The first volunteer firehouse was developed in 1736 by founding father Benjamin Franklin. Many early American presidents served as volunteer firefighters, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Buchanan.

People who witnessed fires but didn’t help to extinguish them were often mocked and ridiculed. In the early 1800s, Marina Betts, serving as a volunteer firefighter, would dump buckets of water over the heads of bystanders who watched the fires instead of helping to end them.

Full-time paid firefighters didn’t exist in the US until 1850. There still aren’t many people who are paid to do this job, and today, more than 70% of all American firefighters are volunteers. In fact, volunteer firefighters are considered so prestigious that firefighter is the 6th most common answer that American children give to the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?”