Documenting the History of the Little Rock Fire Department
The Butler Center for Arkansas Studies at the CALS Bobby L. Roberts Library of Arkansas History & Art acquired the Little Rock Fire Department (LRFD) collection in 2011. The collection contains a great deal of information on the history of the city’s fire department.
In January 2022, staff members in the Research Services Division finished digitizing and uploading more than forty items out of the collection. Researchers can now view, remotely, items such as an 1872 membership list for the Torrent Fire Company.
Other jewels include portraits and group shots of various firemen in the city. Additional items, not digitized, include ledger books detailing the daily activities of various fire department companies from 1876 to 1912. The finding aid is available here, with links to the digital contents included.
Historical Information on the LRFD
The fire department in Little Rock started as an all-volunteer operation in 1839, with the formation of the city’s first fire company and purchase of a fire engine. This earliest fire company did not have an easy task, as it was difficult to maintain the engine and get enough water to successfully fight the fires.
In 1847, the Little Rock Fire Company was formed due to the unorganized and ineffectual original company. By 1867, four volunteer fire companies operated in Little Rock, including a hook and ladder company. It was also around this time that the city purchased its first steam engine and employed an engineer to operate it.
The first salaried position was officially added to the department in 1885, and in 1888, a salaried chief engineer position was also added. Finally, in 1892, the city passed an ordinance to create the fully paid Little Rock Fire Department.
To view the undigitized materials, researchers can visit the Research Room on the second floor of the Roberts Library.