Brief History of the Fire Service:
1,000,000 years ago History records indicate that
primitive man knew how to make fire. (Nice, France)
500,000 years ago Historical records indicate
primitive man learned to control fire. (China and
400 BC Alexandria, Egypt The first known water
23 BC Caesar Augustus in Rome
created first firefighting force. "Servants of the
commonwealth" were a group of slaves and troops capable of
protecting Rome from fire. Not very effective.
6 AD After a large catastrophic fire, "Vigils"
formed in Rome. Used both for fire suppression and military purposes.
Recognized as first organized firefighting force.
100 AD With the collapse of the Roman Empire,
firefighting and fire protection gave way to the Dark Ages. Ignorance
and superstition led to the mystery of fire and it's cause.
1066 William the Conqueror lead the Normans to rule
England. Under his law, all fires were to be extinguished by nightfall.
The word "Curfew" (French for "cover
fire") originated about 200 years earlier.
1100 Laws and ordinances were passed in
London declaring no thatched roofs, requirement of party walls
and structures built of stone.
1566 Ordinance in Manchester, England requiring
safe storage of fuel for bakers ovens.
1607 Jamestown, VA founded in the New World. Fire in
1608 destroyed all the buildings and supplies, forcing settlers to
return to England or remain and face the hostile Indians and hard
1630 City of Boston, MA Incorporated.
1631 Great conflagrations in 1631, 1654, 1676 burned
Boston down again and again. New codes were adopted
calling for fire resistive building materials, open spaces, water
supply, and firefighting forces.
1638 Massachusetts passed first law banning
smoking outdoors. Passed because of heightened awareness of
fire and associated devastation.
1648 Governor Peter Stuyvesant of New Amsterdam (New
York City) adopted building codes and established Fire Wardens
to protect the settlement. This was the first fire organization
1666 September 2, the Great Fire of London
starts. Fire burned for 5 days and destroyed most of the city. 13,200
homes, 100,000 boats and barges were lost, leaving 200,000 homeless.
Only 6 lives were lost. Nearly complete destruction of England's
worldwide trading empire. As a result…the Fire Insurance
Company was born. This led to increased emphasis on development
of fire equipment and volunteer fire companies to protect the insured
premises. Fire marks were used by these companies to identify their
1679 Boston, MA establishes America's first
fire department, first fire engine, first firehouse, and first paid
firefighters. All accomplished because of the severe losses
from numerous large-scale conflagrations.
1737 Volunteer Fire Department in
New York City formed.
1752 Benjamin Franklin forms the first American
fire insurance company.
1819 London, England was the site of the first steam
fire engine to be built. Not dependable, needing many revisions and much
skill to operate.
1827 Wooden match with a chemical
head was invented by Englishman John Walker.
1835 December 16, The Great New York Fire.
Leading financial and trade center of the country at the time. 674
buildings lost, 10,000 left jobless. Most of the 28 insurance companies
operating did not have the financial resources to meet claims and
failed. Congress did not bail out New York. Financial losses and
bankruptcies multiplied. Some believe it lead to a national economic
depression 2 years later.
1853 Cincinnati, OH becomes the first fully
paid fire department.
1854 Safety matches developed.
1866 As the result of large loss fires, the National
Board of Fire Underwrites is formed. They provided promotion of fire
prevention and fire protection until 1965. They merged and became the
American Insurance Association. Later they changed their name to the Insurance
Service Office (ISO).
1870 October 20, City of Jefferson became
1871 October 8, the Great Chicago Fire.
1/3 of the city is destroyed over a period of 30 hours. Loss of 17,450
homes. Mrs. O'Leary's cow may have kicked over a
lantern starting the fire in a stable. Estimated deaths were 300. Damage
came to $200 million, of which $88 million was covered by insurance. 57
out of 250 insurance companies doing business fail.
1872 Forest fire in Peshtigo, Wisconsin accelerated
into a firestorm and destroyed all but one building under construction.
Fire consumed timber over 1,200 square miles. Fire moved so fast that
the residents could not flee.
1900 Introduction of the gasoline powered engine into
the fire service. Seen as a threat to the steam engine.
1903 December 30, Iroquois Theatre Fire
in Chicago, Illinois kills 602 people. The theater is supposed to be
completely fireproof. Incomplete construction including fire escapes,
confusing signs, lack of training, no fire alarm system, and doors that
open inward are to blame.
1906 April 17, San Francisco Earthquake and
Fire. 514 city blocks destroyed, 28,000 buildings lost, 674
dead and over 3,500 hurt. The earthquake lasted 90 seconds. Rapture of
water mains, access, and construction made fighting the fires difficult.
1911 March 25, Triangle Shirtwaist Fire
in Manhattan, New York. 146 workers lost their life in a 10 story Asch
Building. Pails of water and an inadequate sprinkler system, along with
a single poor fire escape was the cause. Most people jumped 8 to 10
floors to their death.
1922 President Calvin Coolidge proclaims the first Fire
Prevention Week to commemorate the anniversary of the Great
1932 The last steam fire engine in
New York City is retired.
1942 Coconut Grove nightclub
in Boston kills 492 people. Worst multiple-death nightclub fire to date.
1945 Wes Barns take over the chief position for the
City of Jefferson and becomes the first paid fire chief earning $25 per
1945 Dresden, Germany, February 14
& 15. Over 300,000 fatalities. Allied bombing near the end of World
War II, dropping over 3,800 tons of incendiary bombs on the city in a
2-day period. Created a firestorm unmatched in history.
1945 Atomic bomb at Hiroshima, Japan
1947 Texas City Disaster (April 16). Ship of ammonium
nitrate explodes in the harbor. SS Grandcamp. 561 died
and over 3,500 injured. First Haz-mat incident.
1949 First American burn injury facility
created at Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston, in San
1950 "Sparkey" the fire dog
introduced by NFPA as a national symbol for safety.
1961 Bel Air / Brentwood Wildfire.
Fire Danger index 98 out of 100 possible. "Santa Anna" winds
spread fire. 484 expensive homes lost. Fire covered 6,090 acres. 78% of
the homes inside of the 19-mile fire perimeter saved by city, county,
state, and federal firefighting forces. $25 million lost.
1962 Kansas City, Missouri Fire Chief develops "EDITH"
(Exit Drills In The Home) project.
1965 Watts erupts in riots on Friday
August 13. Arrests for drunken driving lead to increased tension and
riots. Over 200 fires burning at one time. One firefighter killed and
180 injured in suppression efforts.
1973 Special Commission appointed by President Nixon
presents a report entitled "America Burning."
It outlined the current and future fire concerns of our country. It led
to the creation of the U.S. Fire Administration and the National Fire
Academy at Emmitsburg, MD.
1976 Factory Mutual Research Corporation begins
developing and testing residential sprinklers.
1977 Beverly Hills Supper Club in
Kentucky burns, killing 163. Loss attributed to overlooked fire codes
1978 NFPA publishes the first annual
firefighter death/injury study. Initiation of Firefighter Safety &
Survival training on a nationwide basis.
1990 August, Awbrey Hall fire in
Bend destroys 22 homes and burns 3,300 acres. No loss of life.
1991 On February 23rd, a fire in a
38-story high-rise in Philadelphia takes 18.5 hours to contain
and kills 3 firefighters.
1992 Oakland Hills fire in October
destroys 1,800 homes and 900 apartments. 19 killed and 148 injured. Loss
estimated at $5,000,000,000.
1994 Storm King Mountain fire in
Colorado claims the lives of 14 firefighters in a blowup. 9 fatalities
are members of the Prineville, Oregon Interagency Hotshot crew.
1995 Alfred P Murrah Federal Building in
Oklahoma City, OK bombed. 161 people killed, many more injured.
2001 9-11 Attacks on World Trade Centers and
Pentagon. More than 300 Firefighters missing or killed, along with
approximately 6,000 civilians.