Fire Department

Fire Department

1786 | 1933


“How far and what progress has the Fire Department made since the beginning of the nineteenth century, when the notice given by the bell of the Asinella made the brentatori and mason pumpers, enrolled in the service of fires, rush to the Palace, scattered throughout the city, which, under the direction of the architect and of the Master Mason, had to take the machines and the tools kept in a large room of the Palazzo Comunale, of which the keys were held by the artisan Francesco Comelli, pump-maker, living near the church of S. Colombano, - then of Santi Fabiano and Sebastiano, - and of the custodian Domenico Ruvinetti, living in the vicinity of the Municipal Residence! (...) Two very serious fires that broke out in 1830 pushed the Conservator of the City, Count Carlo Pepoli, to write a report to the Senator of Bologna, Marquis Francesco Bevilacqua Ariosti, a very lively report. (...) ONly in November of the year 1837 was the permanent service of the firemen on guard at the Apostolic Palace (Palazzo Comunale) established, in which year two pumps were purchased, one English and the other French, for a total expenditure of 811.05 scudi. (...) In 1849 the first Commander of the Corps was appointed in the person of Count Giovanni Bentivoglio. The staff included eleven officers and the company officers, four brigadiers, a policy carrier and four signalmen. The Corps was made up of one hundred firemen. (...) In 1853 Marquis Annibale Banzi was appointed Commander of the Fire Department. In 1859, due to the resignation of the Marquis Annibale Banzi, the Marquis Camillo Zambeccari was appointed Commander. (...) In 1862, following the proposal of Commander Tattini, the pump for the emptying of the wells was purchased and in the same year the town council allocated 3000 lire for the purchase of new machines. In 1868 the City Council approved the institution of a music corps of firemen, a proposal made by Maestro Enrico Dusiani. (...) Only in 1870 was the Municipal Council able to draw up a contract with the Assumption of the road watering so that two horses and a driver could be kept at the disposal of the firemen, a service that required an expenditure of twenty-five lire per month. (...) When Commander Angelo Tattini died on December 1, 1878, Captain Ballarini was promoted to Commander in February 1879. (...) In 1881, the aqueduct was inaugurated in the city and fire hydrants were later installed. (...) In 1882, the Municipal Council established the Italian Telephone lines for the use of the Fire Department. (...) In 1895, the number of hydrants placed in the streets of the city was increased by eight, so that their total number rose to ninety-four. (...) In 1900, the engineer Luigi Monti was appointed Interim Commander. On December 5, 1900, a memorial stone was solemnly placed in the barracks in memory of firefighter Querzè Valentino, who ‘fell from the top of a burned house and lost his life at the age of 24, a life that he had risked three times in the previous three months to save’. (...) Today's equipment consists of six fire trucks, six motor pumps, three steam pumps, two Magirus Ladders and a Metz ladder truck. (...) During the Great War, the fireman won a silver medal for military valor, a bronze medal for civil valor, and twenty-six crosses for war merit. There were two wounded and five volunteers. The most serious fire since the founding of the Corps, of which we all have the terrible vision in our minds, was that of the Municipal Theater on the night of November 29, 1931.” Text from ‘Il corpo pompieri bolognese’, magazine ‘Il Comune di Bologna’, January 1933.

March 31, 1868: in the wake of post-unification reforms and adjustments, the new Regulations for fire fighting are approved by the City Council. Article 1 states that every citizen is obliged, for reasons of public safety, to contact the civic fire department in case of fire in the city and its suburbs. The cost of the service is charged to the injured party according to the rates set by the Municipality. Article 2 establishes that it is the duty of each citizen to immediately notify the Fire Department of the Municipal Building in the event of the sighting of a fire, indicating the precise location and leaving his signature. Article 5 establishes how to subdivide the expenses for the intervention of the Fire Department if the building belongs to different owners and sets the maximum time limit for payment at 30 days. On July 23, 1896 the Council approved the reform of the Fire Department Regulations discussed by the Council in the preceding months.

On January 18, 1884, the enlargement of the premises of the Trade Exchange in the town hall was inaugurated according to the project of Filippo Buriani. The premises occupy the courtyard called “della Cisterna”, seat of the ancient “Orto dei Semplici” and used in the 19th century for firemen’s maneuvers. On July 10, 1902a terrible fire broke out in the cellar- warehouse of the company Malmusi and Gentili, between via Caprarie and via Mercato di Mezzo (now via Rizzoli). The company was in fact one of the few suppliers of fuel for the very first cars circulating in the city. The benzene explosion involved people and things. The firemen intervened, but they were not enough: it was necessary to mobilize four hundred soldiers to finally extinguish the flames. At the end of the operations, the number of victims was important: three firemen died (Luigi Landuzzi, Benito Stagni and Alfonso Marescalchi) and more than fifty people were injured. The headquarters of Malmusi and Gentili was located inside the senatorial palace Lambertini that, in its long history, had been - among other things - the seat of the Hotel del Commercio and the Ronzani Brewery. Obviously, the destruction of the building was almost total and, once the rubble of the burnt dwellings had been removed the small square called “delle Cimarie” was created in via Pelliccerie. On May 13, 1912, the “fittone”, that is to say the bollard located in via Spaderie and considered by the goliardia a mythical phallic symbol, was transferred to the beginning of the portico of palazzo Poggi in via Zamboni. Carried on a stretcher by two firemen, the so - called “mayor’s pole” is welcomed by a crowd of university students, complete with band and flags. On a single commemorative number, the goliards give the removed pole a new first name: because it was in the heart of the city / It was named by the senior citizen / Now that it is next to the University / We will call it the … Rector’s pole.

January 13, 1915 a violent earthquake strikes and devastates central Italy. The Mayor Francesco Zanardi, opening the City Council meeting, expresses the solidarity of the city and communicates that he has offered the Minister of the Interior to help the population by sending a team of firemen to the earthquake zone. On January 14, a first group of firemen left Bologna on two motorboats, led by the commander Vincenzo Cavara and the medical officer Riccardo Gregorini, who together with the other teams arrived by rail under the command of engineer Paolo Graziani, set up camp near Avezzano, reached in the evening of January 16 by the councilor Demos Altobelli who actively lent his help to the population. Other aids, foodstuffs, medical material collected by the relief committees immediately formed, arrived from Bologna in the following days brought by Argentina Altobelli and by the same mayor Francesco Zanardi. In the same year, as part of the assistance to war fighters returning from the front, a complex organization was arranged in which the Municipality collaborated with the military authorities, the Red Cross and the firemen’s corps,reinforced with motor soldiers and military health. On August 22 and 23, 1915, a “passeggiata beneficica pro lana” (charity walk for wool) was held: the firemen attached to the 62nd Battalion and to the territorial hospitals of the Red Cross.

In “Bologna invita…” (Bologna invites…), Special Edition for the Holy Year, S.E.T.I Bologna, 1949, the subject of the Fire Brigade and its enterprises is discussed: The fire danger number one, the number one Defense brigade | The earliest memories of fire-fighting services in the Municipality of Bologna, for which the civic administration showed direct interest, date back to 1786, the year in which the first two fire pumps were purchased, built by the Bolognese mechanic Francesco Comelli. Before that time, it does not appear that the municipality had any material against fires, nor that there was any organization against such accidents. The first norms regarding the interventions on fires and the division of the expenses met for the extinction, between the directly damaged and the neighboring owners, date back to 1795. Obviously, even then, such a state of affairs could not be considered sufficient to cope with accidents which, in relation to the abundance of timber used in construction and the existence of the most superficial criteria of prevention, almost always assumed gigantic proportions. For this reason, there were frequent requests for the organization of a Fire Department, to be entrusted with such a delicate task, and to improve the equipment, which at the beginning of 1800 consisted of the two hand pumps mentioned above, 29 pieces of piping (for a total of about 88 meters), three spears, 10 buckets. 4 pickaxes and 8 pieces of rope with hooks. In addition to this material, there was a birocco and the harnesses of the horses. It seems superfluous to add that, at the time, there were no fire hydrants, so the water was supplied, partly directly with buckets, or other available containers, partly by hand pumps that, in turn, were powered by other carriers.

When a fire broke out, the specific duties of firemen were assumed by a detachment of the National Guard and by the brentatori inhabitants who transported wine. In June 1815 was, for the first time, organized a Fire Department (or Pompieri), which was constituted by the 2nd section of the Company of Artillerymen of the Urban Guard. The director of the department was the engineer Giuseppe Tubertini. The badge of the firemen was a single cockade on the hat. Vocational instruction was established on the Sunday days of the “good season”. On March 14, 1824, Count Cesare Alessandro Scarselli, Senator of Bologna, then under the Papal government, issued a manifesto stating that “ with the important intention of keeping away as much as possible that confusion that in the unfortunate circumstances of fires, experience has shown to be the unfortunate producer of significant and fatal disorders” a Fire Department was organized. The functioning of the Corps was regulated as follows: The city was divided into four districts, for each of which a “respectable person” was chosen to assist the direction of the Corps, taken by the Senator himself. The warning of the incident was given by a bell placed on the Asinelli tower, at the sound of which all men had to go to the public palace, where the material was kept. The confusion, which is mentioned in the promulgated notice, was that which originated at the manifestation of any public accident, dure to the disorderly flow of citizens working and, more than anything else, due to the lack of a direction of operations, so it was an overlapping of orders and countermands, a doing and undoing, while the fire carried out its devastating work. The position of director, instituted in 1815, could not remedy this problem, since it was not certain that the director would arrive before the firemen or together with them. But the same organization of 1824 did not give the good results it promised, not even to eliminate the much deprecated confusion.

The crowds of people who rushed from all over at the sound of the alarm bell towards the pump warehouse, arrived at the drop of a hat, so that the latecomers, already breathless, had to run to get to the site of the accident, even more breathless and tired, and in small groups. The direction of operations had, at first, to adapt to the available force, which gradually increased, so that the deprecated confusion was inevitable, brought by the same operators, who, as soon as they arrived, anxiously asked for a task. The situation was anything but comfortable, both in relation to the personnel (not for its own demerit), and for the scarcity of materials, and,even more, for the fact that it was not always possible to send horses to haul tools. These systems continued until 1836. In April,1837, two more pumps were purchased:one in London and one in Paris, and in November of the same year the greatest innovation of personnel service was brought in, with the establishment of a permanent guard, consisting of a postmaster and three firemen. To these measures was added the institution of the uniform. The improved state of the services met with general satisfaction and the firemen with the highest morale, gave proof of zeal and skill, making themselves worthy of special certificates and honors. On January 6 , 1849, the position of Commander was instituted, and Count Giovanni Bentivogio was appointed. At the end of the year 1852, an Urban Company was established, militarily organized, and destined to honor services to governmental and municipal authorities. Said Company, together with the Firemen, constituted a single Corps, dependent on the Commander of the Firemen, and the command assumed the title of “Command of the Urban Guard”.

A notable purchase was made in 1867: the aerial ladder built by the mechanic Paolo Porta. The improved conditions of the Corps; in terms of both machinery and personnel, who were particularly well trained, were highlighted for the first time on February 20, 1873, with a public experiment in Piazza Maggiore. On that occasion, and for the first time, the “Porta” aerial ladder was developed and put into action, with which Marshal Rossi Cesare climbed onto the roof of the Palazzo del Podestà, in particularly difficult conditions, since the top of the ladder was about one meter from the covered edge. This maneuver produced a great deal of enthusiasm and was the most concrete proof of the excellent level of physical and moral preparation of the firemen who, it should be noted, were not paid, except for the fixed guard shifts they worked. The life of the Corps was by now a continuous succession of improvements. Already in March 1882, telephones were installed, and in 1884 the first fire hydrants were installed, thirteen in number derived from the aqueduct coming from the Setta, inaugurated on June 5, 1881. To the improvements and innovations made to the services in the field of practice, was added the care of theoretical and personal training. This delicate task was taken on by Officer Giovannardi Corelli, who in 1884 printed an instruction manual for firemen, which received the general approval of the Italian Firemen’s Corps, and the praise of all the Authorities. In October 1886 another 30 fire hydrants were installed; another 20 were installed in March 1888; another 8 in June 1892.

On July 3, 1887, the Corps performed a second experiment in the “Arena del Sole” theater. The “Resto del Carlino” of the following July 4 wrote about it: “...the speed, agility, order and precision with which the firemen work were admired. All the operations presented difficulties and dangers, but everything was happily overcome, thanks to the skill of the chief directors and the ability and order of the executors. Like the public who applauded yesterday, we too are pleased and congratulate the well-deserving Bologna Fire Department. And the “Gazzetta dell'Emilia '' of the same day, wrote “... the maneuvers were carried out with such impeccable skill and ease as to truly and rightly arouse enthusiasm. … This attempt at a true description of a simulated fire is the best praise the reporter can give to the discipline, skill and courage shown yesterday by our Fire Department”. Such demonstrations of the efficiency attained by the personnel, could not fail to be fertile grounds for measures to increase services. Consequently, on January 1, 1890, the permanent guard at the City Hall was increased to one postmaster and seven firemen (one of whom was a spotter), and on July 1, 1891, it was further increased to one postmaster and ten firemen (one of whom was a spotter). It may seem strange that with such a small force all the casualties that occurred could be dealt with. It should be noted, however, that, at that time, the frequency of fires was quite low ( an average of 100 per year), and that the permanent guard represented the force of first intervention, being this conveniently increased, in relation to the size of the fire, by the call of other personnel by means of the spotter. In relation to the quality of the equipment then in use for fire fighting, the Bologna Corps was quite well equipped. The numerical deficiency of the permanent guard at the palace was partly remedied by the 1896 regulation, which provided for the nightly stationing of a number of firemen established by the Commandant, who had to be on guard from 11:00 p.m. until late in the morning of the following day. The same regulation provided for the maintenance of two horses in a stable in the civic building, to be used exclusively for towing the country wagon, for interventions outside the city and not a short distance from it. It is not easy to make a comparative comparison between the cost of services then and now. First of all, because all rescue services today are absolutely free (even outside the city), while before they were at the total expense of private individuals; secondly, because the average number of rescues provided by the Corps today does not defend the capital city alone, but the entire province. In essence, taking into account the different purchasing power of the lira, the firemen’s services, which in 1896 cost the City about 35,000 lire per year, today cost 66,000,000 lire, or about 1885 times more.

Traduzione in collaborazione con il Liceo Linguistico Internazionale C. Boldrini di Bologna, marzo 2022.

Leggi tutto



Corpo pompieri di Bologna (Il)
Tipo: PDF Dimensione: 2.38 Mb

Alessandro Tirelli, Il Corpo pompieri di Bologna, estratto dalla rivista 'Il Comune di Bologna', gennaio 1933