Sunday, November 4, 2018

Establishing a Fire Department in Burlington Iowa

The city of Burlington, Iowa established its fire department on January 5th, 1841. By today's standards the ordinance sounds more like a dress code, and a list of penalties for not obeying orders, but in its day, it established a set of ground rules to ensure fires were extinguished in a timely manner.

The ordinance was originally published in The Hawkeye and Iowa Patriot on January 14, 1841.


An ordinance establishing a Fire Department in the city of Burlington [Iowa].

Sec. 1. Be it ordained by the Mayor and aldermen of the city of Burlington, that there shall be appointed by the common council of said city, one chief, and two assistant engineers whose duty it shall be in case of fire to go the place of the fire, and give such orders for the purpose of extinguishing the fire, as they shall deem most fit and proper, the chief engineer always taking command when present.

Sec. 2. The Chief Engineer shall at all times when on duty wear a white frock or hunting coat, a white leather coat with the word “Chief Engineer” painted upon the front of the same, and shall provide himself with a white speaking trumpet, with the words “Chief Engineer” painted upon the same.

Sec. 3. The first and second engineers, shall provide themselves with, and always wear on duty, a brown frock or hunting coat, a black leather hat with their titles painted upon the same, a black speaking trumpet with their respective titles painted upon the same.


Sec. 4. Be it further ordained that said city shall be divided into three fire wards and that there shall be appointed by the common council of said city, one fire warden for each ward whose duty it shall be in case of a fire immediately to repair to the place of the fire, and assist the Engineers in the forming of lines of bucket men and to perform such other duty as the case may demand, and not to leave the place of the fire without the consent of one of the Engineers.

Sec. 5. Each fire warden shall provide himself with a stick or rod, at least six feet long, with a white head upon the same not less than two and a half inches in diameter and shall at all times when on duty at a fire, carry the same.

Sec. 6. All that portion of the city of Burlington lying south of Jefferson Street shall constitute the first fire ward. All that portion lying between Jefferson and Columbia Streets shall constitute the second fire ward, and all that portion of the city of Burlington lying north of Columbia Street shall constitute the
third fire ward.

Sec. 7. Be it further ordained that it shall be the duty of all persons residing within the limits of said city, in times of fire, to obey all commands or orders of the Engineers. Fire Wardens, Mayor, Aldermen, Marshal and Constables of said city, and any person refusing or neglecting to obey as aforesaid, shall be fined in a sum not less than five, nor more than twenty dollars or be imprisoned not less than twenty-four, nor more than ninety-six hours at the discretion of the court trying the same.

Sec. 8. It shall be the duty of all persons owning houses or other buildings in which fire is kept to furnish them with two leather fire buckets and where ever there is more than four chimneys, stoves or flues, in any tenement or building the owner or occupant of such tenement or building, shall furnish for each two additional chimneys, stoves or flues, one additional bucket. Said buckets shall hold not less than twelve quarts and shall be hung up in a conspicuous place in such house or other buildings and shall have painted upon the same, in legible letters, the Initials of the owner’s name.

Sec. 9. If any person shall refuse or neglect to furnish his house or other building with buckets as aforesaid, he, she, or they shall forfeit and pay a fine of not less than five, nor more than twenty dollars.

Sec. 13. All judgments for fines or penalties arising under the preceding section of this ordinance shall operate as a lien upon the building not furnished as aforesaid with fire buckets: Provided, nothing contained in this section shall be so construed as to prevent the levying of execution, upon any other property, owned by the owner of such building.

Sec. 11. Be it further ordained: That it shall be the duty of each Fire Warden to examine each house or other building in which fire is kept, within his respective ward, as often as once in three months and monthly during the months of December, January, February, and March, and in case he shall consider the same unsafe or dangerous, it shall be his duty to give such directions relative to the repair of the same, as he shall deem proper.

Sec. 12. If any person shall refuse or neglect to repair his house or other building agreeable to the directions of the Fire Warden, for a term of more than twenty-four hours, he shall forfeit and pay a fine of not less than five, nor more than twenty dollars and shall forfeit and pay a fine of ten dollars for each additional twenty-four hours, that he, she, or they shall continue to keep fire in the same, until the same shall be repaired.

Sec. 13. All judgments for fines or penalties, arising under the twelfth section of this ordinance shall operate as a lien upon such house or other building.

Sec. 14. It shall be the duty of the Fire Wardens, whenever any person refuses or neglects to repair his house or other building, agreeable to their instructions to proceed forthwith to prosecute such delinquent, under the provisions of this ordinance.

Sec. 15. Be it further ordained: That there may be organized, as soon as practicable by voluntary enlistment three Fire Companies, each containing not less than twenty, nor more than forty-five members to attend to the fire engines, hose, hooks, and ladders, axes, saws, and other fire apparatus belonging to the city of Burlington, and each of the companies shall, on the first Monday of April, in each year, choose from their own number, a foreman, an assistant foreman, treasurer and clerk, in such manner as they may think proper.

Sec. 16. The different Fire Companies shall be under the direction of the foreman and assistant foreman, and upon the alarm of fire, the said companies shall immediately repair to the place of the fire with their engines, hose, hooks, and ladders under their care, and there work and manage the same under the directions of the Chief Engineer, and his assistants and in case of their absence, place and work their engines or other apparatus in the most effectual manner, until the fire shall be extinguished, and shall not remove therefrom but by the permission of the engineer, and on such permission they shall return their respective engines, hose, cars, hooks, and ladders, and other apparatus, well washed and cleansed, to their places of deposit.

Sec. 17. The foreman or person having charge of engines, or other apparatus, shall have the same kept in the best possible order for immediate use. And for the more effectually perfecting the firemen in their duty, and keeping and preserving the said engines and other apparatus from decay, the said firemen shall on the first Monday of each month, meet at their respective engine houses, and on the first Monday of April, May, June, July, August, September, October, and November, draw out their engines, and other implements committed to their care, in order to work and cleanse them, and to exercise the men and every foreman neglecting his duty under this section, shall forfeit for each offense the penalty of three dollars.

Sec. 18. If any fireman shall refuse or neglect any meeting of his company for exercising the men or cleaning the engines or other fire apparatus to which he is attached, he shall forfeit and pay for every such default, the penalty of one dollar, unless he shall be exonerated therefrom, by a vote of two-thirds of the company.

Sec. 19. If any fireman shall neglect to attend at a fire, or shall refuse or neglect to do his duty in working his engine or other apparatus provided for extinguishing fires, or shall disobey the orders of the Chief Engineer or assistant engineers, or foreman or assistant foreman of his company, or shall leave his engine or other fire apparatus while at a fire, without permission from the acting foreman, he shall forfeit or pay for every such offense or default, the penalty of five dollars and may be expelled from the company by a vote of two-thirds of the company.

Sec. 20. If any person having charge of an engine or other fire apparatus, shall suffer the same to be applied to private uses, without the consent of the mayor, chief engineer or city council, he shall forfeit and pay a penalty of fifty dollars, besides being responsible for all damages.

Sec. 21. Every fireman, attached to a fire engine, when on duty, shall wear such uniform as shall be required by the bye-laws of the company to which he may belong.

Sec. 22. And be it further ordained that all caps, speaking trumpets, &c., that shall be worn by the engineers or foreman, shall be furnished them at the expense of the city, and for failing to take care of such coat, cap, or speaking trumpet, &c., he or they shall pay a sum of not less than ten, nor more than thirty dollars. And upon the election of a successor, such engineer or foreman, who is to retire from office, shall hand over to his successor his coat, cap, speaking-trumpet, &c., under a penalty of not less than fifteen, nor more than forty dollars.

Sec. 23. If any person shall remove any fire engine or other fire apparatus from their respective places of deposits and shall convert the same to private use, he shall forfeit and pay a penalty of fifty dollars, being responsible for all damages.

Sec. 24. All persons belonging to any regular organized fire company and not being in arrears for any fines or penalties, shall be exempt from being a city poll tax, upon producing to the City Marshal a certificate of membership, signed by the foreman of his company, and dated within three months of the time of remitting the same.

Sec. 25. All fines and penalties arising under the provisions of this ordinance shall be recovered in an action of debt, instituted in the name of the United States, for the use of the Mayor and Aldermen of the city of Burlington.


Passed, January 5th, 1841.
Attest GEO. TEMPLE, Mayor
L. W. BABBITT, City Recorder.

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