061. Firehouse

One week after the Chicago Fire of 1871, a member of the Chicago Board of Public Works wrote to his brother: “Our beautiful city is in ruins. The greatest calamity that ever befell a city is upon us. Boastful Chicago lies prostrate and with outstretched arms in begging of her sister cities for relief.” The sister city of Naperville came to the aid of Chicago. People went door to door soliciting food for the relief effort. But the glow of flames that could be seen even across 28 miles of prairie sent a jarring message to Naperville: the town was fast outgrowing its bucket brigade. Even so, it took three years—and one big fire—before the modern fire pumper, named the “Little Joe Naper,” was purchased for $1,752.00. Owning a pumper was one thing, operating it was another. A Hook and Ladder Company, comprised of a fire marshal and volunteers, was formed. When the fire bell rang, they rushed to the firehouse, which was often just a shed or garage large enough to store the pumper. There, they harnessed the ropes on the side of the pumper to their shoulders and hauled it to the fire. The intake hose was hooked up to any nearby water source, perhaps a cistern, stream or well. The outtake hose, pressurized from the hand pumping of the firemen, blasted out 250 gallons of water a minute—smothering flames with a force that no human chain of buckets passed hand-to-hand could match.