Once Upon a Time


by Necdet Sakaoglu

In 1855 the military fire fighting corps was replaced by fire brigades established in each district of Istanbul with the cooperation of the municipality. Other cities followed suit. All the firemen were local volunteers, who abondoned their work and rushed the fire station whenever there was news of a fire. In return the municipality paid them a daily allowance and gave them a new suit of clothes each year.

In the 1870's the firemen were trained by a Hungarian named Ziçini (Seçeni) who rose to the rank of pasha. The organization gradually came to resemble a kind of sports club which a broad cross-section of society belonged, ranging from the riffraff to civil servants and the sons of gentlemen, who joined for the sense of adventure.

Each district was proud of its chest containing the waterpumps and hoses which was carried at a run on long poles to the scene of the fire. The head of each brigade was known as "reis", his assistant who was in charge of taking the equipment to the fire as "ikinci reis", and the fireman who held the torch to show the others the way at night as the "fenerci". Whenever he came across obstacles which might impede their progress the latter would shout out various warnings : "Yalama var!" for puddles or patches of mud, "Atlama var!" for holes and bumps, "Koç boynuzlu!" for bends in the road, and "Koyun ayagi!" when it was necessary to take short steps.