Today, April 21, in 1878, the fire station pole was invented. Prior to the existence of fire station poles, firemen often used sliding shoots like those in playgrounds to quickly get down to the ground floor, as opposed to taking a slower staircase. Like so many inventions it was inspired by an accident. At Engine Company 21, a station of all black firemen in Chicago, fireman George Reid was in the hayloft on the station’s third floor (back then hay was needed for the horses which pulled the fire “engines”). A long binding pole used to secure the hay to the wagon was sticking vertically up the loading area into the hay loft, when suddenly the fire bell rang and Reid impulsively slid down the pole to get to the ground.
The Station’s captain David Kenyon liked the concept, and he and the Chief decided to cut a hole in the second floor and install a permanent pole made of waxed, varnished, Georgia Pine three inches in diameter. Soon Engine 21 got the reputation of being the first responders, inspiring the rest of Chicago’s fire stations to install their own poles.
In 1880, Boston advanced the idea by making its fire stations’ poles from shiny, slippery brass.
Today fire station poles are no longer en vogue, as many people consider them safety hazards. New firehouses are often built without them, and one-story fire stations are generally preferred.