The Volunteer Era: 1648 – 1865

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Volunteers dragging their pumper and hose wagon to a fire.


Throughout the volunteer era, the organization of the department changed and developed to fit the needs of New York City's growing population and geographical expansion. Fighting fires required a lot of manpower, from the initial bucket brigades to the organized volunteer companies. Before the first fire engines were used in New York, all citizens were expected to help at fires by forming part of a bucket brigade. As the city expanded, more efficient means of fighting fires were required. In the early 19th century, hoses were introduced, which led to the demise of fire buckets. Fire apparatus at this time – hand pumpers, hook and ladder trucks, and hose reels – were all hand drawn. A large supply of manpower was needed until the paid department introduced horse-drawn apparatus in 1865.

the colonial period 1648 – 1783

The Colonial Period 1648 – 1783 Article + Timeline

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Organized firefighting has a long history in New York City, beginning during the Dutch colonial period in the 1600s. Fire Wardens were appointed by the Dutch governor as the first fire safety inspectors. Later, night watchmen were appointed and patrolled the streets at night in case of fire. During the time of British rule, New York acquired hand pumpers and formed the first volunteer fire department. More


Post Revolution: 1786 – 1865 Article + Timeline

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When the Revolutionary War ended in 1786, the volunteer department was re-organized under the authority of the newly established City of New York with 300 men, fifteen engine companies and two hook and ladder companies. This era, commonly referred to as the "romantic" era of firefighting, is known for its torchlight parades, highly decorated apparatus, and camaraderie. The volunteer era ended in 1865 when the New York State legislature created the Metropolitan Fire Department (MFD). When the Volunteer Fire Department was disbanded, it had grown to the size of 3,421 men, fifty-two engine companies, fifty-four hose companies and eighteen hook and ladder companies. More


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History & Heritage

New York has had organized firefighting since the Dutch colonial days. More

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Paid Dept. Era

Read about the development of professional firefighting in New York. More

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Fire Insurance

Discover the relationship between fire insurance and firefighting in New York. More

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Tap into fire history and genealogy resources. More

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