Fire Poles Began As A Gag (But We're Still Using Them)
The fireman's pole is one of the most identifiable items associated with an organization that is commonly experienced screaming and shining lights at you or attacking your door with an ax. Still, above all of those, the fireman's pole reigns supreme pretty much basically because of Batman and the Ghostbusters and every single teenager at one point wanting to use one.
We’ve all wanted to be Bridget Jones.
The invention of it is all kinda because of horses. Originally, firehouses had spiral staircases leading from where the horses were kept up to the sleeping quarters. To keep the horses from running up there, spiral staircases that either prevented the horses from climbing or caught them in a Saw-esque trap of macabre horror were installed. When the alarm went off, you had to run down those shitty stairs, potentially having to vault over a horse corpse, before rushing out to the fire ... Where you were invariably late because there's like nine other firehouses all competing to get here first because the early history of fire fighting for profit is a horror show.
Eventually, the fireman's pole was created, and while it started as a joke, it soon caught on. Back in the 1870s, a firefighter in Fire Company No 21 named David Kenyon saw one of his friends slide two stories down a wooden pole (because when you're a firefighter, you just kinda get bored sometimes) and realized doing something that stupid could save some time, so he convinced his chief to install a pole in the house. And it worked well. Despite people thinking it looked stupid as fuck at first, others realized it worked when they were consistently beat out by No 21. Some even improved on it by doing the stupidly simple job of making it brass instead of something that could give you dick splinters.
The pole was so ubiquitous that it became synonymous with firemen (and Batmen) and being cool as hell. Every fire station needs one despite us not using horses anymore.
Oh, right, the entire purpose of sleeping on the second floor was because of the horses. So why do we still have fire poles? Well, it's not like there are any negatives, right? It started as a gag, but the fire pole proved itself to be a great idea with no downsides whatsoever, right? Turns out, sliding down a pole by just kinda hugging it and hoping gravity decides to just kinda give you one doesn’t work out that well.
Despite the ridiculousness of this sentence being self-evident, it’s completely true: the fireman’s pole has killed people before. So many people have been hurt, cities have been sued, and years have passed since there was any need for the pole, but despite all of that, they linger on. People still love and support fire poles even as they’re being slowly phased out of newer firehouses.
Of course, some firefighters can’t go that far and are starting to use slides because sleeping on the ground floor is for horses.
Top Image: University of Washington