Philadelphia: The Great Experiment
The Volunteers: Firefighters in Philadelphia

 

Our thanks to Sam Katz, Executive Producer History Making Productions,
for allowing us to feature this webisode

Date: July 4, 1831

Event: Independence Fire Hose Company No. 20 was instituted.

The Independence Fire Hose Company No. 20, located in the Kensington District of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was organized on July 4, 1831.  With its motto of “Our country is our glory,” the Independence operated as a hand engine company until 1859 when they acquired a steam fire engine.  They were active as a steam fire engine company until March 15, 1871 when Philadelphia’s paid firefighting department was established.

Date: February 23, 1991

Event: Meridian Bank Fire

At 2027 hours Box #495 was struck for an alarm at 1414 South Penn Square, the 38 story Meridian Bank Building. Upon arrival, Battalion 5 Chief George Yeager, noted heavy smoke coming from the 20th floor and struck the 2nd alarm. The fire would eventually reach 12 alarms. At 1501 hours on February 24th, some 17 and a half hours after it started, the fire was declared under control by Commissioner Roger Ulshafer.

During the fire, Engine 11 was operating on the upper floors above the fire. They became disoriented in the maze of office cubicles and heavy smoke. Shortly before 2300 hours on the 23rd, Capt. David Holcombe of Engine 11 reported that he and two firefighters were trapped on the 30th floor and running out of air. An extensive rescue effort began with a floor-by-floor search. The three members of Engine 11 were found on the 28th floor. They had been overcome by heavy toxic smoke. Killed on this day:

Capt. David Holcombe
Appointed January 9, 1967 – Assigned to Engine 12 March 6, 1967 – Transferred to Engine 41 January 17, 1972

Promoted to Lieutenant April 21, 1975 – Assigned Div. 1 pool April 21, 1975 – Engine 16 June 30, 1975 – Engine 69 December 2, 1977 – Ladder 11 November 15, 1980 – FMO June 13, 1983

Promoted to Captain October 31, 1988 – Div. 1 pool October 31, 1988 – Engine 49 May 22, 1990 – Engine 11 October 2, 1990

FF Phyllis McAllister
Appointed August 3, 1981 – Assigned Engine 11 October 12, 1981

FF James Chappell – Appointed May 4, 1987 – Assigned Engine 11 June 29, 1987

Date: February 22, 1823

Event: Fairmount Fire Engine Company No. 32 was instituted. 

The Fairmount Fire Engine Company No. 32, located in the Spring Garden District of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was founded on February 22, 1823.  The Fairmount operated as a hand engine company until 1860, when they acquired a steam fire engine.  The Fairmount served as a steam fire engine company until March 15, 1871 when Philadelphia’s paid fire department was established.

Object: Helmet

Date: February 20, 1752

Event: Hibernia Fire Engine Company No. 1 was instituted.

The Hibernia Fire Engine Company No. 1, located at 2nd and Walnut Streets in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was organized on February 20, 1752.  With its motto “Assist the needy, protect the weak,” the Hibernia served as a steam fire engine company until March 15, 1871 when Philadelphia’s paid fire department was established.  The Hibernia’s firehouse was occupied by the newly formed Engine 22 of the paid department.

Object: Parade hat

Date: February 11, 1803 Smithsonian .0031

Event: Decatur Fire Company No. 21 was instituted.

Originally organized on February 11, 1803 as the Frankford Fire Company No. 2, in the Frankford section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Frankford No. 2 incorporated on June 18, 1842 as the Decatur Fire Company.  The number “21 represents the twenty-first volunteer fire company organized in Philadelphia.  The Decatur served as a hand engine company until March 15, 1871 when Philadelphia’s paid fire department was established.  The Decatur’s fire house was occupied by the newly formed Engine 7 of the paid department. 

Object: Parade hat

Image from the National Museum of
American History, Smithsonian.

Image from the New York City Fire Museum

Date: February 10, 1847

Event: Fairmount Hose Company No. 34 was instituted. 

The Fairmount Hose Company No. 34, located in the Spring Garden District of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was organized on February 10, 1847.  With the introduction of steam fire engines, the hose companies acquired new hose to handle the increased pressure.  The company was sometimes referred to as the “Fairmount Steam Forcing Hose Company No. 2”.  The Fairmount operated until March 15, 1871 when Philadelphia’s paid fire department was established.

 

Object: Trumpet

Date: February 9, 1804

Event: Mount Airy Fire Company No. 23 was instituted.

The Mount Airy Fire Company No. 23, located in the Germantown section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was organized on February 9, 1804.  Operating as a hand engine company, the Mount Airy served until March 15, 1871 when Philadelphia’s paid fire department was established.

Object: Photo of member

Date: February 5, 1827

Event: Southwark Fire Engine Company No. 24 was instituted.

The Southward Fire Engine Company No. 24, located in the Southwark District, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was founded on February 5, 1827. With their motto “Always Ready,” the Southwark operated as a hand engine company until 1860, when they acquired a steam fire engine. They operated as a steam fire engine company until March 15, 1871 when Philadelphia’s paid fire department was established.

Object: Badge (From the collection of Lee Ryan)

Date: February 3, 1830   

Event: William Penn Hose Company No. 18 was instituted.

The William Penn Hose Company, located in the Kensington District, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was organized on February 3, 1830.  With its motto of “Like Penn, we will be useful to our country,” the William Penn operated as a hose company until 1864, when they acquired a steam fire engine.  They served as a steam fire engine company until March 15, 1871 when Philadelphia’s paid fire department was established.

Object: Helmet

Parade Hat: Image from the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian.

Date: February 1, 1847 

Event:  Independence Fire Engine Company No. 39 was instituted.

The Independence Fire Engine Company No. 39, located in the Spring Garden District of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was founded on February 1, 1847.  With its motto “We Honor the Founders of the Name We Bear,” the Independence operated as a hand engine company until 1863, when it acquired a steam fire engine.  They served as a steam fire engine company until March 15, 1871 when Philadelphia’s paid fire department was established.

January 25, 1799

Event: The Philadelphia Fire Company No. 18 was instituted.

The Philadelphia Fire Company No. 18, located at 3rd and Spruce Streets, Philadelphia, PA, was organized on January 25, 1799. It operated as a hand engine company until 1861, when it acquired a steam fire engine. Philadelphia Fire served as a steam fire engine company until 1870, when they were dismissed by the City Council.

Object: Parade Hat

October 31, 1831

Event: Lafayette Hose Company No. 22 was instituted.

The Lafayette Hose Company No. 22, was founded on October 31, 1831 in the Kensington section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The company’s motto was “Like Lafayette, we will assist in time of need” and was active until 1871 when Philadelphia’s paid fire department was established.

Object: High front piece

October 28, 1857

Event: Kingsessing Fire Company No. 43/44 was instituted.

The Kingsessing Fire Company No. 43/44, was founded on October 28, 1857 in the southwestern area of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 1860 it was admitted to the Philadelphia Fire Department, which, at that time, was manned by the volunteer fire companies. The Kingsessing Fire was active as a hand engine company until 1871 when Philadelphia’s paid fire department was established.

Object: High front piece

From the Collection of Ryan TreDenick

October 1 – 4, 1907

Event: 28th Annual Convention of the Pennsylvania State Firemen’s Association, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Known at that time as the Bureau of Fire, the Philadelphia delegation of over 200 former and active firemen was headed by its Chief Engineer, James Baxter, Jr., shown on the left and the Assistant Chief Engineer, Edward A. Waters.   It was reported that a large fire occurred during a gala ball for the delegates and many rushed to the fire in evening dress covered by overcoats. As they returned, they were congratulated and were given smiles of approval by their dance partners.

September 26, 1856

Event: Cohocksink Hose Company No. 43/44 was instituted.

The Cohocksink Hose Company No. 43/44 was founded on September 26, 1856 in the North East section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and had the motto, “The danger of our citizens prompts us to action.” The Cohocksink purchased a steam fire engine in 1860 and operated as a hose and steam fire engine company. They were active until 1865 when the Cohocksink sold its steam fire engine and equipment to the Resolution Hose Company No. 3 and retired.

Object: Presentation Trumpet to David M. Lyle, Chief Engineer, Philadelphia Fire Department.

From the Collection of Lee Ryan

Image from the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian

September 25, 1851

Event: Eagle Fire Hose Company was instituted.

The Eagle Fire Hose Company was organized on September 25, 1851 in the Penn District of Philadelphia County, which was incorporated into Philadelphia in 1854. The Eagle Fire Hose Company no doubt retired at that time as they did not apply for membership into the newly organized Philadelphia Fire Department that was manned by the volunteer fire companies.

August 19, 1833

Event: Marion Hose Company No. 23 is instituted.

The Marion Hose Company No. 23 was founded in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on August 19, 1833, and operated until March 15, 1871 when Philadelphia’s paid firefighting department was established.

Object: Membership Certificate
From the collection of Lee Ryan

August 17, 1975

Event: Gulf Refinery Fire

Eight members of the Philadelphia Fire Department perished as a result of the fire that took place on this day in 1975.

Lt. James J. Pouliot
John J. Andrews
Carroll K. Brenek
Ralph J. Campana
Robert J. Fisher
Hugh J. McIntyre
Roger T. Parker
Joseph R. Wiley

On August 17th 1975, a South Philadelphia refinery owned by the Gulf Oil Corporation caught fire. This 11 alarm fire raged for more than 24 hours. During the course of battling the fire, 8 Philadelphia Firefighters lost their lives, many more were injured.

On the 45th anniversary of this event in 2020, we gathered (virtually), to commemorate their heroic efforts. The program was recorded and can be found on our YouTube channel.

Terry Ruggles moderated the panel discussion. Firefighter, FHM Curator Brian Anderson, retired Deputy Chief Robert J. Marchisello, Captain John R. Higgins and retired Firefighter/Curator Henry J. Magee shared their stories.

August 17, 2020 Thanks to the Second Alarmers and Chief Masi who placed flowers on the memorial plaques this morning. The plaques are located in front of the museum on 2nd Street.

August 14, 1839

Event: Mechanic Fire Company No. 37 was instituted.

The Mechanic Fire Engine Company No. 26 was founded on August 14, 1839 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and operated as a hand engine company until it acquired a steam fire engine in 1859. It operated as a steam fire engine company until March 15, 1871 when Philadelphia’s paid firefighting department was established.

Object: Photo of George Scott, member of the Mechanic Fire Company No. 37.
From the collection of Lee Ryan

August 6, 1805

Event: Neptune Hose Company No. 6 instituted.

The Neptune Hose Company was founded on August 6th, 1805 in Philadelphia, PA. With its motto “To save our fellow citizens, we hazard ourselves” the company operated until March 15, 1871 when Philadelphia’s paid firefighting department was established.

July 4, 1791

Event: The Diligent Fire Engine Company No. 10 was instituted.

The Diligent Fire Engine Company No. 10 of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania was founded on July 4, 1791 and was located on the south side of Market Street near Eighth Street. Originally organized as a hand engine company, it acquired a steam fire engine in 1861 and operated as a steam fire engine company until March 15, 1871 when Philadelphia’s paid firefighting department was established.

July 12, 1851

Event: Spring Garden Fire Engine Company No. 41 was instituted.

The Spring Garden Fire Engine Company No. 41 was founded on July 12, 1851 in the Spring Garden section of Philadelphia. Originally organized as a hand engine company, whose motto was “Ever ready to assist the needy,” it acquired a steam fire engine in 1864. The Spring Garden operated as a steam fire engine company until March 15, 1871 when Philadelphia’s paid firefighting department was established. Engine 18 of the newly organized Philadelphia Fire Department occupied the former company’s building.

July 15, 1869

Event: The Fire Insurance Patrol (FIP) is placed in service. The patrol was created to service buildings that suffered water damage after a fire. Our Historian’s Blog has a full history. Read more and see the photos.

July 22, 1837
Event: Moyamensing Hose Company No. 27 was instituted.

The Moyamensing Hose Company No. 27 was founded on July 22, 1837 in the Moyamensing section of Philadelphia. With the adoption of steam fire engines by the hand engine companies the hose companies were required to acquire new hose lines because of the increased pressure. Around 1863, with an acknowledgement to the new firefighting technology, the “Moyas,” as they were known, adopted the name “Moyamensing Steam Forcing Hose Company” No. 27.

In an effort to deflect the consequences of a notorious riot caused by the Moyamensing with the Hibernia Fire Company in early 1870, the Moyamensing purchased and used the name of the “Philadelphia Hose Company No. 1” and operated out of their own firehouse. They served until March 15, 1871 when Philadelphia’s paid firefighting department was established.

Date: August 6, 1805

Event: Neptune Hose Company No. 6 was instituted.

The Neptune Hose Company was founded on August 6th, 1805 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. With its motto “To save our fellow citizens, we hazard ourselves” the company operated until March 15, 1871 when Philadelphia’s paid firefighting department was established.

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