Marking the nation's first volunteer fire company

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Right down Grindstone Alley in Old City between where a real estate company and dry cleaner now stand was the site of the Union Volunteer Fire Company. The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission recognizes it as the first volunteer fire company in the nation, which formed 275 years ago. Officials quite literally wanted to mark that achievement.

Noone was happier than Dr. Benjamin Franklin, who along with the Philadelphia Fire Commissioner unveiled the historical marker on Market Street. Dr. Franklin explained how he and several other artisans created the company which developed the idea of fire insurance and became a model for others across the nation.

Dr. Benjamin Franklin tells us, "When there was a fire, people didn't know what to do. So we decided we needed volunteers and set up a fire company so that we could be organized."

Since 1736 there have certainly been a lot of changes - look no further than the fire engines parked at today's celebration. Their first fire engine was no more than a wagon with a supply of water and a pump.

But the spirit of volunteerism to protect citizens continues to this day. Departments have since grown in size and in capabilities, including being proactive when it comes to fire safety.

Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers says, "Being proactive, smoke alarms, one on every level...just following the good order of Benjamin Franklin."

The historical marker placed at the building today is the latest of around 2000 markers across the state - each with an important link to the past. And officials here say the hope is to not just educated passersby, but provide encouragement for future discussion and study.

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