A Very Brief History of New England Firefighting

Updated: Jun 24

The New England fire service has a very rich history that goes back to the Colonial Era.

New England states were among the first to develop a strong volunteer fire service. Some of the most prolific and important builders of early fire apparatus were in New England. New England’s great fires and the firefighters who fought them have had a significant and enduring influence on the American fire service.

During the 18th and 19th Centuries a significant portion of the hand-drawn fire apparatus built in the United States was built in New England. Many of the hand engines that protected New England’s towns, and formerly protected the big cities, were built in Boston by William C. Hunneman (1769-1856). Hunneman was an apprentice to Paul Revere. In 1792 he started building fire engines. He purchased the patent for a pair of fire engine designs from Jacob Perkins, a prolific inventor from Newburyport, Massachusetts. Hunneman’s son joined the business in 1838, which then was called William C. Hunneman & Co. In 1845 a grandson joined the enterprise as an apprentice.

In the 19th Century the industrial revolution transformed the fire service in New England as many communities adopted steam fire engines. Many of these were built by the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company of Manchester, New Hampshire.