Chapter 1
Overview of the History,
Tradition, and Development of
the American Fire Service
• This chapter covers:
– Importance of the mission of the fire service
– Purpose of a mission statement
– Major events that alter the history of the fire
– History of firefighting and emergency
The Mission of the Fire Service
• Firefighter tasks are the same all over the world
– Save lives and property from fire and other
– Different fire departments have different approaches
• Mission synonymous with purpose for existence
– Legal authority to act in a certain manner
• Mission statement
– Written declaration describing things it intends to do
to protect citizenry or customers
• Every individual responsible for mission
Roots in the Past
• Factors common to all agencies
– Organizational structure
– Inventory of facilities, apparatus, equipment, methods
– Programs to protect life and property
• Categories of programs
Fire and emergency operations and fire prevention
Arson investigation
Emergency medical services
Communications and maintenance
Figure 1-1 Understanding the history of the
fire service is like climbing a ladder.
Ancient Beliefs
• Turning point in human history: recognition
of value of fire
– Initial challenge: manage fire, prevent it from
destroying its user
• Ancient Greeks believed fire was a gift from
• Phoenix myth: fire powerful destroyer and
giver of life
• Ancient cultures used fire; fire destroyed
their homes and consumed their property
Recorded History
• Vesta: Roman goddess, protector of
hearth fire
• Hero of Alexandria: created first fire pump
• 22 B.C.: magistrates reported fire
outbreaks at night
– “Familia publica” organized along military lines
• A.D. 6: “Cohortes Vigilum” permanent fire
– Housed in barracks; toured the city at night
looking for fires
Recorded History (cont’d.)
• Emperor Augustus created seven cohorts
– Seven military units under command of a tribune
– Groups under a prefect (officer of equestrian
– Each prefect had 500 men, later expanded to
– Vigiles were a variety of specialists
• Roman leaders attempted to regulate
• After fall of Rome, no organized fire
brigades for 1000 years
• Legacy of organized firefighting left by
Figure 1-3 An early European hand-operated pump
based on the ancient Roman design.
Early History and Symbols
of the Fire Service
• Crusades: Order of Saint John of
– Dedicated to treatment of battlefield wounds
• Knights of Malta
– Dedicated to saving lives by serving as
• Symbol on uniform and shield determined
friend or foe
– Red cross worn by Order of Saint John
– Maltese cross worn by Knights of Malta
Figure 1-4 Symbols taken from history: (A) red cross and
(B) Maltese cross.
The Middle Ages
• Fire continued to destroy European cities
• Technological advances around the globe
not widely available in Europe
– Fire brigade created in China, not copied in
• A.D. 1100 – 1600: English devised fire
– Laws requiring home owners to have ladders,
buckets, and barrels of water handy
– Arson a serious crime
• Punishment: to be burned alive
The Middle Ages (cont’d.)
• 1666: Great Fire of London
• Community leaders placed emphasis
on elimination of conflagration
• Next 200 years: creation of almost all
basic fire protection institutions of the
modern age
– Organization of fire departments
– Creation of fire insurance industry
– Rise of technology to prevent and
combat fires
Early American History
• Early regulations on prohibition of wooden
chimneys, limitations on candle-making
– Early settlements built of wood; emphasis on
• 1637: fire marks used by insurance
• Fires fought by bucket brigades
• Early 1700s Boston designated fire
– 1718: fire societies, era of volunteer firefighter
• 1752: Benjamin Franklin started
Philadelphia Contributorship
Early American History (cont’d.)
• Fire companies extinguished only the fires
of insured buildings
– Volunteer firefighters extinguished any fire
• Fire used as a weapon of war
• 1800 – 1850: better protection, more
powerful hand pumpers, development of fire
• Arson became common in mid-1800s
• 1853: first full-time, paid firefighting service
– Steam-powered fire engine replaced hand-pumps
The Civil War
• Establishment of paramilitary
organizational practices
• Firefighters became soldiers in the Civil
– Most of the country’s experienced firefighters
were lost to the war
• Military veterans replaced lost firefighters
– Introduced military rank structure
– Command and control similar to infantry tactics
– Coloration and design of uniforms
• 1873: National Association of Fire
The Industrial Revolution
• 1870s through 1900: U.S. moved from
farming to industry
• National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)
– Designed and installed automatic sprinklers
– Standard number 1
• Basic research in fire engineering started
Alarm systems
Fire hydraulics
Aerial apparatus
Steam-powered fire pump
The Beginning
of the Twentieth Century
• International Association of Fire Fighters
• National Board of Fire Underwriters
– Evaluated level of fire defense in different cities
• Emphasis on fire prevention
• 1920s: firefighter education reform
– Fire Chief Ralph Scott
– Firefighting Bulleting Number 155, series 44,
Federal Board of Vocational Education, 1931
Technology, Transition,
and Times of Change
• Different technology in service
• Pre-World War I stations had both horsedrawn and motorized fire apparatus
– Several pieces of equipment had to be
assembled to fight a fire
• Internal combustion combined three
apparatus into one
• Advances in ability to reach fire, but not in
capacity to fight fire once on the scene
Figure 1-16 Triple combination engine companies can carry water
and hoses and other equipment as well as pump the water.
(Owned and photographed by William Killen)
The Effects of World War II
• War accelerated need to deal with fire
– Fire still a weapon of war
• Research resulted in:
Indirect attack method
Improved foams for use in fire service
Improved personal protective clothing
Improved fire nozzle technology
• Fire service became more paramilitary
• Other innovations: improved
communications (radio), diesel engines
Modernization of the
Fire Service
• Modernization is a process
• Information half-life: how long it takes for
50% of information to become obsolete
– 1700s about 100 years
– Half-life has decreased with every generation
over last 100 years
• Technological obsolescence: any given
technology is only useful for a period of
– Steamers replaced hand-pumpers
– Diesel replaced gasoline
The Fire Service of Today
• Acceleration of change related to duties of
firefighter and agency staffing
– Hazardous materials response
– Search and rescue
– Terrorism incidents
• 1947: National Conference on America’s
fire problem (Harry Truman)
• Texas City Disaster: first catastrophic
hazardous materials event in America
The Fire Service of
Today (cont’d.)
• 1960s Johnson Foundation
“Wingspread Conference”
• 1970s National Commission on Fire
Protection and Control “America
– United States Fire Administration created
– Incident command system (ICS) created
The Fire Service of
Today (cont’d.)
• Twenty-first century:
– 30,635 fire departments and 1,140,900
– Fire department in the U.S. responds to
one fire every 20 seconds
– U.S. has fourth highest death rate
among industrial nations: one person
dies every two hours in a fire
Figure 1-17 The fire service has expanded into many
areas, including hazardous materials response.
The Fire Service of
Today (cont’d.)
• The fire service also plays a
large role in EMS
Figure 22-2 Firefighters are often called on to
assist EMS crews with patient care.
Lessons Learned
• Firefighter’s career is like climbing a
• We must give due credit to the past
• Future contains difficult challenges
and opportunities
• Firefighters must develop skills that
did not exist previously
• Motto of the Roman fire brigade
“Semper Vigilans”
– “Always Vigilant”