Humanity’s ability to harness fire has been crucial in the development of human civilization. That said, fire is a dangerous tool, and if flames grow out of control, they can kill and seriously injure people. Fortunately, firefighters help keep people safe by combating fires. Fire departments have evolved over the years and the use of various technologies and methods have made them more effective than ever before. For example, many organizations use fire department software, which can greatly improve operations and capabilities. That said, firefighting came from humble beginnings.
Fighting Fires in Ancient Times
Arguably, the ancient Greek Ctesibius, who lived from 285 to 222 BC in Alexandria, paved the way for modern firefighting with the invention of water pumps that could be used to combat flames. Before the creation of such pumps, fires were fought with simple tools, like buckets. Water pumps offered firefighters, who back then were mostly common citizens rising to the occasion, a powerful tool. That said, simple buckets were still very common.
The history of organized firefighting likely got its start in ancient Rome. At its peak, Rome was home to over a million people, making it then the largest city in the world. Unfortunately, Rome was also plagued by fires. In the year 6 A.D., after a major fire broke out, Emperor Caesar Augustus established the first known organized firefighting force, the Vigiles, which was made up of ex-slaves. The Corp of Vigeles trained specifically to fight fires but also acted as a night watch to deter criminal activity.
Unfortunately, while Rome was the first to establish a professional firefighting force, it wasn’t enough to prevent the Great Fire of Rome in the year 64 A.D. During this fire, roughly 70 percent of the city of Rome was destroyed. The fire raged for roughly 6 days and is believed to have killed hundreds of people.
Unfortunately, fires remained a grave threat long after the fall of the Roman Empire. Major fires would later strike medieval London, Paris, and elsewhere. The methods and tools used to fight fires were largely primitive, at least when compared to modern gear.
Dealing With Fires in Modern Times
Firefighting gear has come a long way over the years. So to have fire departments. As technology has progressed, it has helped drive technological change. Firefighting remained primitive until around the 17th century. The Great Fire of London in 1666 burned over 400 acres, destroyed upward of 13,000 houses, and consumed 87 churches. Ultimately, up to 85 percent of Londoners were left homeless.
Thankfully, just six people died during the incident, an astonishingly low number given how massive the fire was. Still, the fire illustrated a need to develop better tools and techniques for fighting fires. After the flames subsided, insurance companies convened and decided to set up firefighting brigades.
Inventors and tinkerers, meanwhile, got to work developing new tools and technologies to prevent, contain, and extinguish fires. In 1655, Hans Hautsch created what was likely the first fire engine. This engine required a lot of labor power. Indeed, 14 people would work a piston rod back and forth to create compressed air pressure, which could then be used to propel water up to 60 or so feet. Fire engines greatly improved firefighting.
Another major development was the invention of the Heiden hose in 1673. This hose was made out of leather, but unfortunately it was unstable and difficult to work with. Better hoses came along, however. In the early 1800s, cities began to use water mains and hoses to fight fires. In many cases, this greatly reduced the distance between the water source and the fire.
Fire engines propelled by combustion motors began to appear in the early 20th century, just as the automobile was becoming popular. While the early combustion fire engines were rather primitive by today’s standards, they marked an important breakthrough.
In the years since, firefighters have deployed planes, drones, and other tools to fight fires. Satellites can be used to track the spread of fires, allowing firefighters to put together better responses. Surveillance can also give people a heads-up of approaching fires, affording them to time to evacuate. NFIRS reporting software, meanwhile, makes it much easier to collect data.