History of Firefighting

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Fire has plagued human settlements likely since before recorded history. To combat this problem, societies have come up with tactics meant to aid in the fight. We find mention of a basic hand-pumped water cannon from Alexandria, Egypt in the second century, but not until ca. 1500 AD do we have evidence of more modern fire pumps.

The settlement of Jamestown, Virginia produced the first recorded house fire in America, in 1608. The fire was devastating to the fledgling colony, destroying a large proportion of the citizens’ provisions, clothing, and quarters for lodging. The fire seemed to be a result of carelessness on the part of Jamestown’s settlers. Thus began America’s battle against fire, whether from reckless human behavior, or natural calamity.



When originally created,  the majority of fire-fighting organizations were comprised of volunteers. There was some competition between these groups, as they were privately funded, commercial organizations. To get paid, a fire fighting company had to be the first to hook up to a water source and successfully put out the fire.

Boston, in 1630, declared it illegal to erect wooden chimneys and thatched roofs, making this the earliest record of fire prevention in America. From then on, fire fighting developed by incorporating traditional bucket brigades, and fire inspectors, into community efforts.