When I was a youngster I had a couple of uncles who were volunteer firemen. Sometimes we would go down to the fire station and they would let me put on a big fireman’s helmet and climb on the fire trucks, but that was all I needed of that.
I had a cousin who was badly burned in a fire when she was a child and it made me very aware of the damage it can do. I could never see myself running into a burning building like firemen do, when our natural instinct is to turn and run away from the danger. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the men and women who do it.
When we were in Cincinnati, Ohio, we stopped to check out the Cincinnati Fire Museum, which is housed in the old Engine Company 45 firehouse downtown. The museum has a lot of interesting exhibits, including an old horse-drawn fire wagon, firefighting equipment, and vintage fire trucks. Besides honoring the history of the fire service in Cincinnati and the surrounding area, the museum also teaches important fire prevention programs to thousands of schoolchildren each year.
Cincinnati has a long history of dealing with fires, starting back as early as 1794, when a farmer started a fire to clear his land and it got out of control, burning more than 100 acres. Another notable fire happened in 1823 when a nine-story steam mill on Cincinnati’s riverfront burned.
In those days fires were fought by the people around when they broke out, and since most structures were made of wood, the local citizens began to see the need for more organized fire prevention and firefighting.
The city had already taken some steps in that direction, including passing an ordinance in 1802 that required all homeowners to own a black leather fire bucket, and mandating that all men ages 16 to 50 were required to respond to help fight any fire that happened near them. Failure to answer the call when needed could result in fines and other penalties.
By 1829 there were nine volunteer firefighting companies and seven brick water cisterns in the city. This might seem like a good thing, and it was in many ways, but over time the fire companies themselves became a problem. Competition to be the best got out of hand, and in 1850 alone, police responded to at least six major fights between different volunteer fire companies. During the melees at least two people were shot and many more suffered injuries that required medical treatment. There were also two arsons connected to the rivalries, one burning down the Engine Company 2 firehouse.
These problems contributed to the city deciding to form the country’s first professional fire department, made up of all fulltime employees, on April 1, 1853.
Even with a professional fire department Cincinnati still saw its share of terrible fires. On December 11, 1880, firemen responded to a blaze at the. P. Gay bucket factory. It would turn out to be a tragic day when five firefighters were killed trying to extinguish the inferno. This was, and still remains, the single deadliest day for Cincinnati firefighters. Four years later the notorious Courthouse Riots broke out when angry citizens went on a rampage that left 56 people dead, over 300 wounded, and the city’s courthouse and jail burned to the ground. Then, the next year, on May 21, 1885, a major fire at the five-story Sullivan Printing Company killed 15 employees who were trapped on an upper floor. This remains the deadliest single fire incident on record in Cincinnati and led to a push for regulations requiring improvements in building construction and safety.
These days, while most cities have followed Cincinnati’s lead and have professional fire departments, about 70% of firefighters in this country are still volunteers, especially in rural areas and small towns. And due to improvements in fire safety and construction requirements, statistics say that only about 5% of the calls they answer nationwide are for actual fires. 64% of calls are to render medical aid, as firefighters have also evolved into emergency medical technicians.
Again, Cincinnati was one of the first cities to distribute first-aid kits to their fire companies, way back in 1917. By 1929, all firefighters were trained to provide emergency first aid. In 1982, all Cincinnati firefighters were also certified as emergency medical technicians.
Displays at the museum include leather fire buckets, fire helmets, and a huge drum that was used as a fire alarm in Cincinnati back in the early days. But the museum is more than a place to see interesting old firefighting equipment.
There are also exhibits on modern firefighting techniques, the training firefighters go through, and how hard one must work to meet the qualifications to become a firefighter. There are interactive exhibits, and kids can even slide down a real fire pole. That’s a memory they won’t soon forget!
The museum also has a Safe House as part of their fire safety education program. Visitors are taught not only how to prevent a fire, but how to protect themselves and escape if there is one. In different rooms of the house, fire and burn hazards are demonstrated, along with an explanation of how each can cause a fire and what can be done to prevent it from happening.
The next time you’re in the area, make it a point to visit the Cincinnati Fire Museum. You will come away with a greater understanding of, and respect for, the men and women who put their lives on the line every day to respond when any of us have a fire emergency.
The museum is located at 315 West Court Street, just three blocks north of the Cincinnati Convention Center. It is open Tuesday – Saturday from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. The Museum is closed on Sunday and Monday. Parking is limited to passenger cars in that area of the city, so leave your RV at a local campground when you visit. For more information, call (513) 621-5553.
Today is your last chance to enter our latest Free Drawing. This week’s prize is an audiobook of Birdsongs, the first book in my friend Jason Deas’ excellent Benny James mystery series. To enter, all you have to do is click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn this evening.
Thought For The Day – This just in…. Life’s not fair. Get over it.