On this day in history, Cincinnati established the first professional and fully paid fire department in the United States.
The department’s first chief, Miles Greenwood, pushed for a fire department after an 1852 fire destroyed much of his ironworks business. Rather than bemoaning his fate, he set about constructing, along with two other Cincinnati residents, the world’s first practical steam-powered fire engine. There had been earlier versions invented by others, but the Cincinnati engine could begin pumping water out of a water source much faster than the others, in only ten minutes.
The fire engine was presented to the Cincinnati Fire Department on Jan. 1, 1853, making Cincinnati the first city in the world to use steam fire engines. This first engine was named “Uncle Joe Ross” after a City Council member.
Firefighting was not new in the United States; even George Washington served at one time as a volunteer firefighter in Alexandria, Virginia.
However the United States did not have government-run fire departments until Cincinnati instituted the practice with 100% full-time, paid employees. Prior to this time, private fire brigades were used. Even as recently as 2010, some 70 percent of firefighters in the U.S. were volunteers.