Centuries of Change
For almost 250 years Halifax Firefighters have used many tools and machines to combat fire in our great city. In 1762 a local statute had provided for the appointment of firewards. These firewards were given the power to direct all firefighting forces within the Halifax boundaries. When on duty the firewards were obliged to wear attire which distinguished them in office. This attire consisted of a fireward badge, a staff which was six feet in height and coloured red and topped with a bright brass spear.
It was the firewards who assigned duties to the various volunteer companies and decided what houses were to be torn down to prevent the spread of fire. These statutes which were put into effect almost 250 years ago are still referred to in current legislation. By another statute in 1782, the wardens were provided with ladders, hooks, axes, and saws. In addition to their responsibilities at the scene of Halifax’s fires they had fire prevention duties throughout the year. They administered local by-laws which forbid the use of rockets, squibs, and other fireworks. They were also responsible for licensing chimney sweeps and for ensurring that chimneys were swept regularly. Halifax’s first firewards recommended the digging of wells and pumps for firefighting purposes.
One news item of 1809 describes a typical fire scene of the day, “…the sloshing of buckets passing hastily from hand to hand, the perspiring leather caped gentlemen at the engine, bowing to each other alternately like clockwork toys as the handlebars went up and down, the paltry stream of water that gushed and sank with the movements of the pump, the gentlemen of rival fire companies watching in case ‘one of ours’ should catch fire from ‘one of theirs’.” All this was familiar spectacle of a fire in Halifax during the early 1800′s.
But the Union Engine Company had its social side too. Its picnics and sleigh rides were looked upon as the leading functions of the day, the latter particularly with teams of four, six and eight horses driving to hosteliries outside the city, returning with torchlight processions.