The First Fire Department

Notre Dame Fire Department firemen posed on Main Quad in front of Main Building, c1899.

Notre Dame Fire Department firemen posed on a fire truck, c1970s.Notre Dame Fire Department firemen posed on a fire truck, c1970s.

The University was the first in the U.S. to operate a full-time fire department. The unit dates back to just after the founding, when in 1846 a group of Holy Cross Brothers was assigned as part of their work at the University to procure “buckets, axes and other tools during a fire.” The need for such a designated company would be proven many times over the coming years. In 1879, when the entire University was practically destroyed by fire, the town of South Bend’s volunteer engine took 45 minutes to arrive. By the turn of the century, Scholastic noted that the University had “the best fire protection in America,” and “could deliver over 2,000 gallons of water per minute within five minutes of the alarm.”

Today, the Notre Dame Fire Department (NDFD) has 16 full-time firefighters responding to more than 1,500 incidents a year.