January 17, 1706 - Benjamin Franklin, Father of the American Fire Service was born in Boston 1/17/2023


Aug 8, 2009
January 17, 1706 - Benjamin Franklin, Father of the American Fire Service was born in Boston.


The man who established the first volunteer fire department also invented bifocals, wrote and printed Poor Richard’s Almanac, studied electricity and helped draft the Declaration of Independence. His name was Benjamin Franklin. The first volunteer fire department began in Philadelphia in 1736.

After an extensive fire in Philadelphia in 1736, Franklin established the first all-volunteer fire brigade which was known as The Union Fire company which was comprised of 30 volunteers. As the idea of volunteer fire brigades gained popularity, additional companies were formed in Philadelphia. Each of the companies paid for their own equipment and located it throughout town at strategic places.

The strict fire and building codes we have today were unknown in eighteenth century America. Most houses were built of wood and heated by open hearths and fireplaces. The danger of fire raging throughout a town or city was ever present. Some cities, such as Boston, established loosely organized fire fighting companies to help prevent disaster.

Never one to let a hot idea go up in smoke, Franklin suggested that Philadelphia should have fire-fighting clubs modeled after the ones in Boston. After writing about it in the Gazette and discussing it with members of the Junto, he organized the Union Fire Company, which was incorporated in 1736.

Members of the fire company pledged to help one another should fire break out or threaten one of their homes or businesses. Not only would they attempt to put out the flames, members would also help save goods within the building and protect the building from looters. Members were not required to help protect properties of non-members.

Members had to provide at least two buckets for carrying water and several cloth bags for carrying items rescued from the fire. The original twenty-five members of the group met once a month to discuss fire-fighting techniques, to establish company policies, and, of course, to socialize.

Soon fire companies and clubs sprang up all over Philadelphia and most of the city fell under the protection of one or another of the companies—yet another civic improvement brought to us by the work of Benjamin Franklin.

Franklin often wrote about the dangers of fire and the need for organized fire protection. He was dissatisfied though with Boston’s Mutual Fire Societies (also known as "Fire Clubs") because the "Fire Clubs" existed solely for the protection of its members, not the community at large. Franklin wanted organizations that would battle all fires, regardless of whose property was burning.

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

Volunteer firefighters played and continue to play an invaluable role in protecting lives and property.

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Photo: #1 Benjamin Franklin


# 2 The Philadelphia Contributionship firemark mid1800s.

Philip Syng, along with Benjamin Franklin, was one of the first 12 directors of the company. He also designed The Contributionship’s logo: four hands clasping each other in support. The company made cast iron fire marks of that logo and required policy holders to affix them to the front of their houses. The fire marks probably got more attention from those same volunteer fire companies that the directors were all members of than houses not displaying the logo. The less fire damage, the less the payout, so it was in their self-interest to put out Contributionship-insured properties as quickly as possible. Despite that thumb on the scale, the volunteer firefighters still put out fires on all buildings, insured or not. They would simply present the property owner or another insurer with a bill for services rendered.


#3 Benjamin Franklin Firefighters National Silver Medal

The issuance of these medals was authorized under Public Law 102-406 signed into law on October 12, 1992 by President Bush. The legislation provided for the minting of medals in commemoration of Benjamin Franklin and to enact a fire service bill of rights.




by Jack Campbell