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Hall of Flame Museum, Part 1

I am sure everyone has that place that they pass frequently, thinking that you should stop there sometime to check it out, but never do. For me that has been the Hall of Flame Museum in Phoenix on the way to the Desert Botanical Garden. Guess what — after 20 years of passing by, I finally stopped there, camera in hand. And what a place it is — filled with fascinating antique firefighting equipment dating back to 1730.

In fact, this photo if of that oldest piece in the museum, a Newsham 4th Size Hand Pumper. Back in the days when big cities were forming and most buildings were made of wood, it became obvious that some method of fighting fires had to be instituted to avoid having the whole city burn down and rebuilt over and over. This particular device is basically a pump operated by fire fighters raising and lowering the horizontal bars on both sides. Water was generally provided by bucket brigades and could be projected at about 20 gallons per minute, roughly the output of a pair of garden hoses.

Engravings hang on the walls which show a firefighting operation using a slightly larger pumper. As cities began to install wooden pipes (hollowed out logs) to carry water to residents, the source of water changed from buckets to those pipes. However, whenever water was needed, the firefighters would have to dig to the pipe, drill a hole which allowed water to be extracted. After the fire was extinguished, the pipe would be plugged and reburied. In fact, the modern term "fire plug" came from those plugs. Obviously, modern fire hydrants are much more convenient.

Also on display were models of some of those early pumpers. Note that most of these were pulled by people, not horses. Fire departments were run on a shoestring and horses were too expensive. Part-time firefighters were cheaper even as draft animals.

Here is displayed a Newsham 6th Size Estate Engine from about 1750. This one was smaller and intended for use on an estate, factory or ship. Note that the pumper itself could be lifted from the chassis and carried to the site of a fire which might be inaccessible to the carriage.

Another etching shows a fire brigade pulling a pumper from its station by a crew of firefighters.

Next is an American Hydraulic Company Rotary Pumper, nicknamed "Coffee Grinder". The pumper required a crew of eight to 10 men and supplied a large volume of water at low pressure. If the crew attempted to use a hose nozzle with a smaller orifice to provide higher pressure, the effort to turn the pumper became excessive. Thus, these were not very widely used despite their simplicity.

This is a pumper used in Japan during the 1800s. It was designed to allow the firefighters to get close to the fire. Water was provided by buckets and passed through a bamboo spout.

In this wall case are uniforms worn by Japanese firefighters. Mizuki tells me that the words mean "firefighter" with the name of the fire brigade.

A second example of Japanese firefighting equipment was the next display. This item was used in the neighborhood of Kyoto. Once Japan opened up to trading with European and American merchants, it quickly adapted western firefighting technology. Within 30 years, their fire equipment was as good as that used in any nation.

Another etching — this one showing Japanese firefighters using the equipment above.

Next is a Merryweather Hand Drawn Estate Pumper from England, dated 1838. It was built for the Earl of Harrington's estate in Derbyshire. The Earl's coat of arms and the motto "For God and King" are on the end piece. Most English estates had their own brigades, which also were used to fight village fires.

Today, most of us are used to fire departments which are provided by the city or county in which we reside, all supported by taxes. In the 1800s, fire brigades were formed as profit-making ventures. If you or insurance company wanted fire protection, you paid a fee for coverage. In order to identify which homes and businesses were insured, medallions were made and posted on the property. And, yes, if you did not pay for coverage, they would allow your structure to burn to the ground while the firefighters watched, making sure the fire did not spread to those properties that were covered by their brigade.

To be continued...

Life is good.

B. David

P. S., All photos and text © B. David Cathell Photography, Inc. — www.bdavidcathell.com