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The History (and Evolution) of Firefighting


From 2014 to 2018, United States Fire Departments responded to an average of 353,100 house fires per year. With the sheer number of combustible things surrounding us every day, it’s not surprising.

The good news is that the technology involved in firefighting improved throughout the years.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the history of firefighting. Read on to learn all about it!

Early Beginnings

Organized fire departments wouldn’t appear until the 18th century.

However, we can trace the history of firefighting tools to Ancient Egypt. The start of organized firefighting is generally credited to Roman Emperor Augustus. He organized watchmen to check and prevent fires in 24 BC.

In 1254, France set up its first citizen’s night watch. They were in charge of preventing crimes as well as fires. They proved ineffective, resulting in their disbandment.

London also had a history of massive fires, including the Great Fire of 1666. After the Great Fire, insurance companies set up private fire brigades to protect clients’ properties.

Paris formed the first official fire brigade in 1716. Many people couldn’t afford the brigade’s fee and wouldn’t call until the fire went out of control. In response, the French government made firefighting a free service in 1733.

Fire Departments and Firefighting Equipment

Soon after, Benjamin Franklin co-founded the first firefighting organization in 1736. It was the start of the history of firefighting in America. However, there wouldn’t be full-time firefighters until 1850.

Firefighting in the 1800s saw the introduction of the fire hydrant. Frederick Graff, Sr., a chief engineer of the Philadelphia Water Works, invented it around 1801.

In 1824, Scotland formed the first organized municipal fire brigade. In 1853, Cincinnati, Ohio saw the first professional fire department with paid employees.

As for the history of firefighting equipment, we go back to 1672 for the first fire hose. The Dutch artist Jan Van der Heyden developed this innovation.

The first fire engine company began in Boston in 1678. Later in 1690, John Lofting invented the first fire engine in London.

By the mid-19th century, the old tools were no longer cutting it. Populations were growing along with the demand for firefighters.

Modern Firefighting

The United States started the first government-run fire departments after the Civil War ended in 1865. Fire departments, their employees, and volunteers would become more regulated.

Challenge coins were also a part of fire department history and traditions. See here for firefighter challenge coins.

The horse-drawn steam engine became a formal firefighting tool in 1860. In 1907, the first internal combustion fire engine began to appear in the United States. By 1925, steam engines became obsolete and disappeared completely.

The 20th century saw even more advances. By the 1980s, 97% of North American cities had access to 911. In the 1970s, fire alarms, smoke detectors, and sprinklers became commonplace. However, the history of firefighting won’t end here.

The History of Firefighting Continues

Thanks to new technology, firefighting is becoming safer and more efficient. Besides modern fire protection suits, we even have cameras that can see through smoke. You can only imagine the history of firefighting in the future.

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