The early American fire pumpers were man-powered machines; they were pulled to the fire by men or horses and, upon arriving at the fire scene, would be hand-pumped by men. The water for fire fighting was drawn by the pump and directed toward the fire, provided a water source was available.

The Life of a Fireman: The New Era - "Steam and Muscle" [Detail]
Steam-powered pumpers on left and right;
man-powered pumper in center.
In the mid-19th century, the steam pumper was developed. The steam pumper coupled to a team of horses was a vast improvement over the earlier man-powered units. The boiler produced steam which operated a suction-type engine that pumped water from any available water source. There were certain inherent problems with steam powered pumpers though. The boiler would need to be kept ready so the fire department could quickly respond to an emergency. Then, like in Santa Barbara, California, sparks from the pumper’s boiler could set fire to the fire house itself.
York Fire Department - York, Pennsylvania.
Gloucester, Massachusetts.
By the early 20th century, further innovations in fire pumpers replaced horses with gasoline engines. The internal combustion engine soon made the steam pumper obsolete.
Steam-powered pumper with gas engine.

More fire pumpers, manufacturers, etc.

Off-site photographs & information:

See also Fire Boats.


Site Coordinator: Lori Niemuth Last updated: December 27, 2007