Firefighting over the last 100 years has changed — some

firefighters rail carFighting wildfires has changed in some ways over the last 100 years. We have firefighting aircraft, chain saws, better modes of transportation, and better pumps, but we’re still fighting fire with sharpened pieces of metal attached to the ends of sticks. assembled a collection of 82 photos that gives us an idea what it must have been like fighting wildfires and structure fires a hundred years ago. Here are a couple of examples — you can see the rest HERE.

Female firefighters 1922

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Joe.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. Google+

9 thoughts on “Firefighting over the last 100 years has changed — some”

    1. Would the Peshtigo fire (1.2-1.5 million acres) or the Big Burn of 1910 (3 million acres) count as mega enough?

      1. Or the black Thursday bushfires in 1851 in Victoria Australia… Five million hectares, on the order of ten million acres. Ember showers hit a ship twenty miles out at sea.

      2. A couple in a hundred years compared to dozens in the last 20…you made my point. Back then firefighters were in the business of putting the fire out. I remember my Grandpa would get sent from the lumber mill out to fight fires and they would pay them LESS money then they were making sawing logs to give them incentive to put the fire out and get back to work. They didn’t even have fancy air tankers, or drones or skidgines either…

        1. In the early 1900s, a fire that burned 100,000 barely got a small corner in the back of a newspaper. And now after decades of fire suppression, many of the forests are overstocked. I’m not taking away from the hard work of past firefighters, but having every fire put out year after year, there’s a lot of fuel buildup. And how many people died fighting fires at the beginning of the 1900s? Even though we still loose firefighters, it’s not near the number that happened in the countries beginnings of fire suppression. So yeah, there is times fires are allowed to burn, and there are airtankers now, but more firefighters go home and sometimes fire gets to play it’s natural role.

  1. Slide 13 refers to the “one lick” fire control method. Never heard that term before, googled it… Progressive line building a.k.a. Hotshot style.

    Very interesting..

  2. Oh, wow what a great collection of photos! Thanks Mr. Gabbert for finding that!

    Oh, the mustaches! The last ones with the horse drawn apparatus were excellent.

    My aunt’s grandfather was the Chief of the Newark Fire Department when they made the transition from horse drawn steamers to gasoline powered engines.

    Man, the things they must have seen!

  3. How has the average response time changed over this same period? As the population grows and spreads out, in order to keep response times constant you d need to keep adding firefighters regardless of how many fires there are. That is most likely what s driving growth. We re not okay with it taking ten minutes for the fire engine to arrive when it used to take five.

  4. Martini, five minutes is a city dweller expectation for threatened structures, but in some rural areas, with both structure and wildland initial attack provided by volunteers, it would be a miracle to get resources on scene in ten or fifteen minutes. City folks almost expect structures to be saved; country folks sometimes consider it a huge victory to confine a fire’s destruction to one structure. And if volunteers keep getting harder to find while more people build adjacent to wildland…

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