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Preserving History & Tradition

5218 South Western Avenue - Chicago, Illinois

Currently the Museum is only open on the 4th Saturday of each month, excluding December. Click here to see a calendar of upcoming open houses.

Currently the Museum is only open on the 4th Saturday of each month, excluding December. Click here to see a calendar of upcoming open houses.

Fire Pole

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On April 21, 1878, as it turns out a watershed day in the annals of fire-fighting, the men of Engine #21 were moving away the winter's supply of hay in the second floor hayloft; a binding pole was used to hold the hay in the wagon. In the middle of this operation an alarm sounded and the men in the hayloft working in the mow, slid down the pole getting to the ground in record time.


This gave Captain David Kenyon an idea, if a pole could be installed from the second floor bunkroom to the apparatus floor, his company would push out quickly, especially for night alarms.


He approached Chief Fire Marshal Brenner with his idea, after all he had been a carpenter by trade before joining the fire department. He had built houses, surely he could engineer a hole and secure a wooden pole to go through it; he had all the tools. At first Brenner was skeptical, but being a bit of an inventor himself, he had invented a fire escape chute for tall buildings, he finally relented. He made it abundantly clear that if Kenyon's scheme did not work out the captain would be responsible for all repairs to damages to city property.


Captain Kenyon took the hose cart to a nearby lumberyard to get the materials needed. First on his list of course, was a long four by four beam of Georgia pine. Back in quarters he and his men went to work with axes and awls to transform the four by four square beam into a three-inch round pole. The pole was sanded smooth and heavily varnished. Several coats of paraffin oil were applied to make it slick. The hole was cut and reinforced and the pole was installed therein.


Pipeman George Reed, a former Chicago policeman, and later a lieutenant on Engine #21, was the first to ever slide a sliding pole. At first the pole was little more than an amusement in the department. But soon it was realized that Engine #21 was on the scene quicker than many fire companies closer to the fire, particularly at night. So successful was this venture that the process was repeated and on May 24th a second pole was installed in Engine #21's quarters - two poles, no waiting. This was soon followed by pole installations at other Chicago firehouses and it spread to other cities.