benjamin franklin

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timeline: 1736
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portrait: Franklin in fire helmet
Benjamin Franklin in fire helmet of the fire company he founded
The strict fire and building codes we have today were unknown in eighteenth century America. Most houses were built of wood and heated by open hearths and fireplaces. The danger of fire raging throughout a town or city was ever present. Some cities, such as Boston, established loosely organized fire fighting companies to help prevent disaster.

Never one to let a hot idea go up in smoke, Franklin suggested that Philadelphia should have fire-fighting clubs modeled after the ones in Boston. After writing about it in the Gazette and discussing it with members of the Junto, he organized the Union Fire Company, which was incorporated in 1736.

Members of the fire company pledged to help one another should fire break out or threaten one of their homes or businesses. Not only would they attempt to put out the flames, members would also help save goods within the building and protect the building from looters. Members were not required to help protect properties of non-members.

Members had to provide at least two buckets for carrying water and several cloth bags for carrying items rescued from the fire. The original twenty-five members of the group met once a month to discuss fire-fighting techniques, to establish company policies, and, of course, to socialize.

Soon fire companies and clubs sprang up all over Philadelphia and most of the city fell under the protection of one or another of the companies—yet another civic improvement brought to us by the work of Benjamin Franklin.

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