Teaching Cleveland
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High School Edition: 9-12

Lesson 10

"The Wild Bunch," Fire fighting in Mid-nineteenth Century Cleveland


To familiarize students with fire fighting in Cleveland in the mid-nineteenth century.



aldermen, loco foco matches, incendiaries, ex-officio, sexton


1. What were the duties and responsibilities of firemen in mid-nineteenth century Cleveland.


  1. General Instructions: Review vocabulary with which students might not be familiar. This activity may be completed individually or in a group.
  2. Distribute copies of the activity and have students complete the following questions for discussion.
    a. Most of Cleveland's buildings were built of wood. How did this contribute to the need for a dependable volunteer fire department?
    b. What happened to a fireman who did not fulfill his duties? Do you think the punishment given out was fair? Why or why not?
    c. Why do you think bye-standers were sometimes pressed into helping at the scene of a fire?
    d. Why was it important to have a warning system in place for fires in the city?
    e. What did people believe caused the fire at the Giraffe Grocery store?
    f. In the reading, "Memoirs of a 48er," what attracted the boys to the fire?
    g. Who had the right, according to the city charter, to determine which buildings would be saved?
    h. How was the job of the hook and ladder man specialized?
  3. Most students have seen a fire, either on television or in person. Have students imagine that they lived in Cleveland in 1846 and write a letter to a friend describing a fire they witnessed.
  4. Have students complete additional research on fire fighting in mid-nineteenth century America and today and make group presentations in class comparing the duties, responsibilities and equipment of both periods.

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