Skip to main content

Full text of "The early history of fire protection in Baltimore City"

See other formats

The Ruthor wishes to Reknowl e4ge the aid nn<\ helpful 
suggest T on 9 given him by "r. A. Rrairnh, nrssent '"ire ^hief of 
Baltimore ^^ity. 

Also the interest shown by the Mary] ind Historical 
Society, who in its kind and courteous way showed the author 
how and where he might obtain useful data and information. 

5/ 7/ 28 


A paper on the aarly history of fire protection would 
take into account many and varied subjects, too numerous to write on 
at this time. I have taken one part--the fire companies, themselves. 
'^he subject of fire companies, themselves, would ue too vast a subject 
to hope to cover in this short papert Therefore, this thesis will 
deal ffith the Early History of Fire Protection in Baltiuore City, as 
far as the recorls of the fire companies, up to and innluding the 
organization of the city's first department in 1858, 

'^he first fire in Tjaltimore, of which I have been able 
to obtain an account, was one that occurred in a dwelling house 
occupied by Oreenberg T>orsey and family, "Tiis occurred on March 6, 

At this time, such a thing as a fire-engine or any kind of 
a machine for the extlngiiishing of fires, was unknown in this country, 
Fvery c.itizen kept a number of bufikets whinh were marked with his name. 
These were taken to the fire by the o-'mers, or set out so that a passer- 
by could take them to the scene of the fire, ^fter the fire had been 
extinguished, the citizen's Duckets, that had been used, were thrown on 
a lot and then the Town Crier lustily called out, "Hear ye, OhJ I pray 
ye, Lords ind Masters claim your buckets". This usually brought a}] 
the boys out and a general scrambje took place, in order to gather the 
rich peoples buckets, so that they might gain a reward. 

On July 16, 1763, a s'lheme of lottery was prooosed to the 
public, for the puriDOSe of raising the sum of "IVE HTJNnRED A'W ten 
POTT.MHS, part of which was to be used in buying two fire-engines and a 
number of leather buckets, 'Taia scheme oroved to be a failure. 


Huring year of 1763 the first fire comoany ever formed 
in f?altimore was organized airi wag «allsd, "The MechanlBal Fire ConiDany". 
Thig cofflTjany consisted of volunteers who had fonaed theragelveg into a 
eocia] club, who-se nrimary purpose was the prevention and extinguishing 
of fires. They used only the bucket line and when the fire becmae too 
hot, it was ju3t .vatched to gee that no other structure wa-i damaged by 
it a gparks. 

At a meeting of the inenibers of thig sompany, in 1769, they 
were informed that the captain of a Dutch ship, (then lying in port), 
had brought over from Holland, and was willing to sell, a fire-engine. 
Certain members of the lieohanical Fire Company , aided by a generous 
subscription, purchased it for the sum of HINETY-NINE POUNDS, or TWO 
HUNDRED AND SIXTY-FOUR DOLLARS. This waa the first machine used for 
the extinguishment of firee in Baltimore. It was christened the 
"Dutchman", '''he worte of the "Dutchman* consisted of two pumps made out 
of 9ht»et brasa, two v*»]'mg in the bottom of each pump for suction and 
forcing and two valvea for air purpoaea, with one discharge pipe en- 
closed in an apartment, the seat of which was made of wood and the sides 
of coorier, worked by a single beam or lines and mounted by means of 
email iron axles and wheels feet in diameter. 

•between 1759 and 1787 three other 'Companies were fomed. 
"Tiey were the Mercantile, Union and Friendship. 

The memberg of these three companies and the meinberg of the 
Uechanical Fire Company, on Saturday evening, llarch 17, 1737 met and -- 

RESOLTOD, that this coramitte© recommend to the inhabitants of 
this town, that they put lights in their windows in case of fire in the 


night, not only near where the fire is, but generally throughout the 
twon, for the convenience of those who are repairing to the fire. 

RESOLVED, that it be reooramended to every houoe-lteeper, 
irhere one of the family ioee not beJong to some fire company, to oro- 
vide, as aoon as tiosaible, two gooi leather buTkete, marked with the 
owner" 9 natie, and that they be sent to the place of fire irninediately 
on the alarm being given. / 

RESOLVED, that each fire company appoint any nucicier of 
their own corapany for lane nen, who shall be distinguished by a white 
staff eight feet long, whose business it shall be to form lanes for 
the purpose of handling the water, 

RESOLVED, that each fire corapany appoint any number of men 
of their company, for property men, who shall each be distinguished by 
having the nro-nm of his hat painted white and whose business it shail 
be to take charge of property to be removed in time of fire. 

On Hay 15, 1787 an act by the General Assembly obliged each 
householder to keep two leather buckets hung up near the door of his 
house, or t)«iy a oenalty of FIVE PO^tmdS: and the commissioners of the 
town were authorized to dig welJS and erect pumps on the sides of the 
streets, "hese fanous leather bunkets, of which we hear bo nuch were 
used to convey water to supply the engines, as fire plugs and hose were 
not then in use. The attachment of the early inhabitants to the leather 
buckets seems to have been nearly as great as that of the poet tg, "The 
old oaken bucket that hung in the well", and if they were not regarded 
with quite so much sentiment they v^ere certainly made to render aa 


valuable service. In those dnys there were few or no spectators at 
fires. Long lines of people were formed to "Hand along the bucketa" 
and If the curious or idle attempted to pass by, the cry echoed along 
the line, "Fall inl Fall ini". Also at this time the ooinprinies started 
to meet together in the afternoons in order to try their engines and 
exercise themselves, that they might be better enabled to act in con- 

In the sarae year a be] 3 was placed near the courthouse for 
the purpose of a fire-alarm. 

In 1824 the ^^ashington Hose Comnany purchased a 1 ot of copper 
and tin ri'^eted hose from A, Dialogue of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 
This was the first riveted hose ever used in Baltimore, for prior to 
this all hose used had been sewed. 

By 1333 there wers fomsed fifteen different volunteer organ- 
izations for the purpose of putting out fires. 'Tiese different organi- 
zations had reached the point wbere they were getting in one another's 
way, due to the fact that there was no form of organization. 

On November 18, 1833 a convention of delegatee from the fire 
companies, Mechanical, Union, Friendship, Deptford, Liberty, Independent, 
Vigilant, New Market, ColumPian, First Baltimore, Patapsco and Howard, 
was held in the old City Hall, This meeting was for the purpose of or- 
ganizing a fire department and adopting resolutions to be suiaujitted to 
the severai fire companies. 'Tie fifteen companies then in the city, in 
accordance with the recommendation of the convention of delegates, each 
appointed 7 delegates, who met on the 20th of January 1834, at the Old 


City Ha! I an-i organised the Baltimore ffnited Fire Department. They 
elected their offinera two nights later. "Ije form of the volunteer 
Fire Department differed so much from any other city in the Union that 
it became noted for its efficiency all over the Tountry, 

Turing the December session of the lity Council, in 1333, 
an act was passed to incorporate the Baltimore United ?ire Department. 
By this act thie body of volunteers was incorporated and had the power 
to sue, to be sued and to invest money donated to them. Each fire 
company was to appoint seven delegates yearly for the convention. The 
first delegate of the seven was a aember of the "Board of Select Delegated- 
The board corresaonded to a board of directors. 

T^e fire department then assumed the proportions of a frater- 
nal organisation (similar to the Masons). They guarded their membership 
against those -fhose character was unfit. 'Tie rivalry between thR differ- 
ent fire comoanieg now became very greit, parades, piinies, oyster roasts 
and other such things were held. Here the different fiompanies vied ^Tith 
each other for athletic auoremacy, "his striving for auoremacy became 
80 great that numerous riots were caused by the firemen. 

The first steam engine ever owned in Baltimore City was one 
bought by the First Baltimore Hose Company. It arrived in Baltimore on 
the morning of Kay 18, 1358, from Philadelphia, where it had been built. 
It was moved to r/ionument Square where it was exhibited. Such was the 
eagerness to see it, that it was found necessary to form a space by 
means of stretched ropes and a a quad of police were detailed to keep the 
crO'Vd from intruding beyond the ropes. The amok e- stack of tnis engine 
worked on a hinge so that it could enter the engine house without ob- 

struRtion. Acoorapanyiiig the engine, there was a two wheel vehicle to 
be used aa a tender, in which to carry the fuel, pipes and ausking 
sleeves. In response to an alarm of fire, this vehicle was hooked on 
behind the engine, "hig engine was called the "Alpha". There seeras 
to be no record of when the hook and ladder trucks came into exigtance, 
but for many years fire comiDanies were eq'iiT^ned with ladders and hook. 

"Tie establishment of a raunicitjal i'ire-alarra telegraph wag 
suggested by the "Sun", in 1854 and i*s introduction was urged unon 
the City Council; but like many other valuable suggestions it passed 
unheeded for a time. On March 11, 135'/ a petition containing several 
thousand signatures was oresented to the first branch of the Qity 
Council, praying the erection of a fire-alarm telegraph in the city. 
In June 1858 the mayor and the "ity Council adopted the use of the 
fire-aiarm telegraph. On Monday, June the 27th, the first operation 
of this fire-alariB telegraph took place. It was a teat of the tele- 
graphic wires in ringing the bell connected with the engine house of 
the "Alpha". This proved very successful and the entire line was com- 
pleted on June 30th, 

On an afternoon, July 3, 1858, a fire oroke out in a large 
warehouse, lue to there being a quantity of straw and other f;onf>ustible 
materlfll in the building, the fire assuijied gigantic nrooortions before 
the fire comnany arri'^ed on the scene. Several hand engines started 
work before the "Aloha" arrived. As soon as the engine was out to work 
the effect was percentible, "The Baltimore fiun" the next raoming in 
commenting on the fire said, "The work of yesterday conclusively shows 
that, with a few more steam engines, properly managed, no fear of an 


extengive fire need Oe entertained". Another thing of note is that this 
was the first fire she re rope a were uaed to keep the crowd from obstruct- 
ing the firemen at their work. 

The Baltimore United Fire Department was composed of, at this 
time (1858), twenty-two companies, tiires steam engines, seventeen hand 
engines, two hook and ladder trucics, one thousand active members and 
about two thousand honary or contributing members, ( a number of whom 
were among the best members of society) • 

This system was voluntary and the organization was support- 
ed by an annual appropriation of EIGHT HUMORED DOLLARS to each company 
and by contributions from insurance corananies business men and others. 

'TIS following are the names of fire companies that were 
foraied in Baltimore, prior to 1859;- 

Mechanical -1763, Tercant lie- unknown, 'fnion-i732, Friendship- 
1785, neptf^rd-1792, riomniercial-l 792, Liberty-1794, Reliance-1799, 
Federal-1799, Repualic-iaol, Vigil ant-1304. Hew Harl«et-1B05, Coluiabian- 
1805, Franklin -180 7, nrst Baltimore Hose-1810, United-1310, Fells Point- 
3 810, "Washington Ho3e-i815, Franklin-J.815, Patapsco-1322, Howard-1830, 
Watchman-1840, Lafayette-1342, Monumental Hose-lBSl, Pioneer Hook and 
Laddler Corapany-1851, 'Ifestern Hose-1352, I.'^t. Vernon Hook and Ladder Com- 
pany-! 853, Monumental Ho9e-1855, United States Ho3e-1356. 

The matter of a paid fire department -'ras Drought before the 
Council in 1858, by a message from Honorable Thomas Swann, at that time 
mayor of the city. 

It was evident that the nubl ic interest would not admit to 


further postoonernent of the v/ork of refonn. Aocordingly, the Council 
passed a resolution providing for a commission consisting of nine 
members, two to be ntipointed tiy the mayor and three by the president 
of the Baltimore United Fire Department. The commission was requested 
to draft an ordinance providing for a new department, with the proper 
number of eompanifls, men, officers and equipment. This cominiseion 
submitted two reoortg;- ^hat of the majority suirEested th»it the hostler 
flnd enginper of each comoany should be paid and all the other members 
ghould still be volunteers. That of the minority urged that every man 
should be comnensated for his labor. 

The renorts of the commission were referred to the Joint 
Standing Committee on Fire Companies, who decided against the minority 
and in favor of the majority report and an ordinance was proposed and 
passed accordingly. When this bill came before Hayor Swann, he vetoed 
it, on the ground that the demand waa not for an admixture of paid 
volunteer system, but for a full paid system. 

Meanirhile the volunteers were not idle, many of them were 
attached to their companies by the strongest ti^es of sentiment and 
were orenared to fight to the last for the maintenance of the system 
so endeared to them. However, the time had Dassed for comoromise 
and the old nlan was doomed to total abolition. 

The Firgt Branch of the City Council, on Tuesday, December 
7, 1858, pa';<ied the ordin'^nce to establish a paid fire deoartnent and 
on "Jednes'iaTj December 8th, it nassed the Second Branch. On December 
10th it wag approved by ?'ayor Swann and the dav3 of the volunteer fire 


depflrtment wag a thing of the isast. 

I'he firet appointed Fire Comaisaioners were Messrs. W.H. 
Straw, J. Gushing, J, T. Morris, Williejn H, Quincy and John W. Loans. 
Mr, Charles T. Hollaway was appointed Chief Engineer. 

Immediately the apoaratue of the different fire companies 
were examined ■■\n'i the necessary new equipment was purcnaeed. At tnis 
time tnere were only three steam engines \n the department. During the 
course of a year four more steam engines and one hook and ladder were 

The first alarm after the forming of the paid department 
occurred on the 23rd of i^ebruary, "^he new department answered very 
ororoptly. The naid service was on its way to the heights of glory it 
has Bssumed today. 


1. The Fireman's Record J. A. Gasaedy 

2. Files of Records of BaltinWe Fire Department 

3. Reftords of Baltimore Histories] So'iiety 

4. Early History of RaJtimore ...J. T, Scharf 

5. History of Fire Tleqartment of Baltimore ....0. H. Forrest 

6. Baltimore Sun '^ilee 

7. Chronicles of ".altimore J. T. Sflharf 

8 . '"he "^iremnn ..*....<..... .,,....,, , '?a"id Dana