Another Year in the Books
As another year draws to a close, we’re taking this opportunity to explore how the fire department recorded its actions and adventures. Larger, city-wide departments – as well as many smaller companies, whether paid or volunteer – kept records of daily life in the fire house. These records could include notes on the weather, fires large or small, promotions and demotions, or accidents, among other events.
Above: This is a Baltimore City logbook that dates to 1952. It documents the various officers and firefighters clocking in and out, those who were on vacation, as well as the inspections and drills that took place.
The logbook, or ledger, was maintained by the company officer(s) stationed at the fire house, and depending on department protocol, might be filled out throughout the day, or at the end of a shift. There is a surprising amount of detail in many of these logs, and we’ve included several pages from different years for your enjoyment.
Above: This page from the New York Fire Department is dated Monday, March 12th, 1888. The last entry on the page is for 7:40AM on Tuesday the 13th (they had 24 hour shifts) noting that the station had "Rec'd Notice of No Leave of Absence until further orders." This was due to a large blizzard that struck much of the Eastern seaboard. (See more information on the blizzard here.)
What these records allow us to do, among other things, is to learn about the fire service on a personal level. The daily logs show when the various firefighters arrived for duty, who was on vacation, who was out sick, station transfers, equipment repairs, and (of course) fires and fire alarms. Looking through the Baltimore City log for Saturday, May 31st, 1913 (below), for instance, we can see that “Stoker L. W. Bond, Rep’td for regular duty, 8 am. after being off since 9 am. May 17th cause Infected skin. (13-23/24 days off duty)”. With this information, we can go back to the May 17th entry and see if there is anything else about Stoker Bond. This type of primary document provides us with a great amount of detail, both about the fire service in a particular city as well as the individual firefighters, such as Stoker Bond.
(The stoker was responsible for keeping the steam engine supplied with an adequate amount of coal for whatever pumping needs were required at a fire. They worked closely with the engineer to maintain a proper amount of steam pressure.)
What other types of information do you think you would find in a fire department log book?