Firemen's Charitable & Benevolent Association
Fire! In colonial New Orleans, this call for aid was a frequent reminder of a frightening reality. In 1788, when Louisiana was still under Spanish rule, 900 houses were burned to the ground in a historic fire. In 1794, an equally disastrous fire virtually destroyed the rebuilt city. Finally, city leaders passed the Bucket Ordinance in 1807. Every citizen was required to keep at least two fire buckets at home and ready; at the same time, a loosely organized fire brigade was mandated.
These early attempts at fire protection proved inadequate, and terrible fires continued to consume the city. It wasn’t until 1829 that the first reliable fire company was organized, Volunteer Company No. 1. Its first trial came soon after. Five thousand bales of cotton blazed at the Hart’s Cotton Press on St. Charles Street in 1830. The brave volunteers aimed a stream of water from their hand pump engine as a group of dedicated citizens rushed to aid the volunteer company. Soon afterwards, dedicated volunteers formed Mississippi Co. No. 2.
By 1834, the Firemen’s Charitable & Benevolent Association was formed with the organization of six bands of volunteers. The lasting importance of this effort probably never occurred to the 30 founders who banded together to provide relief for needy members and the families of their deceased members.
Greenwood Cemetery Firemen's Monument
The Dedicated Firemen of New Orleans
It is impossible to separate the history of the fire department in New Orleans from that of the Firemen’s Charitable & Benevolent Association. For 37 years, the FCBA administered the city’s fire department as an independent civic body while maintaining its activities as a charitable fraternity.
Volunteer firemen courageously answered the call to protect New Orleans’ lives and property long after the Civil War. However, technological advances would eventually extinguish volunteer fire departments across America. Steam engines eliminated the need for men to pump the water, and horse-drawn fire trucks replaced heavy pumps hauled by hand. In 1891, New Orleans joined major cities across America in organizing a professional fire department.
While volunteer firemen no longer protect the city, their dedication and sacrifice are not forgotten. The Firemen’s Charitable & Benevolent Association continues to preserve Cypress Grove and Greenwood cemeteries as a permanent memorial to the many brave volunteer firemen who gave their courage and, sometimes, their lives to protect their neighbors. The Firemen’s Charitable & Benevolent Association continues to preserve Cypress Grove and Greenwood cemeteries as a permanent memorial to the many brave volunteer firemen who gave their courage and, sometimes, their lives to protect their neighbors and their families.