By Ryan Peters, Fire Captain Aptos / La Selva Fire District
What a ride! I’ve been privileged and fortunate enough to spend the last 18 years of my life providing public safety and service to this great community. Serving as a Firefighter/Paramedic from 2000-2014 and now presently as a Fire Captain with the Aptos-La Selva Fire District, I have been blessed to be a part of an organization steeped in rich history and tradition. Ask any Firefighter, and they’ll be all too happy to tell you that this is indeed the best job in the world.
As we get into fall, I wanted to switch gears a bit and talk about the history of the American Fire Service. We’d have to hop in our time machine and go back to the times of the US colonies. After the great Boston conflagration in 1631, smoking in public places was banned by the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In 1647, New Amsterdam (what is now lower Manhattan in NY) established the US colonies first firefighting system. It was based on preventing fires and Fire Wardens would inspect homes and chimneys for fire safety. When a fire was detected, there were eight person teams called a Rattle Watch who would then shake loud wooden rattles to alert townspeople of the danger.
The first water pumping fire engines were imported to New York in the 1730’s. In 1736 Benjamin Franklin founded the first volunteer fire brigade in Philadelphia. Franklin was truly a founding father of the Fire Service. His ingenuity and push for bringing community together for increased fire safety has had a lasting effect on how modern Fire Departments operate today. Other notable early Firefighters are George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Hancock, Samuel Adams, and Paul Revere.
In 1818, the first female Firefighter made her way to prominence in New York. Molly Williams, during a major blizzard, took her place with the men and, using drag ropes, pulled a fire engine through heavy deep snow to the scene of a fire. She was immediately recognized and included in the company for her service and bravery. Other important female Firefighters included Marina Betts who volunteered in Pittsburgh during the 1820’s and Lillie Hitchcock Coit – for whom the Coit Tower is named – who in 1863 was a member of the Knickerboxer Engine Company No. 5 in San Francisco. She was a key part in fighting a large fire on Telegraph Hill that year.
The professionalization of the American Fire Service was the result of the invention of steam-powered fire engines, fire insurance companies, and public demand for improved fire safety and fire service delivery. Before 1850, volunteer fire companies or fire brigades were the norm. In 1853, the Cincinnati Fire Department in Ohio became the first full time paid career fire department in the nation. Today, while there are still many volunteer fire departments, most cities and municipalities employ full time career firefighters.
The modern Fire Service has come a long way since the days of Ben Franklin and bucket brigades. In the 20th Century, the nature of a firefighters job changed drastically. The Firefighters you see today are trained on managing and mitigating a wide spectrum of incident types. For example, in the early days a firefighter may only have been trained on structural firefighting principles. Today’s firefighter will train on how to safely and efficiently manage fires, rescues, confined spaces, hazardous materials, emergency medical incidents, mass casualty incidents, terrorism, active shooter incidents, vehicle accidents, while at the same time focusing on public outreach programs and prevention. All of this is based on a mission of providing a safe community for the citizens. A safe and prepared community is a successful community.
The American Fire Service responds to a fire approximately every 23 seconds and responds to nearly 34 million calls for service annually.
Since 1980, thanks to new standards in fire prevention and building construction, annual calls for fires have decreased from just over 3 million to just under 2 million. During that same time period, medical calls have increased from 5 million to nearly 20 million calls annually.
On average, there are approximately 150 firefighter line of duty deaths each year. Firefighter injuries average just under 70 thousand per year with nearly 30 thousand of those injuries occurring on the scene of a fire.
Currently in the United States, there are nearly 1.2 million Firefighters working in over 27 thousand Fire Departments which respond from nearly 60 thousand fire stations across the country.
As for your Aptos-La Selva Fire District, we represent 34 dedicated men and women of the American Fire Service who are fortunate enough to serve this amazing community. Each of our three stations is, at all times, staffed with a three-person crew who are on duty for 48-hour shifts. As always, our crews are always happy to answer any questions you may have about the fire service or community safety issues.
Stay safe and happy fall!