The origins and history (if any) of the Army's role in fighting fires affecting it's properties and those close around is unknown. One researcher indicates the Army was using self-propelled fire trucks as early as 1910. There are pictures of fire stations and soldiers manning them at Army camps around the United States in World War I. It is known the Quartermaster Corps authorized the organization of 357 Fire Truck and Hose Companies of which 57 came into being. Also authorized were 343 Guard and Fire Companies of which 44 were organized. Lists of Duty Stations in the US and overseas exist plus a few pictures, but no Table of Organization and Equipment and no records of unit accomplishments. These units were disbanded by the early 1920s.
Pre Pearl Harbor Army documents confirm the Quartermaster Corps as the Army's Fire Department. While not confirmable, it is believed the Quartermaster Corps staffed the Army's posts, camps and stations with professional civilian fire fighters using Army fire apparatus. It is known the Quartermaster Corps designed, developed, in some cases, built in their facilities and procured the Army's fire apparatus from before World War I until the United State's entry into World War II.
With the war in Europe underway, the Army high command took a searching look at itself to see if it could successfully fight a war should one come. It found, among other things, the Quartermaster Corps was carrying a workload that was too large and diverse. Out of this finding came the transfer of a number of Quartermaster Corps functions to existing Army Corps or newly created Corps.
Among them was the transfer of the Army's fire fighting role to the Corps of Engineers on December 4, 1941. The Engineers acquired fire stations staffed with professional civilian fire fighters and Army acquired fire apparatus as well as the Quartermaster Corps fire apparatus designers, fire apparatus in the procurement stage and the policies and procedures applicable to peacetime. Three days later, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
With three days experience in a new role, the Corps of Engineers found it would have to create military fire fighting units staffed largely with Selective Service inductees and equipped with fire fighting apparatus designed to work on surfaced roads and serviced by large and reliable fire hydrant and water main systems. Six months of hard work saw the approval on July 1, 1942 of a new organization, the Army Engineer Fire Fighting Detachment. The first ten of these detachments were activated on August 31, 1942 as Detachments 1 through 10 at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana. A year later, these ten, now overseas, would be renamed and renumbered as Engineer Fire Fighting Platoons 1201 through 1210.
A decade of research has located 254 of these Platoons. There are probably more that have not been located. Most of them served in the European - African - Middle Eastern and Asiatic - Pacific Theaters. While classed as Engineer Service Troops, many of the Platoons served in combat environments suffering deaths and injuries. With inadequate and insufficient equipment these Engineers saved lives and valuable property and made a significant contribution to the war effort.