A Look Back: Man Who Later Became Mayor Credited with Arlington's First Official 'Bucket Brigade' and Fire Alarm Bell
By O.K. Carter, Landmark Preservation Commission
Posted on February 26, 2020, February 26, 2020

Arlington's first official bucket brigade to fight fires was formed in the 1880s.

The Arlington Fire Department today is almost 300 members strong and is one of the most technically accomplished such units in the country, but in 1880 – the city not even being officially incorporated yet – the department’s equipment was this: A bunch of buckets. Borrowed buckets at that.

The department’s manpower at the time: Zero. Then again, the city’s population wasn’t all that much. The town was village size, around 200 people. But growing.

And even creation of the bucket brigade took some doing. Local citizen George Finger took note of all the new construction taking place (virtually all wooden structures) and made an astute observation: If something caught fire, there was nothing organized to stop it.

So, Finger created an official “bucket brigade” and passed the hat to pay for a fire alarm bell. Arlington was small then, only a half mile by half mile, so the bell could be heard all over town. When it rang, bucket volunteers would run outside, spot the flames or smoke and come-a-running, bringing a bucket with them. They’d fill up buckets at the nearest well and then relay the water-filled buckets from person-to-person, hand-to-hand, to the fire. Another volunteer would grab empty buckets and return them to the well. Then do it again. Sometimes this worked.

Sometimes not.

The citizenry was so impressed by Finger’s zeal in this activity – and his other civic endeavors – that when Arlington was officially incorporated in 1884, they elected him mayor.

This article was written by Arlington author and historian O.K. Carter, who serves on the Landmark Preservation Commission.

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