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Brief History of Firefighting: TFFD has 200-year legacy

Updated: Jan 23, 2022

This article first appeared in the December edition of Today Magazine, our monthly publication

By Ethan Guo — Special to Today Magazine

THE UNITED STATES has a history charred by ruinous fires. The very first English settlement in the Americas, Jamestown, burned to the ground four times in less than 90 years.

Unfortunately, public services such as the fire department were simply not available during colonial times. Instead, firefighting was left up to the people and their water buckets.

Benjamin Franklin, having witnessed many fires firsthand, was inspired to co-found the Union Fire Company in 1736, creating the first volunteer fire department in the United States.

Proclaiming that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” Franklin’s Union Fire Company would inspire the creation of numerous other independent fire companies in the United States.

The town of Farmington once had four independent fire companies to bring fire support to citizens in a more speedy manner. The four original independent departments were the Farmington Fire Department (1803), Tunxis Hose Company #1 (1893), Oakland Gardens Fire Department (1943) and East Farmington Volunteer Fire Department (1944).

These four companies combined in 1994 under the Town of Farmington Fire Department (TFFD), joining over 200 years of firefighting history.

Between the inception of the first Farmington fire department and today, the organization has evolved both technologically and logistically. The very first firefighters employed horse-drawn engines with hand-pumped hoses, so they were slow to arrive at emergencies compared with today’s fire trucks. Thus, the more obvious improvements included faster transportation, more powerful hoses and implementation of the internet.

“We have learned the inner workings of fire and how it reacts, providing us with better tactics for extinguishment” — Steve Hoffmann • Farmington Fire Department

However, many lesser-known but impactful changes have also been instituted that both facilitate firefighting and protect the health of firefighters.

“In the 22 years I have been in firefighting, there have been substantial changes and enhancements,'' says Steve Hoffmann, TFFD’s director of fire & rescue services. “The gear back in the day was a long jacket, three-quarter boots and a helmet. While this was better than nothing, it was a thin layer between the firefighter and the fire. Today, we have full turnout gear consisting of pants, jacket, hood, gloves, boots, etcetera. Within the turnout gear are protective barriers to protect the firefighter from heat, smoke, etcetera.”

Furthermore, SCBA (Self Contained Breathing Apparatus) has made it possible for firefighters to breathe in a fire and protect themselves from the dangers of smoke and the byproducts of combustion.

Prior to SCBA, firefighters had no fresh-air apparatus, so they would have to get close to the nozzle in order to inhale the air that came out along with the water. They would stay low, but that only provided so much fresh air to breathe. The development of modern equipment that is both more protective and effective has been essential to firefighters in recent years.

“We see fires burning hotter and growing faster with the increased use of plastics and many of the synthetics in most household items,” says Hoffmann, noting that many of the resulting gases can cause cancer.

Throughout the centuries, firefighting has undergone substantial changes. Fires can still become unstoppable infernos, but with modern firefighting technology and highly trained officers, people today don’t have to rely on water buckets or stand around powerless as fires ravage cities and steal lives.

Yet the field continues to change.

“Through laboratories, we train on fire behavior, ventilation, etcetera,” says Hoffmann. “We have learned the inner workings of fire and how it reacts, providing us with better tactics for extinguishment.”

Just as doctors must always adapt to mutating diseases, firefighters must continue adjusting as old problems take on new and unprecedented forms. +

• An Avon resident, Ethan Guo is a junior at Loomis Chaffee School in Windsor

• Today Magazine editor-in-chief Bruce Deckert contributed to this story

• This article was first published in the December 2021 edition of Today Magazine, our monthly publication


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