victorian era    
Volunteers The Roles The Day The Duties Movie
On March 2, 1866, San Francisco ended its era of volunteer-firefighters and established its first ever paid fire department. San Francisco was one of many cities to follow the countrywide trend of instituting paid fire departments, after several fires devastated the city. City officials had considered switching to a paid department since the 1850’s, once they realized a better-funded, more efficient fire department was necessary to protect a city so prone to fire disasters.
     The switch to a paid fire department meant great changes in the daily life of a firefighter. Before 1866, firehouses were comparatively less organized and were the center of the neighborhood’s social life. Since it was an unpaid profession, volunteer firefighting was not well respected; volunteers were prone to drinking and gambling, and firehouses were popular, rambunctious social centers, filled with parties and dances. However, once the department became paid, it adopted paramilitary routines and practices, establishing a tightly organized, efficient system in which each member of the company served a distinctive, vital role. After the switch to paid departments, horses, stables, engines and trucks stayed on the bottom floor, while dormitories and recreation were now confined to the second floor. Remnants of the jovial volunteer era lived on nonetheless, in the camaraderie and sense of community experienced between the men.

Learn the history of the SFFD

Captain James Lee
On: Old 21

Quicktime - 1.2mb
Why did the SFFD cease to be a volunteer department?
Quicktime - 556kb

What did it take to be a firemen at that time?
Quicktime - 1.1mb