Volunteer firefighting requires commitment, physical strength, and courage. Although Ben Franklin started the first volunteer fire department in 1736 with a company of men, women have been involved in firefighting from early on.

In fact, it was in 1815 that women began serving as volunteer firefighters. The first recorded female volunteer was Molly Williams, a black slave who belonged to a New York merchant named Benjamin Aymar. Molly fought fires wearing a calico dress and checked apron. During a blizzard in 1818, she helped physically drag the engine she worked on, Oceanus No. 11, to the scene of a fire.

In 1820, Marina Betts served as a volunteer in Pittsburgh and claimed she never missed an alarm during her ten years as a firefighter. Betts became famous for dumping buckets of water over male bystanders who refused to help fight fires.

Then there was Lillie Hitchcock, a resident of San Francisco, who was possibly America’s most famous female firefighter. She worked with Knickbocker Engine Company No. 5 beginning in 1851. It all started for her one day on the way to a fire when there were not enough men to pull the engine for the Knickerbocker Company. Not only that but when the Knickerbocker Company’s engine was passed by the Manhattan No. 2 and Howard No. 3 on the way to a fire, the men received humiliating remarks from the other firefighters. Fifteen-year-old Lillie Hitchcock saw their plight and dashed to the vacant spot on the rope. Pulling with all her might she shouted to the bystanders, “Come on, you men! Everybody pull and we’ll beat them!” This teenage socialite began attending fires and the company gave her an honorary membership.

The tradition of female firefighters continues today. If you know a female volunteer here in our mountain community, take a moment to thank her for making our home a safer place.


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