The Cincinnati Professional Firefighters – The First in the USA
Organized firefighters have existed throughout history. In Rome, there was the Corps of Vigiles, which consisted of slaves. In France, the Company of Pump Guards fought fires for a fee, until it was given as a free service by the government in 1733. Edinburgh, Scotland claims the credit for organizing the world’s first municipal fire brigade in 1824.
In the United States, while Benjamin Franklin is considered by many to be the first Fire Chief, having organized The Union Fire Company, his group consisted of 30 volunteers, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Earlier, in 1678, Boston had a paid fire crew that was equipped with fire fighting tools, but they were not career firefighters, and actually had other employment.
It was not until 1 April 1853 that the first fully paid and full-time career fire department was established in Cincinnati, Ohio. This came in the aftermath of a fire that destroyed the Eagle Ironworks factory of Miles Greenwood in 1852.
Greenwood, himself an inventor, then collaborated with two Cincinnati locals, Abel Shawk, a locksmith, and Alexander Bonner Latta, a locomotive builder, to construct a steam-powered fire engine. Although other enterprising individuals have already assembled steam-powered fire engines, the three Ohioans wanted something better.
The finished engine was demonstrated to the Cincinnati City Council towards the end of 1852, which, having been satisfied with its performance, contracted for the purchase of one unit. This was delivered on 1 January 1853 to the Fire Department, which made Cincinnati the first city not only in the United States but in the whole world, to own and operate a steam-powered fire engine. The engine was affectionately dubbed “Uncle Joe Ross” after a member of the City Council.
In 1 April of the same year, the City Council, in an effort to further beef up the city’s firefighting capabilities, decided to disband its groups of volunteer firefighters with a paid career fire department, who, when not actually putting out fires, devised new ways to combat fire and engaged in fire drills.
In the following year, the citizens themselves raised enough funds for the purchase of a second fire engine for the Cincinnati Fire Department. It was christened “Citizen’s Gift”.