On Oct. 1, Philadelphia will install a historical marker that commemorates the 275th anniversary of the first U.S. volunteer fire company, the Union Fire Company formed by Benjamin Franklin. This marker was obtained through the support of the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies and updates a previously inaccurate marker placed there in 1936.
“Volunteers, as well as career and combination fire departments, are in tune to the history and tradition of the fire service,” said Edward Welch — a fire-service historian and a 35-year veteran of the Wyndmoor Hose Company in Montgomery County, Pa. — who lobbied for the marker. “This marker is a testament to that.”
In the early 1730s, Franklin and other prominent residents wrote a series of articles in the Pennsylvania Gazette pointing out the need for more effective handling of fires in Philadelphia. They then formed the fire company — often referred to as Franklin’s Bucket Brigade — on Dec. 7, 1736.
By 1799, Franklin's organizational brilliance had spawned some 40 other volunteer companies that were entirely private and would purchase its own tools from funds garnered from the fines and forfeitures of its own members. Towns did not subsidize the departments, and there were no paid firefighters in Philadelphia until 1871, Welch said.
The marker will be placed in Grindstone Alley, at the Market Street side, Welch said. Fire departments and the public are invited to attend.