The Fire of 1805 burned the city of Detroit to the ground. The fire started in the morning hours of June 11 in a stable on St. Anne Street. Men formed a bucket brigade from the river to the stable but it soon engulfed the building and spread to the surrounding area. By the afternoon the entire city of Detroit was in flames. After the city burned down, Fr. Richard of St. Anne’s, coined Detroit’s motto: speramus meliora; resurget cineribus. We hope for better things; It shall rise from the ashes.
In 1818 the city created a Volunteer Fire Department. An army of volunteer bucket, ax and battering-ram companies evolved as the boundaries of the city expanded. These volunteer fire companies were loosely knit clubs whose members loved to socialize and dress up in smart uniforms. The city provided hand-operated pumping engines but the firemen were responsible for everything else.
By 1860, Detroit hired its first paid fire fighters, an engineer, five horsemen, two drivers and a foreman to operate the first steam fire engine. It was named “Lafayette No. 1” and was housed on the northeast corner of Larned and Wayne streets. Neptune No. 2 steam engine and Phoenix No. 3 were purchased the following year. In l867, an act of the Michigan State Legislature established the Board of Fire Commissioners. The following year, a successful telegraph fire alarm system was installed. The city’s first fireboat, the Detroiter went into service in the summer of l892.
By 1900, the population of the city had and the fire department consisted of 476 paid firemen, one fireboat, 423 fireboxes, 3,609 hydrants and 76 pieces of horse-drawn equipment. By l922, the age of mechanization had arrived. The future of the fire horse was doomed and the tough decision was made to retire the fire department’s horses.
In 1931 a training academy was opened for new firefighting recruits. It was considered the most modern in the nation. In 1938 Detroit hired its first two Black Firefighters – Marvin White and Marcena Taylor.
With Detroit’s worst Civil Disturbance in July of 1967 the Fire Department fought 1,682 fires including 276 runs by mutual aid fire companies from the suburbs and Windsor. More than 5,000 citizens were burned out of their homes with a total loss estimate of $12,700,500. There were 42 deaths reported including two fire fighters.
Detroit purchased its First Emergency Medical Unit in 1972. That year also saw the creation of EMERGENCY DIAL 911. The city accepted its first applications for female firefighters in 1977.
Today the Detroit Fire Department is responsible for 139 square miles; has 985 firefighters; and fights an annual average of 7,000 fires.