Patrolling the Delaware: Philadelphia’s Fireboats

Fireman’s Hall Museum is currently revamping our fireboat exhibit and in doing our research, we realized many people don’t know much about fireboats but they’re some of the most unique and interesting fire apparatus that a city can have!

The current front of the museum's fireboat exhibit. The city skyline backdrop was updated in 2014.

The current front of the museum’s fireboat exhibit. The city skyline backdrop was updated in 2014.

The Independence is the PFD’s newest fireboat and was put into service in 2007 but this new boat’s design does not waver much from the original fireboat, the Edwin S. Stuart, which was put into service in 1893. The boats were originally named after mayors, J. Hampton Moore, Bernard Samuels and Stuart were all Philadelphia mayors. Today, there are 3 Marine Fire Fighting Units in service, the Delaware, Independence and Benjamin Franklin. The boats pump 6,000 gallons of water per minute, which would fill an Olympic swimming pool in over an hour. They weigh around 88 tons – or the equivalent of 11.3 African elephant!

The Fireboat Independence putting on a water display at the Fireman's Hall Muster in October 2014

The Independence (Fireboat 1) putting on a water display at the Fireman’s Hall Muster in October 2014.

Come by the museum to find out more about fireboats and stay tuned for updates on our progress!

“The Bible” of the Philly Fire Department

Fireman’s Hall Museum houses one of the most precious artifacts of the Philadelphia Fire Department. The PFD “Bible” records the careers of every single person employed by the department from 1871 to 1955. The book itself measures 23 inches wide by 18 inches tall and about 2 inches thick.

The Philadelphia Fire Department 'Bible'

The Philadelphia Fire Department ‘Bible’

‘The Bible” of the PFD is the original personnel journal from the very first day of the paid fire department in Philly, March 15, 1871, up until 1955. The book is organized alphabetically so the two highlighted names in the photo below are among the first to be registered as part of the paid PFD (click the photo for a better look!)

First two men in the paid PFD

Page 1 of the ‘Bible’ with 2 of the first members of the paid department. These 2 men joined on March 15, 1871.

In 1955, the recording system changed to index cards and today there is a digital system used to record the careers of every person ever hired by the paid PFD.

A sample [page of the PFD 'Bible'

A sample page of the bible showing name, age, residence, occupation, position, station, date appointed and any notes about the person’s career.

The “Bible” records include everyone from  mechanics to matrons to secretaries. The records indicate every company served by any paid employee including dates of transfers, promotions and retirement.

It is an invaluable research tool for our genealogical research branch. If you are interested in tracing anyone who worked for or served the paid Philadelphia Fire Department visit our store site to place a research request!

Women in Firefighting

In honor of Fireman’s Hall Museum’s store’s new t-shirts for women (in crew and v-neck!) – we decided to do some research on the history of women in the Philadelphia Fire Department and in firefighting.

The first female firefighter in the 114 years of the paid Philadelphia Fire Department, Paulette Kennedy, joined the Philadelphia Fire Department in 1985 but the history of women in firefighting begins almost 200 years prior.

In Pittsburgh, for instance, there were female slaves who fought fires with the male volunteer companies in the early 19th century. There were female volunteer companies formed in the early 1900’s in Maryland and California and during World War II, many women took on the jobs previously dominated by men. Firefighting was considered a necessary occupation so firefighters were not drafted but many enlisted. There were enough male replacements in Philadelphia to fill the spaces left by those who enlisted but other cities filled the gaps with women. After WWII, there were several all-female fire companies, including forest fire companies, scattered around the country.

Female WWII Firefighting

This famous photograph depicts female civilians learning to fight fires during a training exercise at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard during WWII.

22 years after Paulette Kennedy paved the way for women in the Philadelphia Fire Department, Diane Schweizer became the first female chief in the PFD in 2007 when she was appointed chief of Emergency Medical Services Operations. Schweizer was never a firefighter but was an experience paramedic in the department. She was tasked with overseeing the department’s 300+ paramedics and 45 ambulances during a time when fire runs were on the decline and medical runs were climbing. As of 2007, about 2% of Philadelphia’s firefighters were women and 32% of the paramedics were women. Since 1985, the PFD has seen many women perform heroically alongside their male counterparts on the fire ground.

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.

Welcome to Fireman’s Hall Museum’s New Blog

To keep all of our fans and members up to date on the happenings at Fireman’s Hall Museum – we have decided to start blogging. Check for updates on new exhibit development, special events or new acquisitions. We will also be featuring Items of the Week, photographs and interesting stories to offer a look into our collections not on display. Let us know if there is anything you would like us to feature and we’ll see what we can do!

Check us out on Twitter or on Facebook as well!