History of Gloucester firefighters

Origin of the Gloucester Fire Department

Gloucester was first established as a settlement in 1623, three years after the Pilgrims landed in Plymouth. The city of Gloucester was incorporated in 1642; it then included Sandy Bay, now the city of Rockport. Gloucester was named for Gloucester, England, where many of the settlers came from that year.

The origins of the Gloucester Fire Department began with fire companies, men who banded together for mutual protection. Already in 1789, when the population of Cape Ann was about 5000, there was a Masonic Fire Society. The main purpose of these clubs was to fight fires, but they also had rules, orders, and slogans and met as a social group.

Early firefighting methods

Each man was given two fire buckets. These buckets were made of heavy leather and contained about two gallons of water. When the fire alarm was sounded, either by three shots or by forcing open the church door and ringing the bell, the men gathered near the firehouse where the engine (or “hand bath” as it was called in those days) was kept. This large bathtub was on a platform mounted on wheels and was pulled by people using ropes to the scene of the fire.

Upon arriving at the burning building, men with their buckets formed a long line from the nearest cistern or well and passed the filled buckets down the line to empty them into the tub. There, men would manually pump water from the vat onto the fire. The women passed the empty buckets back. All this work was done without pay. Each member of the fire company had his name on his buckets, and after the fire was out and everyone had returned to the firehouse, the men were able to identify and claim their own buckets.Leather fire bucket

The first engines were on Middle Street near the Sawyer Free Library and on Center Street. No records were kept of early fires, but because the laws were very strict, people were careful not to do anything that could harm the fire. All the first fire engines had names: Volant, Cataract, and Extinguisher.