Having just lived through the stress and near miss of Hurricane Dorian, and in light of yesterday’s sobering anniversary – 18 years since 9/11 – I am feeling very thankful for the emergency services.
I must give a big shout out to Chief Freddy Howell and his team at Bryan County Emergency Services for all they do to keep over 38,000 residents in our region safe, and for being so prepared for when we are under threat from natural or other disasters.
Freddy’s responsibilities here in Bryan County include firefighters. And did you know that our EMS team provides a full range of services including fire prevention and education, emergency medical services and fire suppression?
On this last point, the movie, “Ladder 49,” says it well: “These are the people who are running into a burning building while we are running out.”
The history of firefighting is fascinating. As with so many institutions and inventions, the ancient Romans were the first to organize firefighting. Their firemen were called “vigeles.”
Around the time of Christ, these men passed buckets of water to each other to extinguish fires and used axes and hooks to pull down buildings and create fire breaks.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, uncontrolled fires became more prevalent as population centers developed and wooden houses with thatched straw roofs were built closer together. This, along with the accumulation of garbage (or rubbish as the British call it) led to frequent deadly and destructive fires.
In the land of my birth, many cities banned thatched roofs, starting in London in 1212, but fires were still a major threat.
The most famous fire was, of course, the Great Fire of London in September 1666, which began in the King’s bakery in Pudding Lane (really!) near London Bridge.
Only one-fifth of London was left standing, with nearly all the civic buildings and 13,000 private dwellings destroyed. Amazingly, only six people died.
At that time, the only way to fight fire was with buckets, hooks and hand held pumps, along with gunpowder to blow up buildings and create fire breaks.
In the late 17th century, the Dutchman Jan Van der Heiden invented a flexible leather hose and a manual hand pump. In early 18th-century England, Richard Newsham developed an improved fire engine that could be pulled by horses.
Modern standards for the operation of a fire department were not established until 1830, in Edinburgh, Scotland. Many fire insurance companies of that era employed their own firemen so people could only get help extinguishing fires if they were a customer!
The government was not involved until 1865, when these brigades became London’s Metropolitan Fire Brigade.
On this side of the pond, the Jamestown settlement in Virginia suffered a serious fire in 1608 that forced colonists to come up with a plan. They started using “bucket brigades” to help quash flames.
When a fire was reported, all available people would form two lines between the flames and the nearest water source.
In 1648 the government of New Amsterdam, now known as New York, created four fire warden positions, and a law was passed banning wooden chimneys and thatched roofs.
It was the duty of the fire wardens to enforce these laws and inspect buildings for other hazards. Those who did not comply with these regulations faced heavy fines.
Within a few years, other parts of the colony (as it was at this time), established similar organizations.
Most of the United States’ founding fathers were volunteer firefighters, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Benjamin Franklin founded the Union Fire Company in Philadelphia in 1736, and by the early 19th century, professional firefighters had largely replaced volunteer groups and improved technology was widely implemented.
Among the earliest fire brigades were those in Boston and Philadelphia, who were also among the first to purchase fire engines to facilitate movement to and from fires.
The development of automobiles and then firetrucks, radio communications and “self-contained breathing apparatus” (SCBA), along with ever improving training and regulations have helped us to enjoy the quality firefighting services we do today.
However, one fact remains the same: it takes brave people to keep the rest of us safe.
There is more information at www.history.com.
I say goodbye this week with a quote from American writer Larry Brown, who also spent almost 20 years as a professional fireman: “You have to do something in your life that is honorable and not cowardly if you are to live in peace with yourself, and for the firefighter it is fire.”
God bless America, and our wonderful firefighters and emergency services!