Take a wild ride into the history of fire fighting at the incredible North Charleston and American LaFrance Fire Museum. It’s exhilarating for kids, mind blowing for adults and super-sized fun for the entire family. Children get in for free, you pay $6 admission. The museum is open Monday to Saturday from 10AM to 5PM.
Fire fighting evolution and trivia
First organized fire fighting- The first Roman fire brigade was formed by slaves hired by Marcus Egnatius Rufus. Augustus Caesar built upon this idea and created the Corps of Vigils in AD 6 to combat fires using bucket brigades, pumps, poles and hooks. They introduce the technique of bringing down buildings in advance of a fire. It’s believed the terms “hook” and “hook and ladder” originated from them.
Founded in 1607, Jamestown was the first English settlement in the New World and first to have organized fire fighting. Some colonists served with the London fire brigades back in England and understood the importance of fire protection. After a disastrous fire in 1607 the settlers set up fire prevention rules, the source of today’s municipal fire codes.
Fire Insurance Marks – Iron emblems were installed on buildings to identify property protected by fire insurance. A fire brigade would only fight fire if their company had actually insured that building. Started in 1752 the mark with the hands clasping cuffs is the oldest in America. Only 2 examples of the lead hands are known to still exist.
The second cast iron mark was issued in 1838 by the Fire Insurance Company of Columbia. You can see one example today on George Washington’s headquarters in D.C.
First fire insurance company - Benjamin Franklin was an early proponent of mutual fire insurance. In 1751 he joined forces with other fire fighting companies to form the Philadelphia Contributorship, the first successful fire insurance company in America. The initial policies lasted 7 years and all the money paid in was returned if no fire occurred on the insured property.
Most Devastating Fires
Ancient Rome - In July AD 64 a ravaging fire destroyed two thirds of Rome. Legend has it Emperor Nero is to blame for the conflagration and that he may have even allowed the fire to burn freely. It is believed the fire started in the merchant shops near Circus Maximus, Rome’s largest chariot stadium. The fire burnt for six days and seven nights leveling palaces, temples…everything is its path.
The Great Fire of London - One of Nostradamus’ fulfilled prophecies was the 1666 London fire. On September 2, a small fire broke out in Thomas Farynor’s bakery in Pudding Lane.
The fire spread quickly leaping from one wooden structure to another. As it reached the wharves the fire exploded fueled by the oil, coal, timber from the warehouses. It continued untouched for more than 3 days until it died on its own. Most of the city was destroyed, including over 13,000 houses, 89 churches and 52 Company Halls. The venerable Old St. Paul’s Cathedral was nothing but rubble.
320 years later the Baker’s Company issued an apology for the fire.
The Great Charleston Fire – On the night of December 11, 1861 just eight months into the Civil War church bells rang out with fury in Charleston, South Carolina.
“The fire broke out at about 9 o’clock in the evening of the 11th in RUSSELL & OLD’S sash and blind factory, at the foot of Hazel-street. Before midnight the fire had assumed an appalling magnitude, and Meeting-street, from Market to Queen, was one mass of flame. As tenement after tenement was enveloped in flames, the panic became awful, and thousands of families evacuated their houses and filled the streets.”
The Great Charleston Fire swept through the city burning 600 houses, including every public building in the city, and property valued at $7,000,000. Its victims include the Theater, the old Executive Building, the Circular Church and nearby Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. John.
Early 1900s San Francisco and New York – On April 18, 1906 the earth opened up for 270 miles along the Saint Andrea Fault. The 8.5 Richter scale earthquake shook San Francisco to its core and destroyed all of the city’s water mains. Fires broke out all over the city. The fire ended after 3 days when fire fighters dynamited entire blocks in an effort to starve it out. 2800 people died.
On May 25, 1911, 146 mostly immigrant works died in a horrific fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Co. in New York due to unsafe conditions and inadequate escape routes. This tragic event led to passing of significant laws on work safety rules.
Here’s a list and a customized map with affordable and fun family attractions in and around Charleston.
Have a great time in the City of Ghosts!
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