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Burlington Firefighting

Burlington Firefighting

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Burlington Firefighting

161 pages
41 minutes
Sep 13, 2006


Burlington Firefighting richly illustrates the triumphs and tragedies, the hauntings and secrets of the Burlington Fire Department. Originating as a series of bucket brigades, the fire department developed from competing companies that served as elite social clubs into a professional organization that was incorporated in 1895. The transitions from hand-drawn to horse-drawn carts and pumpers to steam engines and motorized trucks largely shaped the evolution of firefighting in Vermont as a whole.
Sep 13, 2006

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As a graduate student in the University of Vermont�s Historic Preservation Program, Liisa Reimann conducted extensive research on Vermont firefighting and coauthored a work on Vermont firehouse design for the National Register of Historic Places. Burlington Firefighting grew from her desire to make the story of the Burlington Fire Department available to all, to spearhead a plan for the restoration of the city�s 1896 Fire Station No. 3�reputedly Vermont�s oldest functioning firehouse�and to pay tribute to the people and events that have shaped one of the best fire departments in Vermont.

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Burlington Firefighting - Liisa Reimann



The history of the Burlington Fire Department is an extremely rich one. It is intricately connected to the settlement and development of the city of Burlington. As the community grew in the 19th and 20th centuries, so did the institution of firefighting in general and the Burlington Fire Department specifically. It has been a process shaped by changes in technology, architecture, engineering politics, civic engagement, and economic forces.

Initial protection for the community was largely an informal system of independent fire companies, their formation usually prompted by a devastating fire often related to burgeoning local industries. Burlington’s early volunteer fire companies each had a fire warden whose authority at fires was supreme. Other members operated the apparatus or served as hook-and-ladder men or the bucket brigade. Two models of operation were generally employed: the first was a private, all-volunteer organization with little or no public support, although members were exempted from military duties and tax obligations. The second model was based on commercial sponsorship, with hose companies established to protect the interests of resident industries.

In 1866, when the City of Burlington was incorporated, the city paid for these existing companies’ firefighting equipment and operating expenses and installed a municipally paid chief engineer to oversee the volunteer force. The companies themselves, however, remained largely autonomous; they elected their officers and members, and they designed and paid for their own uniforms, among other things.

The year 1895 was a landmark one in which the department evolved from this variety of independent, rival volunteer companies into one cohesive, paid municipal department. It was a transition that presaged events in other Vermont communities, and it was spurred partly by two major fires that destroyed the J. R. Booth lumber mills and, embarrassingly, one of the city’s own fire stations.

One small book cannot possibly document the entire history of the Burlington Fire Department, which now spans over a century. There are many stories still to be told, and my hope is that this will be the first of many efforts to make them available.

A silent reminder hangs in the halls at Central Fire headquarters, on South Winooski Avenue.



The Burlington Fire Department can trace its roots back to 1808. Although it was not incorporated as a career organization until 1895, several bucket brigades and, later, private companies existed to provide fire protection before that time. The earliest of these was the Burlington Fire Company, which was incorporated in 1829 after a fire destroyed the old courthouse. Shown here is one of the original leather helmets worn by the Ethan Allen Fire Engine Company No. 4, which was formed in 1857.

The early fire companies were all male and functioned as elite social clubs throughout the 19th century. As companies grew, so did their pride and professionalism—along with the concept of brotherhood, still a strong element today. This poster advertised the First General Firemen’s Muster in Vermont, held in Burlington on July 2, 1858. The competition tested not only the firemen and their skills but also their apparatus.

Members of the Ethan Allen Fire Engine Company No. 4 pose on the corner of Church and Bank Streets in 1877. The company grew to be one of the most powerful of all the city’s private fire companies, with its fire warden Moses Murray becoming the chief engineer of the first paid Burlington Fire Department in 1895. In 1896, it was renamed the Ethan Allen Club by charter amendment of the legislature. The club is still in operation today.

This hand-drawn hose cart was a gift to the members of the Ethan Allen Engine Company by the Trojan Hook and Ladder Company No. 3 of Troy, New York, in 1874. It served for 21 years until 1895, when Burlington transitioned from an all-volunteer to a career fire department. In 1996, firemen belonging to the

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