In response to a recent thread about the first fire department … Drew Smith submitted the following:
Who is really the first? The first ever? The first paid? The first to be known by the name they use today? Here is some information that may help in this discussion.
Chicago: The city of Chicago was incorporated in 1833. At that time it had a volunteer FD. In 1858 the first paid FD was organized. Around 1993 there was a display in the main hallway of the Quinn Fire Academy that described the transition in the 1800s from volunteers to paid men.
Cincinnati: It is stated in several sources that in 1853 Cincinnati hired its first paid men and became an all-paid department.
Boston: The Boston Fire Department describes themselves as “first in the nation” stating is was formed in 1678 as a paid FD. According to http://www.bostonfirehistory.org/historybostonbefore1859.html these paid men were call men. In the book The History of the Boston Fire Department and Boston Fire Alarm System 1859-1973 brought to you by the Boston Sparks Association http://www.bostonsparks.com/bookV1/ it appears that “permanent” men were added to various companies beginning around 1873 and that “call” members were used in whole or part for certain companies. It was not until 1909 that all of the call member were replaced with permanent members (pg. 34). Several sources describe 1859 as the beginning of the “modern” area of the BFD.
FDNY: The Fire Department of New York was formed following the revolutionary war and was all volunteer. It operated this way until 1865 when the Metropolitan Fire Department was formed and all paid men were hired. The MFD consisted of only Manhattan and Brooklyn as the other three boroughs had not yet been annexed into NYC. As they were volunteers in these boroughs, they were slowly replaced with paid men. In 1870 the MFD was abolished and the FDNY was reestablished. There are many more details to this contained in these two links.
Here is another interesting site: http://firehistory.org/oldest-fd/oldest-paid/ What I find interesting is that many of these websites have the same exact verbiage so it is not clear who was the first to state certain “facts” and what reference can substantiate each fact.
The Civil War played a huge role in the development of the fire service as many firemen served in militias for their state and fought for the Union or Confederacy. The paramilitary concepts inherit to our modern-day practices take their roots from these men and their war experience. If you are ever at the Gettysburg battle field, off of Sickles Avenue north of Wheatfield Road in the middle of a big field is a statue of a fireman and a soldier erected by the NYC volunteer firemen in tribute to those brothers who fought in the battle and gave their life.