insurance were issued a fire mark. These
Fire mark showed building was insured.
fire marks were made out of metal and placed outside doors. The payment to insurers would help support fire-fighting brigades.  The fire brigade that arrived at a burning building first would get the insurance money. The competition between brigades was so severe, that fistfights often occurred while a building burned to the ground. 
It wasn’t just fistfights that got in the way of firefighting. Women dressed in swimming suits were blamed for the burning down of a Michigan general store in the early 1900s. The women were accused of distracting the firemen. 
 Firefighting has come a long way since the first volunteer fire department in America was founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1736. Fire equipment back then was basically just leather buckets for dousing flames with water and linen bags for collecting valuables from inside of burning houses. 
I was surprised to learn that today, more than two-hundred and eighty years later, sixty-nine percent of the firefighters in the United States are still volunteers.
Modern volunteer fire departments face different challenges.  People no longer live in the heart of town like they once did, which means volunteers aren't always available or have to drive a distance to reach a fire.  Also fewer people are willing to take time away from work and family to run into burning buildings without pay. (Can’t say I blame them, there.)
Despite these challenges, modern volunteer firefighters are well-trained and save taxpayers millions of dollars a year. Best of all, fistfights are now a thing of the past.  Firefighting sure isn't what it used to be, and we can all be grateful for that.

Are the firemen in your town volunteers or professionals?

The only thing threatening their success is love 



  1. Thanks for the post! We have both volunteers and professionals around here. Our country town has a volunteer force, but several towns close by are full time departments and will support our volunteers.

    1. It's nice to hear that professional departments support volunteers. Thank you for sharing!

  2. My city has a full-time fire department. We have several fire houses. We also have a fire museum.I have friends who were volunteer firemen in a nearby community. They are paid. Usually quarterly or semi-annually based on the number of calls they go out on.As you say no one will run into a building for free. Most volunteer fire departments have at least one or two paid firemen to man the station and train the volunteers. As a volunteer you can chose to be the guy who holds the hose or the one who runs into the building. As my friend grew older he opted to stay outside the building.

    1. I don't blame your friend for choosing to stay outside. Holding the hose is not an easy task, either, because of the pressure.

  3. The city here has 12 fire house with plans to add another 3 by 2020. Lincoln is a college city 4 colleges in the city limit and there paid and volunteers here.