In the early days when Knoxville had no fire engine, the method of extinguishing fires was exceedingly primitive and interesting to the present age. The fires were put out as best the people could manage with buckets and single handed means. About 1821, every head of a family in town was required to procure a leathern bucket holding two gallons which was so prepared as to be water tight, and afterward each family was required to own two such buckets. In 1822, the entire male population between the ages of fifteen and fifty was organized into one grand fire company, with suitable officers. The first fire engine brought to town was very small and had no hose, but had a nozzle about eight feet long. Through this nozzle, the water was thrown up from a reservoir, which the owners of the buckets had to keep full. When an alarm of fire was given every owner of a bucket rushed to the scene, together with the women and children of his family, and the men formed themselves in a line on one side of the streets, from the creek to the fire, the women and children forming another line on the other side of the street. Buckets full of water were then passed up from the creek on the side lined up with men, and down the other side to the creek through the hands of the women and children. This old engine thus supplied with water lasted until the war, when it was destroyed together with many other things and institutions peculiar to this section of the country. Two hand fire engines were purchased in the year 1859, and volunteer fire companies were organized.
The fire department was created November 18, 1870, not that there had been no fire companies before that time, for there had been several companies that had rendered the people of the city excellent service . The advent of the first steam fire engine has already been referred to By this ordinance of November 18, 1870, the entire fire department of the city was brought under one head and thus made more effective in case of large fires. By it, the office of chief of the fire department was created, the chief being allowed two assistants named first and second assistants. These three officers were to be elected annually by the mayor and aldermen, and they were to serve without compensation. The chief and his assistants were to be and to be recognized as the head of the fire department during the time of any fire, and the captains and foremen of any companies or hook and ladder companies should defer to the chief and his assistants, afterward no fire company was to consist of more than fifty persons and the engineer of the steam fire engine was to be elected by the board of mayor and aldermen, and should continue in office during their pleasure. (Rule, p 111)
The first steam fire engine brought to Knoxville was the JC Luttrell No 1 in 1867, a brass Silsby engine not now in use. While not the first in the southern states, yet it was near the first. Augusta, Ga Macon, Ga, and Memphis, Tenn having had steam fire engines of this make about one year earlier. The next steam fire engine bought was the Alexander Allison in 1876, which is now at the Central Market station and is known as engine No 2. The third was bought in 1893, and is named the ME Thompson, located at the Central station on Commerce street between Gay and State streets, at which station besides the engine company, there is also a hook and ladder company, and a 65 foot extension ladder.
The fire department is now officered as follows: VF Gossett, chief; Capt WH Salmon, assistant chief and captain of the hook and ladder company with five men under him: AG Bayless, captain of engine company No 3 at the Central station, with seven men under him; John B Hawkins, captain of engine company No 2 at Central Market station, with six men under him; Herman Schenk is the city electrician.
On March 16 1888 a contract was made with the Gaynor company of Louisville, Ky for putting in a complete fire alarm system for the city. At first there were to be forty-five stations and the price $7,500. At the same time a fire brigade station was located in North Knoxville. The work of erecting the poles for the fire alarm system began January 24, 1889. This system was in use until 1897, on August, 27 of which year the board of mayor and aldermen accepted a new and much improved system. This was the new Gaynor six circuit repeater, and the Gamewell six circuit automatic standard combination repeater and storage battery board, the apparatus consisting of one complete chloride accumulator storage battery plant of 100 cells, with the necessary shelves or cabinet, one six circuit combination slate base switch board, containing the necessary rheostats, lamps, meters, galvanometers, switches, etc. The price for putting in the entire system was $3,000 of which $2,200 was paid in cash and the old system turned in for $800. Knoxville was the second city in the southern states to adopt this system. Houston Texas being the first. The six circuit automatic switch board put in here was the first of that size in the United States. It has given complete satisfaction and is as near perfection as such things can possibly be. (Rule, p. 133)
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