Celebrating Black History Month- Inventor of the Fire Pole
By Deputy Chief Chip Nanko
February 4, 2021

'Until 1878, spiral staircases or sliding chutes were common in fire houses, but not particularly fast in getting the firefighters down to the apparatus. Fire houses were also equipped with spiral staircases so horses would not try to climb the stairs into the living quarters.

Captain David B. Kenyon of Chicago's all-black Engine Company No. 21 worked in a three-story fire station. The ground floor contained the firefighting equipment, the floor above was for recreation and sleeping, and the top floor was the hayloft to store the winter supply of hay for the fire engines' horses. During transport, the hay was secured to a wagon using a wooden binding pole, which was stored in the hayloft when not in use. Firefighter George Reid slid down the pole to respond to a call for help once, which inspired Kenyon to create a permanent pole.

In 1878 Kenyon convinced his chief to make the necessary hole in the building and install the pole, after agreeing to pay for any necessary maintenance. The company crafted a pole out of a Georgia pine beam by shaving and sanding it into a 3-inch diameter pole which they gave several coats of varnish and a coat of paraffin.

Despite being the butt of many jokes, others soon realized Company 21 was usually the first company to arrive when called, especially at night, and the chief of the department ordered the poles to be installed in all Chicago fire stations. In 1880 the first brass pole was installed in the Worcester Fire Department'