Today in 1872, the Chicago Tribune reported on the launch of a new fire station that would not only protect the city after a huge disaster, it would change the profession of firefighting forever by inventing the fire pole.

This was one of the rare times where a downward slide was actually a big step up.

Engine 21 was home to the city’s first-ever Black firefighters, and there was a backlash among white Chicagoans.

Even though the city had warned residents to back off or they would close the fire station down (not a small threat in the year after the Great Chicago Fire) residents did not back off.

According to newspaper accounts, they sometimes mocked and heckled the Black firefighters while they were fighting fires (!?!)

Some of the firefighters had been enslaved, and some had served in the Union Army during the Civil War.

They proved themselves over and over on the job, but the public attitude was still that they wouldn’t and couldn’t be the equal of white firefighters.

And that had to sting, but Engine 21 found a way to show the world just how good they were.

The firefighters lived on the second floor of the building.

When it was time to fight a fire, they raced down the stairs to their horse-drawn pumpers.

Engine 21 found a way to get downstairs even faster: they had a long wooden pole that they used to put their horses’ hay into a storage area above their living quarters.

One day when the fire alarm went off, one of the firefighters slid down the pole, getting to the ground floor way faster than the firefighters using the stairs.

Eventually Engine 21 got permission from the city to cut a hole into the floor so they could install their fire pole permanently.

The city said yes as long as they agreed to pay to repair the floor if it didn’t work out.

Fortunately it did work out: Engine 21 was already known for their skill and bravery, now they were also showing up to fires faster than the other companies in Chicago.

In the years to come, fire stations all over the city and then all over the world started installing their own “sliding poles.”

Though these were metal ones, so the firefighters didn’t get splinters.

Around this time in 2002, the Supreme Court in Finland made a ruling that was supposed to bring in new royalties for musicians.

It said that when cab drivers put on their radios for paying customers, they were providing their passengers with a public performance and that musicians deserved a share of the cab revenue.

I bet you can guess how the cabbies felt about that. And the musicians, for that matter.

In response to White Chicagoans mocking the first Black fire crew in 1872, they wanted to prove themselves as good, if not better (Chicago Tribune)

Finland’s cabbies face the music (The Guardian)

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