Formal fire prevention and firefighting date back to Roman times. During the middle ages many towns and cities simply burned down because of ineffective firefighting arrangements and because of the building materials used at the time, mainly wood.
Following some spectacular losses, some parishes organized basic firefighting, but no regulations or standards were in force. The Great Fire of London, in 1666, changed things and helped to standardize urban firefighting. (Fireservice UK)
Following a public outcry during the aftermath of that, probably the most famous fire ever, a property developer named Nicholas Barbon introduced the first kind of insurance against fire.
Soon after the formation of this insurance company, and in a bid to help reduce the cost and number of claims, he formed his own Fire Brigade. Other similar companies soon followed his lead and this was how property was protected until the early 1800s.
Policy holders were given a badge, or fire mark, to affix to their building. If a fire started, the Fire Brigade was called. They looked for the fire mark and, provided it was the right one, the fire would be dealt with. (Not the right mark; folks let it burn.)
Many of these insurance companies were to merge, including those of London, which merged in 1833 to form The London Fire Engine Establishment. (Fireservice UK)
No organized fire protection system existed in Honolulu until November 6, 1850, when the city’s first volunteer fire brigade was formed.
WC Parke formed Honolulu’s first Volunteer Fire Brigade (the same day a fire broke out and eleven homes were destroyed.) Reportedly, King Kamehameha III took an immense interest in the department. When the alarm went off, the reigning monarch shed his coat, rolled up his sleeves and helped right alongside the other volunteers.
The Privy Council authorized the procurement of “sixty buckets, painted and marked ‘FB Engine No. 1.’ and place the same at the disposal of the Foreman of Fire Engine to No.1, until the organization of the Fire department …”
“… when they shall go into the custody of the officer to be designated to have charge of the Fire Apparatus of Honolulu, and that the Minister of Finance pay the cost of the same out of the public Exchequer.” (Privy Council Minutes, December 9, 1850)
Shortly thereafter, “the Minister of the Interior (is) hereby required to confer with the forman of the First fire Company of Honolulu as to the necessary building required for the protection of the fire apparatus of the Government and for the meetings of the fire Company …”
“… should it be found necessary that a new building be erected for the purpose aforesaid, that the Minister of the Interior is hereby instructed to cause the same to be erect a suitable lot, at cost not exceeding $1000, and in case a lot is not now owned by the Government, to purchase or lease such an one as may be required.” (Privy Council Minutes, December 27, 1850)
Thus, on December 27, 1850, Kamehameha III established the Honolulu Volunteer Fire Department, and the 1851 legislature enacted the ordinance into law.
In August 1851, a second-hand fire engine was purchased through public subscription and became the property of Engine Company No. 1. Within ten years, the city had four engine companies, including No. 4, which was composed exclusively of Hawaiians.
Kings Kamehameha III, Kamehameha IV, Kamehameha V and Kalakaua were all active members of Company No. 4, with Kamehameha V, as Prince Lot, playing an instrumental role in its foundation and Kalakaua served as the company’s secretary.
Thus, the Honolulu Fire Department is perhaps the only fire department in the world to have the distinction of including monarchs as active members. In 1878, Engine Company No. 5, a Chinese company, was formed.
The volunteer fire companies, each with their fifty plus membership, were active and influential factors in various municipal activities, including politics. One of the first acts of the Provisional government was the disbanding of the volunteer fire companies and the creation of a full-time paid fire department.
The Fire Department was to “consist of a Board of Commissioners, consisting of three members, who shall be appointed by the Minister of the Interior with the consent of the Executive Council, and who shall serve without pay ; a Chief Engineer, who shall be appointed by the Board of Commissioners.”
“There shall be three or more fire companies under pay, in the discretion of the Board of Commissioners, and such other volunteer companies as the Commissioners shall deem fit. The general care and supervision of the department shall be under the direction of the Board of Commissioners, who shall also have power to issue such general rules and regulations for the government of the department as they shall deem necessary.” (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, February 28, 1893)
Each volunteer company had its own fire house and held regular meetings. The most substantial of the early firehouses was Engine Company No. 5’s brick station on Maunakea Street. Erected in 1886, it replaced a frame building destroyed in the first Chinatown fire. Subsequently, the brick station was consumed in the Chinatown fire of 1900.
Due to the expansion of the city and the need for more adequate quarters, as the volunteer stations were not designed to stable horses or serve as dormitories for the men on twenty- four hour duty, new stations replaced the earlier ones.
In 1897, the original Central Fire Station was erected on Beretania and Fort Streets, consolidating Engine Companies 1 and 2, and in 1899, a frame station was constructed on “the plains of Makiki” for Engine Company No. 3.
In 1901, the Palama Station was built to replace the Maunakea Street Station. With the development of Kaimuki as a suburb, a frame station was built there in 1913. (NPS) (Lots of information here from NPS ands Nucciarone.)