Today, Niagara County’s towns and cities have volunteer or paid fire departments that sport some of the finest fire fighting equipment that money can buy. The days of screeching fire whistles and sirens that sound the alarm have been mostly replaced by modern radio equipment that quietly alerts only those who need to know of a possible disaster in the making. History tells us that this has not always been the case, and early efforts at fire fighting were often confusing and ineffective. Earliest efforts amounted to little more than men with buckets, and later a fire cart with wheels was pushed by men or pulled by animals. Later, “hose companies” of volunteer fire fighters were formed, and they were followed by “chemical hose companies.” Famed local inventor, Birdsall Holly, revolutionized fire fighting with his pressurized water hydrant that was first developed, tested, and manufactured in Lockport.
The rather sporadic state of preparedness for fire fighting in Niagara around 1856 was addressed by a concerned resident in a letter-to-the-editor of the Niagara County Herald. The banner headline read “Fire! Fire! Fire!”
“Mr. Editor – Suppose it should be to-day or to-morrow, or next day – a broiling sun, a stiff south wind, every thing dry as tinder, cisterns all dry – no engine – no fire buckets, maybe two or three ladders if they could be found, and possibly some fire hooks – all run for the fire – a few more cool and thoughtful carry pails – but all is confusion and consternation – no one to take command of an organized company – the fire spreads from building to building, until much of our thriving town is laid in ruins – but who is to blame but ourselves – let not the next opportunity of voting the money for a fire engine be lost. A CITIZEN.”
Douglas Farley, Director
Erie Canal Discover Center
24 Church St.
Lockport NY 14094