"Much more equipment and information than I was hoping to see and read." That was my parting comment to the staff member at the ticket counter in the Hall of Flame Museum of Firefighting in Phoenix.
The Museum is dedicated to preserving and sharing the history of firefighting, offering around 100 completely restored pieces of firefighting equipment dating back to 1725.
In 1737, New York City purchased one of identical size as its first fire engine. Commonly supplied with water by bucket brigade, it could pump 20 gallons per minute.
The Hall of Flame with its series of large, open galleries is made for a leisurely walk around the exhibits--in this case fire-fighting rigs, some that date back centuries.
Its compact design allowed firemen to lift it from its chassis and carry it to the seat of a small fire, such as on an estate or a ship.
We were especially interested in the older equipment, and the Museum provided the opportunity to trace the evolution of the fire engine, from pipsqueak hand-drawn carts to behemoth V-16 aerial ladder trucks.
Pistons in each of the pump’s two cylinders suck water in on the pump handle’s up stroke and push it out on the down stroke.
Etched in my mind is an image of a firehouse with every piece of equipment in its proper condition and storage place, ready for immediate access. And at the center of this attention is the fire engine, so, as expected, virtually every item is displayed in its original spit-polish glamor.
Most English estates had their own brigades, which also fought village fires.
Howard and Davis was a clock making firm which manufactured a few fire engines. The engine was equipped to be pulled to fires by its crews. (The use of horses to pull the engines was too expensive for volunteer companies.)
One of Newsham’s largest models, a crew of 20 men worked its handles and its foot treadles to pump about 60 gallons of water per minute. This is the oldest piece of equipment in the Museum.
Beyond merely polishing the engines, great pride was taken in decorative work on engines. I was not aware of the presence of elaborate hand-painted scrollwork on the horse-drawn rigs, and yards of gaudy chrome on the modern engines. Fire companies sometimes spent thousands of dollars on such decorative options as a big, clangy bell. Consequently, most fire engines--despite their hard jobs--are kept in excellent shape.
Built by the Philadelphia firm of Joel Bates for Pawtucket, RI, and re-built four years later by Pawtucket fireman William Jeffers, it could pump 250 gallons per minute. The art of the rig’s “condenser box,” is original. It portrays Rebecca, the wife of Isaac, at a well; St. Euphemia, a patron saint of firemen; the state seal of Rhode Island, with the state motto (“Hope”); and a New England sachem.
In 1871, the Badger Volunteer fire Company of Centerville, WI, moved its little Rumsey by train to Chicago to help fight the Chicago fire.
This engine carries its suction hose “squirrel style” on a graceful crane neck frame. The attached hose cart, called a “jumper,” provides several hundred feet of hose.
This engine was introduced in 1890 and remained popular until about 1915. Its 50 gallon water tank allowed firemen to get water on a fire at once. Its double acting pump could deliver up to 100 gallons of water per minute.
Made to be drawn by hand, this wagon had room for a half dozen beam ladders ranging in size from 10 to 20 feet in length. The wagon also carried buckets, helmets, and a variety of axes and pike poles.
It’s a good example of the level of decoration that volunteers favored and which carried over to the rigs of the professional fire services. Largest size pumper made by Rumsey, it could supply two discharge hoses with up to 150 gallons of water per minute. However, to achieve this output, a company of about 30 men would have to work the pump handles at 60 strokes per minute—a pace that could not be maintained for longer than a few minutes.