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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 Europe)



400 BC Alexandria, Egypt The first known water pump.


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 winter.


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 in America.


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 buildings.


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 incorporated.


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 Chicago Fire.


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 year.


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 kills 80,000.


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 Antonio, Texas.


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 and overcrowding.


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.


Last modified: December 05, 2003