Ben Franklin and the Fire Department

Did you know that in 1736, Benjamin Franklin started the first fire department ever? It was located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, it was called the Union Fire Company.

Ben Franklin lived in Boston until he was eighteen years old. While he lived in Boston, the city had major fires in 1653 and 1676. After the fire in 1676, Boston purchased a London pumper. The city then hired Thomas Atkins and twelve other men to fight fires. These were the first paid firefighters in the United States. At the age of six, Benjamin Franklin witnessed another major fire in 1711. One hundred ten families lost their homes.

In 1682, the city of Philadelphia was founded by William Penn. When determining where to locate the city Penn gave careful thought to the dangers of fire. 

In 1718, Philadelphia bought its first engine. It was named The Shag Rag but it was not put into service until 1730 when Philadelphia had a fire that destroyed much of the commercial district along the river.

In 1733, Ben Franklin often wrote about the dangers of fire and the need for organized fire protection in his newspaper The Pennsylvania Gazette. Ben Franklin was familiar with Boston’s Mutual Fire Societies which were also known as “Fire Clubs.” But the “Fire Clubs” existed for the protection of its members, not for everyone in the community.

After a huge fire in Philadelphia in 1736, Franklin created a fire brigade called The Union Fire Company with 30 volunteers. The first full-fledged volunteer firefighter in America was Isaac Paschall. The idea of volunteer fire brigades gained popularity. These citizens were able to afford to purchase equipment and pay fines for missing meetings and fires.

Some famous Americans who served as volunteer firefighters were: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Paul Revere, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, John Barry, Aaron Burr, Benedict Arnold, James Buchanan and Millard Fillmore also served as volunteer firemen.

Now that you have read the story of Ben Franklin and the fire department, take the quiz below.


1.  Was Ben Franklin concerned about Fire Safety in Philadelphia?  Yes or No?

2.  Ben Franklin saw a major fire in 1711.  How old was Ben at that time?  

3.  Did Ben Franklin write about his concern about Fire Safety in his newspaper?

4.  Write the name of the First Volunteer Fireman in America.

5.  Is being a fireman dangerous?  Yes or No?

6.  Are having fireman important? Yes or No?

7.  Do you think the fire equipment now is the same as in the time of Ben Franklin?  

8.   How do you think they put out fires long ago? .

9.   How do you think they put out fires now?   

10. Would you like to be a fireman? Explain why or why not. .