Ancient Rome is known to have had a fire department consisting by the 1st cent. of approximately 7,000 paid firefighters. These fire brigades not only responded to and fought fires, but also patrolled the streets with the authority to impose corporal punishment upon those who violated fire-prevention codes. The inventor Ctesibius of Alexandria devised the first known fire pump c.200 B.C. but the idea was lost until the fire pump was reinvented about A.D. 1500. The only equipment available to fight the London fire in 1666 were two-quart hand syringes and a similar, slightly larger syringe; it burned for four days. Elsewhere in Europe and in the American colonies fire fighting equipment was equally rudimentary. The London fire stimulated the development of a two-person operated piston pump on wheels.
In 1648, Governor Peter Stuyvesant of New Amsterdam (New York City) was the first in the New World to appoint fire inspectors with the authority to impose fines for fire code violations. Boston imported (1679) the first fire engine to reach America. For a long time the ten-person pump devised by the English inventor Richard Newsham in 1725 was the most widely used. The inventor Thomas Lote of New York built (1743) the first fire engine made in America. About 1672 leather hose and couplings for joining lengths together were produced; though leather hose had to be sewn like a fine boot, fabric and rubber-treated hose did not come into general use until 1870. A steam fire engine was built in London in 1829, but the volunteer fire companies of the day were very slow to accept it. When a group of insurance companies in New York had a self-propelled engine built in 1841, the firefighters so hindered its use that the insurance companies gave up the project. Finally, in Cincinnati, Ohio, the public forced a steam engine on the firefighters.
The aerial ladder wagon appeared in 1870; the hose elevator, about 1871. Gasoline engines were at first used either as pumping engines or as tractors to pull apparatus. In 1910 the two functions were combined, one engine both propelling the truck and driving the pump. Modern equipment is usually diesel powered, and multiple variations of the basic fire engine enable firefighters to respond to many types of emergency situations.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.