citizen fire brigade

Category : Colonial
Date : April 23, 2013
Comments :

Someone left an unattended brush fire at a house just up the mountain from us late yesterday afternoon.  It is burn season here, but fires must be extinguished by 4pm, so I was worried to say the least, because it can get very windy here.

My husband is a volunteer fireman and often roars out of the driveway to help put out fires, rescue mountain hikers and assist with medical calls.   This afternoon he responded to a call for out-of-control brush fire in a neighboring town that destroyed two buildings, two cords of wood, and ignited a church steeple and another roof.  When he returned home around 4:30 pm, he and I saw the smoke rising from the mountainside, so he called his fire chief, who promptly arrived and discovered two unattended brush pile fires, without a water source.  Five-gallon buckets were filled at our house and trucked up the hill.  Afterwards, the Chief said we had resorted to the old-fashioned bucket brigade.

There is a scene in John Adams where the citizens of Boston fill their leather buckets and rush out onto the frozen streets to put out a fire.  One wonders how any fires were put out with these singular buckets.

Paul Hashagan, an historian of firefighting, recounts:

Most notable among the famous Americans who helped shape the country and the fire service was Benjamin Franklin, a writer, printer, philosopher, scientist, statesman of the American Revolution – and a fireman…  In 1736, Franklin founded the Union Fire Company in Philadelphia, which became the standard for volunteer fire company organization.

 

Two important “tools” utilized by early American firemen were the bed key and salvage bags. With firefighting apparatus able to supply only a small stream of water, a fire that began to gain any headway was soon out of control. Arriving firemen quite often opted for immediate salvage efforts in the fire building and surrounding exposures. The bed key was a small metal tool that allowed the men to quickly disassemble the wooden frame of a bed, quite often the most valuable item owned by a family, and remove it to safety. Other household goods of any value were snatched up, placed in salvage bags and carried to safety.

 

The first attempt at fire insurance went bust after a devastating fire in Charlestown, MA, in 1736. Ben Franklin then organized the “Philadelphia Contributorship” to insure houses from loss by fire in 1740, a venture that was a success. The company adopted “fire marks” to be affixed to the front of the insured’s property for easy identification.

 

[Paul Hashagan,

http://lishfd.org/History/firefighting_in_colonial_america.htm]

 

More colonial fire fighting:

http://www.nycfiremuseum.org/history_colonial.cfm

 

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