he first Roman fire brigade of which we have any substantial history was created by Marcus Licinius Crassus. Marcus Licinius Crassus was born into a wealthy Roman family around the year 115 BC, and acquired an enormous fortune through (in the words of Plutarch) "fire and rapine." One of his most lucrative schemes took advantage of the fact that Rome had no fire department. Crassus filled this void by creating his own brigade—500 men strong—which rushed to burning buildings at the first cry of alarm. Upon arriving at the scene, however, the fire fighters did nothing while their employer bargained over the price of their services with the distressed property owner. If Crassus could not negotiate a satisfactory price, his men simply let the structure burn to the ground, after which he offered to purchase it for a fraction of its value. Augustus took the basic idea from Crassus and then built on it to form the Vigiles in AD 6 to combat fires using bucket brigades and pumps, as well as poles, hooks and even ballistae to tear down buildings in advance of the flames. The Vigiles patrolled the streets of Rome to watch for fires and served as a police force. The later brigades consisted of hundreds of men, all ready for action. When there was a fire, the men would line up to the nearest water source and pass buckets hand in hand to the fire.
In Europe, firefighting was quite rudimentary until the 17th century. In 1254, a royal decree of King Saint Louis of France created the so-called guet bourgeois ("burgess watch"), allowing the residents of Paris to establish their own night watches, separate from the king’s night watches, to prevent and stop crimes and fires. After the Hundred Years’ War, the population of Paris expanded again, and the city, much larger than any other city in Europe at the time, was the scene of several great fires in the 16th century. As a consequence, King Charles IX disbanded the residents’ night watches and left the king’s watches as the only one responsible for checking crimes and fires.
London suffered great fires in 798, 982, 989, 1212 and above all in 1666 (Great Fire of London). The Great Fire of 1666 started in a baker’s shop on Pudding Lane, consumed about two square miles (5 km²) of the city, leaving tens of thousands homeless. Prior to this fire, London had no organized fire protection system. Afterwards, insurance companies formed private fire brigades to protect their clients’ property. Insurance brigades would only fight fires at buildings the company insured. These buildings were identified by fire insurance marks. The key breakthrough in firefighting arrived in the 17th century with the first fire engines. Manual pumps, rediscovered in Europe after 1500 (allegedly used in Augsburg in 1518 and in Nuremberg in 1657), were only force pumps and had a very short range due to the lack of hoses. German inventor Hans Hautsch improved the manual pump by creating the first suction and force pump and adding some flexible hoses to the pump. In 1672, Dutch inventor Jan Van der Heyden invented the fire hose. Constructed of flexible leather and coupled every 50 feet (15 m) with brass fittings, the length remains the standard to this day in mainland Europe whilst in the UK the standard length is either 23m or 25m. The fire engine was further developed by Richard Newsham of London in 1725. Pulled as a cart to the fire, these manual pumps were manned by teams of men and could deliver up to 160 gallons per minute.
In 1631 Boston’s governor John Winthrop outlawed wooden chimneys and thatched roofs. In 1648, the New Amsterdam governor Peter Stuyvesant appointed four men to act as fire wardens. They were empowered to inspect all chimneys and to fine any violators of the rules. The city burghers later appointed eight prominent citizens to the "Rattle Watch" – these men volunteered to patrol the streets at night carrying large wooden rattles. If a fire was seen, the men spun the rattles, then directed the responding citizens to form bucket brigades. On January 27, 1678 the first fire engine company went into service with its captain (foreman) Thomas Atkins. In 1736 Benjamin Franklin established the Union Fire Company in Philadelphia.
George Washington was a volunteer firefighter in Alexandria, Virginia. In 1774, as a member of the Friendship Veterans Fire Engine Company, he bought a new fire engine and gave it to the town, which was its very first. However the United States did not have government-run fire departments until around the time of the American Civil War. Prior to this time, private fire brigades compete with one another to be the first to respond to a fire because insurance companies paid brigades to save buildings. Underwriters also employed their own Salvage Corps in some cities. The first known female firefighter Molly Williams took her place with the men on the dragropes during the blizzard of 1818 and pulled the pumper to the fire through the deep snow.
The History of the Fire Museum of Greater Cincinnati
In 1906, the building that now houses the Fire Museum of Greater Cincinnati was home to the Engine Company #45 Firehouse. Because of this, the Fire Museum of Greater Cincinnati is now included in the National Register of Historic Places.