Pioneer Fire Company No. 1
The Pioneer Fire Company No. 1 was a volunteer fire-fighting unit organized in Birmingham in early 1872. The group was chartered by the Alabama General Assembly on March 28, 1873. The first foreman of the company was John Ellison. Members paid dues, but were exempted from Alabama State Militia duties so long as they were acting as firefighters.
The city's first serious fire broke out on the second floor of B. F. Cheek's drugstore on the southeast corner of 3rd Avenue North and 20th Street on July 4, 1872. It was caused when a girl knocked over a kerosene lantern. Firefighters were joined by members of the public in passing leather bags of water from the well at 2nd Avenue and 25th Street, but the well ran dry before the fire could be extinguished. It eventually spread to twelve nearby houses before it was contained.
By the end of that summer the downtown area had been furnished with municipal water and two dozen fire hydrants had been installed. Another fire company, the Mineral City Fire Company No. 2 acquired a hand-pumped fire engine, which they named "Tom Tate" in honor of a respected builder. Friendly competition between fire companies gave rise to frequent drills as members trained to respond quickly to alarms, signaled from an 800-pound bell atop the Jefferson County Courthouse.
In April 1874 the company voted to admit members of the Hook & Ladder Fire Company No. 1 and Mineral City Fire Company No. 2 (also called the Tate Fire Company), which had been banned by the Birmingham Board of Aldermen, to join as members of their chartered company. Among those admitted were James Luckie, Frank O'Brien and Tom Jeffers.
W. S. Going reported at the same meeting that he had purchased a spanner and wrench. The company secretary was instructed to inform the Birmingham Board of Aldermen that the newly-installed fire plugs on 2nd Avenue North at 19th and 20th Streets were the wrong size and could not connect to the company's hose.
On May 15, 1874 the Pioneer Company staged a parade followed by a ball. Besides the uniformed firemen and their wagons, the parade included, "an unusually large, deformed African, mounted on a very poor horse," and followed by another, "representative of Ethiopia" on foot with a Babcock fire extinguisher strapped to his back. A yellow banner identified the pair as the "Paid Fire Department". The display was meant to shame city officials for not properly funding a firefighting company.
In 1877 the Pioneer Fire Company placed an order for uniforms consisting of blue flannel shirts with white collar and shield, with the name "Pioneer" on the shield, worn with a blue leather belt and a blue leather cap with "Pioneer" in raised letters on a raised frontispiece. The uniform sets cost $5 each.
In 1881 the company established a "board of commissioners" consisting of the chair of the fire committee and the foreman of each division. On October 4, 1892 the company was merged with the Mechanics Fire Company No. 3 and other volunteer units under the leadership of W. P. Brewer, acting as the city's "Chief Engineer". The volunteer department was disbanded in favor of the city's professional fire department in 1885.