History of US Fire Engines

historic fire engine

History of Fire Engines

Like all modern day technology, tremendous changes have taken place throughout history of fire engines. Before it had sirens, a hose and dozens of knobs, gauges, buttons and switches, the fire engine had small, minimal features.

Fire engines began to appear in the mid 17th century, but they were simply tubs of water that were transported to fire sights on wheels or runners. The tubs were large reservoirs full of water with a hand pump and nozzle to fill buckets of water. Fire fighters then filled the water buckets and dumped them on the fire, often at close quarters with the fire. In 1672, a leather-stitched hose with a nozzle end was invented to allow firefighters to put out the fire from a safer distance and with greater precision. At around the same time, technology was invented for firefighters to pump water from nearby rivers, ponds and lakes.

In the early 1800s, larger hoses about 50 feet long were manufactured with brass fittings to allow firefighters the ability to feed the hose through windows, up stairways, and at further distances to allow them to put out fires from a closer, but safer distance while the pump was operated in the street. In 1829, steam-pump fire engine were developed and became widely used by the mid to late 1800s. In fact, steam-pump fire engines were used in the great Chicago fire of 1871.

historic fire engine

Fire engines first became motorized sometime after the internal-combustion engine was developed and commercialized for automobiles in the 1870’s. However, the first motorized fire engines had two engines, one to drive the vehicle and another to pump water. Pumpers were first developed with a single engine for propelling both the vehicle and water in 1907 in the US. By 1925, motorized pumpers had completely replaced steam-pump fire engines. Originally powered by pistons, the pumps had been replaced by rotary pumps and then centrifugal pumps, which are now modern practice.

Today fire engines are packed with fire and rescue equipment, including hoses, ladders, self-contained breathing apparatus, ventilating equipment, first aid kits and hydraulic rescue tools. They are also up-fitted with sirens, lights and communications equipment such as two-way radios and mobile computers. With all of it’s first aid and emergency equipment, fire engines are commonly used for purposes other than firefighting, such as emergency response.

modern pumper fire truck


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