Philadelphia has a New Fire Commissioner

Fireman’s Hall Museum is pleased to congratulate Deputy Commissioner Derrick Sawyer on his impending promotion to Fire Commissioner.  He has been with the department since 1985 and worked his way up through every officer rank in that time. Derrick Sawyer is currently Deputy Commissioner of Operations of the Philadelphia Fire Department and succeeds Lloyd Ayers who has served for almost 10 years as Commissioner. Sawyer has held many positions in the department, including head of the Fire Prevention Division, of which Fireman’s Hall Museum is a part.

Commissioner Ayers & Dep. Commissioner Sawyer kick off the 2013 Muster

Retiring Commissioner Lloyd Ayers (left) and soon-to-be Commissioner Derrick Sawyer (right) kick of the 2013 Fireman’s Hall Museum Muster

Derrick Sawyer will be the 18th Fire Commissioner of the paid Philadelphia Fire Department. That number includes the predecessors to the modern Commissioner, the Chief Engineers, who served in the same role as Commissioner between 1871 and 1952.

William H. Johnson served as the first Chief Engineer of the then newly created paid Philadelphia Fire Department from 1871-1879. His first task as Chief Engineer was a particularly unique one as he oversaw the transition from a volunteer system to a city-wide paid department. Many of the new firemen sworn in on March 15, 1871 were former volunteers but not all of their volunteer colleagues supported the development of the paid department. Some ex-volunteers were even suspected of starting fires in the city in protest of the new paid department.

Reaney, Neafie & Co Steam Fire Engine (1857)

Reany, Neafie & Co Steam Fire Engine (1857) – the oldest steam fire engine in America. This engine served the Philadelphia Hose Co. #1 until 1871 when Philadelphia founded its paid fire department. This engine was then used by the Phila. Fire Insurance Patrol until 1926 when it was retired after almost 70 years in service!

We wish Derrick Sawyer the best of luck in following the paths of William Johnson and the 16 other men who have held the position.

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