Being men of peace, they could not bear arms in defence
of their country, and exchanged militia service for the task of
extinguishing all the fires caused by the wilfulness or carelessness of
This has been no easy task in cities built of wood,
which in that dry climate, when ignited, burns like pine-knots. Even now,
fires occur in a very unaccountable manner. At New York my slumbers were,
frequently disturbed by the quick-tolling bell, announcing the number of
the district where a fire had broken out. These fire companies have
regular organizations, and their members enjoy several immunities, one of
which I think is, that they are not compelled to serve as jurymen.
They are principally composed of young men, some of them the wilder
members of the first families in the cities.
Their dresses are suitable and picturesque, and, with the brilliant
painting and highly-polished brasses of their large engines, they form one
of the most imposing parts of the annual pageant of the "Glorious
Fourth." The fireman who first reaches the scene of action is captain for
the night, and this honour is so much coveted, as to lead them often to
wait, ready equipped, during the winter nights, that they may be able to
start forth at the first sound of the bell. There is sufficient dangerous
adventure, and enough of thrilling incident, to give the occupation a
charm in the eyes of the eager youth of the cities.
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