Chicago has had its share of tragic, large-scale fires (e.g. The Great Chicago Fire, The Iroquois Theater Fire, Our Lady of the Angels School Fire, The La Salle Hotel Fire). Fortunately for Chicago, it’s had a fire department since 1832. Of course, at the time, the department was a company called the “Washington Volunteers;” the first paid Chicago fire department was organized in 1858.
Technology improved from mandatory fire buckets in stores and hand-engines used by the fire department to horse-drawn engines. The Great Chicago Fire in 1871 demonstrated the inadequacy of the department at the time, leading to significant alterations and additions. Fire boats were incorporated, the fire pole was invented and installed, and the force expanded.
In 1923, after 65 years, the horse-drawn era was over. Chicago became the first major city in the nation to completely motorize its Fire Department. The city purchased 28 Model “A” Fords for their Battalion Chiefs. The roofs were left black while the bottoms were painted red, the now-familiar color scheme of fire engines.
The Chicago Fire Department is the largest fire department in the Midwest, and one of the largest and oldest major organized fire departments in the U.S. For a phenomenally detailed account of the department, read the Chicago FD’s official history.