Today I’m giving away a copy of Prairie Summer Brides, which includes my story, The Dog Days of Summer Bride. P&P giveaway guidelines apply.
Fire is very much on my mind this month for two reasons; One, California has been plagued with massive wildfires this summer. None were close to me, but the air quality has been poor and there were days when we couldn’t see the sun because of smoke-filled skies.
The second reason that fire is on my mind is due to a fire in the fictional town of Two-Time, Texas (book three of my Match Made it Texas series) and I’ve been writing and rewriting the scene all week.
During the 19th century, fire was one of the biggest environment threats facing the nation. Something as simple as a dropped candle or overturned lamp could wipe out an entire town or city in a flash.
When a fire broke out in those early days, a bell (usually the church bell) rang, and volunteer firemen dropped what they were doing and raced to join the bucket brigade. Volunteers were a mixed bunch and included immigrants and native-born, merchants and laborers.
Being a volunteer fire-fighter was considered an honor and united men in a brotherhood of masculinity and skill. It provided men from all walks of life with an elevated social status.
Surprisingly, women started serving as volunteer firefighters as early as 1818. The first known woman to do so was a black slave named Molly Williams.
The main challenges firefighters faced in those early days were poorly constructed wood buildings and lack of equipment and training. The appearance of fire insurance companies in the mid-1800s created yet another challenge.
Some fire brigades were either owned or paid for by insurance companies. Homes and businesses with paid fire insurance were issued a fire mark plaque. These fire marks were made out of metal and placed outside doors. The payment to insurers would help support fire-fighting brigades. The fire brigade that arrived at a burning building first would get the insurance money.
Competition between brigades was so severe, that fistfights often occurred while a building burned to the ground. If that wasn’t bad enough, the New York city companies sent runners ahead to cover fire hydrants with barrels to prevent other brigades from using them.
Firefighting has come a long way since the first volunteer fire department in America was founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1736. Fire equipment back then was basically leather buckets for dousing flames with water and linen bags for collecting valuables from inside of burning houses.
I was surprised to learn that today, more than two-hundred and eighty years later, sixty-nine percent of the firefighters in the United States are volunteers. Unfortunately, their numbers are dwindling. It’s getting harder to recruit new members. People no longer live in the heart of town like they once did, so distance is a problem. Also fewer people are willing to take time away from work and family to run into burning buildings without pay. (Can’t say I blame them, there.)
Despite these challenges, modern volunteer firefighters are well-trained and save taxpayers millions of dollars a year. Best of all, fistfights are now a thing of the past. Firefighting sure isn’t what it used to be and we can all thank God for that.
Are the firemen in your town volunteers or professionals?
Left at the Altar
Where tempers burn hot
Love runs deep
And a single marriage can unite a feuding town
…or tear it apart for good.