Very little else can be as selfless as being a volunteer for something. Personal glory and recognition are a part of it sure, but this doesn’t deny the fact that you willingly give of yourself to help someone else. Even more so is being a volunteer fire-fighter who dedicates not only time and energy, but also one’s life to the service of a greater good. Please read on to get an understanding of the historic background of volunteer fire-fighting in America.
The history of the first known volunteer fire-fighters in America goes back more than 400 years to the colony of Jamestown, Virginia in approximately 1608. Among other things, there was a specific need for someone to battle fires and there were no salaries paid for such services then. Volunteering to fight fires was seen in a more social light rather than a duty like it is today. It was a fantastic opportunity to “hang out” with other men, gain social standing and have a legit reason to do so.
The duties of a volunteer fireman in the 19th century were to push, pull and move the fire equipment to the scene of a fire. Those who weren’t directly using the main body of equipment would help out in any way they could which may have involved helping people out of burning buildings and preventing anyone from trying to go in them. After some devastating fires in 1608 and 1623 there was a serious need for the community to come together and establish fire reduction and avoidance actions and regulations. This in part meant that a team of volunteers would need to be prepared around the clock in case of fire emergencies.
It has been said that even many of the Founding Fathers of America such as Samuel Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin and Paul Revere were all volunteer firemen as well. It was a noble and honoring status to be a volunteer fire-fighter and Benjamin Franklin said of them as, “Brave men of Spirit and humanity. Good Citizens, or neighbors, capable and worthy of civil Society and the enjoyment of a happy government.” As early as 1848 saw the first nominations and appointments of fire marshals in New Amsterdam (now New York). They were appointed in order to make sure that new fire regulations were followed. One of the new guidelines to be followed happened was that no new homes were to be built with simple plaster or wooden chimneys in them. Codes that resemble this are still in use to this day and the fire marshals were to make sure that every fire law and code was strictly obeyed. Fire prevention was seen as one of the greatest tactics for North America during this period.
There were indeed companies for fire insurance at this time and they also contributed to fire-fighting by providing fire towers that were used to spot fires within and around the city limits on a 24 hour a day basis. Prior to some of these tactics, explosives were used (in the 1700s) to destroy buildings that were on fire in order to prevent them from spreading onto the next untouched structure. Unfortunately these kinds of strategies did not hold secure and satisfying records of success. The lack of good techniques in those days were quite poor due to equipment and manpower and so the best way to battle a fire was just to make sure that it didn’t spread.
Today the need for volunteer fire-fighters is not as in demand as it once was due to technology. But this is not to say that volunteer fire-fighters do not play a very important role. People volunteer today for the same reasons they did at the beginning but it’s more duty-oriented today than it was before and the goal of fire-fighting today is driven towards containing a fire into a smaller area rather than just to one building. The need for these important volunteers will more than likely never vanish.