Organized fire fighting began in New York in 1648 when the first Fire Ordinance was adopted by the Dutch Settlement of New Amsterdam. Fines levied for dirty chimneys provided funds for the maintenance of buckets, hooks and ladders. It also established a fire watch of eight Wardens and required that each male citizen stand his turn on watch.
After the first Wardens were appointed, an organization known as the Prowlers was formed and furnished with buckets, hooks and ladders. Often called the rattle watch, they patrolled the streets on the lookout for fire from nine o'clock at night until dawn.
When the colonists were organized in 1658, bucket brigades were formed and equipped with 250 leather buckets made by Dutch shoemakers of the colony. Thus, our first inauspicious beginning was made. Seven years later, in 1664, the colony became a British settlement and was renamed New York.
It was not until 74 years later, in 1731, that fire brigades were put into service. Two hand-drawn pumpers, brought from distant London were the first fire engines to be used in the colony. They were designated as Engine Company 1 and Engine Company 2. All able bodied citizens were required to respond to alarms and perform duty under the supervision of the Aldermen.
Faced with the problem of a fast growing colony, the General Assembly established the volunteer Fire Department of the City of New York, in December of 1737. Able, discreet and sober men were appointed as firemen to be ready for service by night and day and be diligent, industrious and vigilant.
Following the Revolutionary War, the Department was reorganized and incorporated as the FireDepartment of the City of New York.
The volunteer Fire Department continued to protect the lives and property of the citizens of the city until after the close of the Civil War when, in 1865, they were superseded by the paid Metropolitan Fire Department. The change created resentment and bitter actions were taken by some who opposed the elimination of the volunteers. This resulted in rough and tumble battles fought on both personal and political levels.
The introduction of the steam engine spelled the final doom of the volunteer department in New York. The steam apparatus eliminated the need for men to pump the water, and the horses ended the problem of hauling engines by hand.