When the Gong Rings
A Fire History of Charleston, Illinois


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11.   ABOUT THE FIRE HORSES MANUALLY PULLED TO HORSES

 

p. 10 (1st Page)   p. 11  p.12    p.13     p.14     p.15

A BIT OF AMERICAN HISTORY WITH THE FIRE-HORSES

Charleston Daily News reporter, Lee Lynch, in 1941, made a comment about the retirement of Charleston's old fire horses, Tom 8c Alex. I developed a bit of interest about the days of horse driven wagons, carts and buggies. Old 1898 pictures of Charleston show a variety of such vehicles. It would not be until 1915 or so, that gasoline engine-powered vehicles would hit the brick streets of Charleston. The horse would reign until 1918, with the Charleston Fire Department, No one is around anymore to tell me personally of the horses of the CFD, so I have reviewed articles and books about fire horses, mostly from San Francisco, California. That city in the ISOO's had a glorious fire department with majestic horse teams on its steamers, ladder trucks, hose-carts. The fire horse would get its start at the Pennsylvania Fire House #12, of San Francisco. This old Victorian design fire house was the busiest in the mostly wood structure city of San Francisco.

 

A "SPIKE TEAM" OF THREE MATCHED BLACK HORSES

In August of 1863, the perfectly matched team1 of three large black horses were taken out of the station harnessed to the new steamer in the fire house. The horses, steamer and driver would travel the rough, very hilly streets around the fire house. Many practice runs were made, until the first actual fire call by horse driven fire truck would be made later in the fall of 1863. The horses proved themselves to be very valuable in providing very quick responses to fires in the cities.

 

 

MANUALLY-PULLED FIRE WAGONS WERE IN STYLE WITH ALL FIRE DEPARTMENTS BEFORE HORSES

Large cities and small rural communities

used manually-pulled carts and wagons to deliver fire protection. The speed and effectiveness of manual machines were very slow. Often the fire would be out of control before the firemen would get there. It took a long time to discover the value of horses. Charleston was just like all other departments. It had two hose carts and a hook & ladder truck, all manual. Finally, horses were attached to the Babcock Hook & Ladder. The men could ride on the truck, but the carts still had to be pulled (by hand). Most fire departments in America were manned by volunteers, and probably still are. Volunteers would periodically practice using the equipment and hauling it around. Volunteers were a special breed. They had to be dedicated to the cause of fighting fires and saving lives, but had full-time jobs in the community to occupy most of their time. When the fire bell would ring, in San Francisco or Charleston, the volunteers would have to run to the station, gather and find out where the fire alarm was, and then make another run to the scene. [See the excerpts from the manual for training fire brigades]. Charleston, in the 1880's had three independent brigades. The city council appointed a chief, who would have complete authority, but each brigade would try to out-do the other in speed and job done. Competition was common between fire brigades.

 

CHARLESTON FIRE HORSE HISTORY VAGUE

Many good pictures are available of the Babcock and its two-horse team, but details of how the horses were trained and cared for are few. Melvin Taylor left a few notes, indicating that there was a harness system in the 500 Jackson Fire House. The old Fire House, as I can remember had some special features, including a hose drying tower and a

 


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