Sliding down the Pole

I was just a kid on Chicago’s north side when my grammar school class toured the Chicago fire Department Engine 71’s firehouse at 6239 N California. Watching the fireman slide down the fire pole, we learned  that the fire pole was actually invented in Chicago some 71 years earlier. A few other cities claim that they had a fire pole first, but I shall stubbornly stick to this Chicago story unless proved otherwise.

Flash back to 1878 and a three story wooden frame firehouse at 313 Third Avenue (later renamed and renumbered to 909 South Plymouth Court) in Chicago.  Although long gone, it was then the busy quarters of Engine Company 21 organized in 1872 as the first black fire company in the Chicago fire Department. The ground floor containing the firefighting equipment and the horses, the floor above was for sleeping, and the top floor the hayloft used to store the winter supply of hay to feed the horses.

Until 1878, firefighters would come down from their sleeping quarters to their fire apparatus  either by a spiral staircase or through a slide chute. A spiral staircase was better than a regular wide staircase because it took up less space in the firehouse. Worse yet, the fire horses could at times try to climb the regular stairs to visit the firemen or get a treat! Just picture a firemen who would awake to either a hungry or playful horse that missed their human companions. It really happened!

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