The Fire Department:

The fire department in Ashtabula at the time was more like a gentleman's club, as were many volunteer fire departments across the county. It's not that the firefighters didn't care or didn't want to do a good job, but the idea of professionalism in terms of training, safety, and expertise was still in its infancy in America. The Ashtabula fire department, along with many other small city fire departments across the country, suffered because of a lack of training and professionalism. America's small cities and towns were still at the crossroads of developing full-time professional fire fighting units. Even though Ashtabula had a volunteer fire company of over 200 men, a number of hand fire pumpers and even a horse drawn steam powered fire engine, they were in no way even close to being prepared to deal with a disaster like this one.

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Neptune Steam Fire Pumper

The Neptune steam powered fire pumper was high end modern technology at the time of the disaster. This fire pumper and its crew of men did respond to the fire the night of the disaster, but its men were never ordered to throw water on the fire. (Photo from of the Ashtabula Fire Dept. Archives)