Fire Department History

Cincinnati Fire Department: First In The Nation

On April 1, 1853, Cincinnati, Ohio, established the first professional and fully paid fire department in the United States.

Miles Greenwood, co-inventor of the first practical steam fire engine, served as the department's first chief. One of the principal reasons for creation of a professional and fully paid fire department in Cincinnati was a fire that occurred in 1852 at Miles Greenwood's Eagle Ironworks. The fire destroyed much of Greenwood's business, prompting him to seek new and better ways to fight fires.

On March 2, 1852, three Cincinnati residents -- Abel Shawk, Alexander Bonner Latta, and Greenwood -- began construction of the world's first practical steam-powered fire engine. Shawk was a locksmith, and Latta was a locomotive builder. Greenwood's Eagle Ironworks manufactured the engines. Earlier inventors had manufactured steam-powered fire engines, but the Cincinnati version proved to be much more practical, as the steam engine could begin pumping water out of a water source in 10 minutes. Earlier engines took significantly longer.

After the three men demonstrated their finished engine to the Cincinnati City Council, the Council members contracted for an engine. The fire engine was presented to the Cincinnati Fire Department on Jan. 1, 1853, making Cincinnati the first city in the world to use steam fire engines. This first engine was named "Uncle Joe Ross" after a City Council member. In 1854, Cincinnati residents raised enough funds to allow the Fire Department to purchase a second steam fire engine. This engine was known as "Citizen's Gift."

The steam fire engine forever changed firefighting in Cincinnati. Pleased with the engine, local government leaders decided to form a professional fire department rather than relying on volunteers.

Interesting Facts

  • By 1863, Cincinnati had replaced all of its hand-engines with steamers.
  • The Cincinnati Fire Department was the first to use horses to pull fire engines.
  • Fire lanterns served as "headlights" for the engines before the days of street lights.
  • Firemen carried lanterns that helped them see through dense smoke.
  • In 1984, three African-American women by the names of Paula Duncan, Vickie Goodson and Pateeser Jackson became the first women hired in the history of Cincinnati's Fire Service.
  • The first African American male to join the Cincinnati Fire Department was Herbie Baines. In 1955, Baines was promoted to a specialty quad of firefighters called Squad 52. Upon enduring tremendous pressure from race relations during that era, Baines left the fire division. He later became a firefighter in the federal service, and has become one of the highest ranking firefighters in government service.