July 14, 2024
The History and Traditions of The Fire Service
Jun 21, 2007

History of the Maltese Cross

The Badge of a Fire Fighter is the Maltese Cross. The Maltese Cross is a symbol of protection and a badge of honor. Its story is hundreds of years old. 

When a courageous band of crusaders known as The Knights of St. John fought the Saracens for possession of the holy land, they encountered a new weapon unknown to European warriors. It was a simple, but horrible device of war. It brought excruciating pain and agonizing death upon the brave fighters for the cross. 

As the crusaders advanced on the walls of the city, they were struck by glass bombs containing naphtha. When they became saturated with the highly flammable liquid, the Saracens would hurl a flaming torch into their midst. Hundreds of the knights were burned alive; others risked their lives to save their brothers-in-arms from dying painful, fiery deaths.

Thus, these men became our first Fire Fighters and the first of a long list of courageous men. Their heroic efforts were recognized by fellow crusaders who awarded each hero a badge of honor - a cross similar to the one fire fighters wear today. Since the Knights of St. John lived for close to four centuries on a little island in the Mediterranean Sea named Malta, the cross came to be known as the Maltese Cross.

The Maltese Cross is our symbol of protection. It means that the Fire Fighter who wears this cross is willing to lay down his life for you just as the crusaders sacrificed their lives for their fellow man so many years ago. The Maltese Cross is a Fire Fighter's badge of honor, signifying that he works in courage - a ladder's rung away from death. 

Jun 21, 2007

History of the Star of Life

The Blue "Star of Life" -- The Emergency Medical Care Symbol 
by Arline Zatz 

Just as a pharmacists has the mortar and pestle and doctors have the caduceus, Emergency Medical Technicians have a symbol, its use is encouraged both by the American Medical Association and the Advisory Council within the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. The symbol applies to all emergency medical goods and services which are funded under the DOT/EMS program. 

Designed by Leo R. Schwartz, Chief of the EMS Branch, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the "Star of Life" was created after the American National Red Cross complained in 1973 that they objected to the common use of an Omaha orange cross on a square background of reflectorized white which clearly imitated the Red Cross symbol. NHTSA investigated and felt the complaint was justified. 

The newly designed, six barred cross, was adapted from the Medical Identification Symbol of the American Medical Association and was registered as a certification mark on February 1, 1977 with the Commissioner of Patents and Trade-marks in the name of the National Highway Traffic Safety and Administration. The trademark will remain in effect for twenty years from this date. 

Each of the bars of the blue "Star of Life" represents the six system function of the EMS, as illustrated below: The capitol letter "R" enclosed in the circle on the right represents the fact that the symbol is a "registered" certification. 

The snake and staff in the center of the symbol portray the staff Asclepius who, according to Greek mythology, was the son of Apollo (god of light, truth and prophecy). Supposedly Asclepius learned the art of healing from the centaur Cheron; but Zeus - king of the gods, was fearful that because of Asclepius knowledge, all men might be rendered immortal. Rather than have this occur, Zeus slew Asclepius with a thunderbolt. Later, Asclepius was worshipped as a god and people slept in his temples, as it was rumored that he effected cures of prescribed remedies to the sick during their dreams. 

Asclepius was usually shown in a standing position, dressed in a long cloak, holding a staff with a serpent coiled around it. The staff has since come to represent medicine's only symbol. In the Caduceus, used by physicians and the Military Medical Corp., the staff is winged and has two serpents intertwined. Even though this does not hold any medical relevance in origin, it represents the magic wand of the Greek deity, Hermes, messenger of the gods. 

The Bible, in Numbers 21:9, makes reference to a serpent on a staff: "And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived. (NAS) 

Who may use the "Star of Life" symbol? NHTSA has exclusive rights to monitor its use throughout the United States. Its use on emergency medical vehicles certifies that such vehicles meet the U.S. Department of Transportation standards and certify that the emergency medical care personnel who use it have been trained to meet these standards. Its use on road maps and highway signs indicates the location or access to qualified emergency care services. No other use of the symbol is allowed, except as listed below: 

States and Federal agencies which have emergency medical services involvement are authorized to permit use of the "Star of Life" symbol summarized as follows: 

- As a means of identification for medical equipment and supplies for installation and use in the Emergency Medical Care Vehicle-Ambulance. 
- To point to the location of qualified medical care services and access to such facilities. 
- For use on shoulder patches worn only by personnel who have satisfactorily completed DOT training courses or approved equivalents, and for persons who by title and function administer, directly supervise, or participate in all or part of National, State, or community EMS programs. 
- On EMS personnel items - badges, plaques, buckles, etc. 
Books, pamphlets, manuals, reports or other printed material having direct EMS application. 
- The "Star of Life" symbol may be worn by administrative personnel, project directors and staff, councils and advisory groups. If shoulder patches are worn, they should be plain blue "Star of Life" on a white square or round background. The function, identifying letters or words should be printed on bars and attached across the bottom separately. The edges of the basic patch and functional bars are to be embroidered. 

Special function identification and physical characteristics must be adhered to when applying the "Star of Life" to personal items, as follows: 

a) Administrative and dispatcher personnel must use a silver colored edge, and the staff of Asclepius should be with a silver colored serpent. These items do not need a white background. 

b) The shoulder patches and other EMS patches may be displayed on uniform pockets and the symbol can also be placed on collars and headgear. 

This article was taken from Rescue-EMS Magazine, July-August 1992 

Each of the six "points" of the star represents an aspect of the EMS System. 

They are: 

1) Detection 
2) Reporting 
3) Response 
4) On Scene Care 
5) Care In Transit 
6) Transfer to Definitive Care 

The staff on the star represents Medicine and Healing

Jun 23, 2007

International Association of FireFighters


Paid fire fighters began organizing themselves into clubs and associations in the mid-19th century. Many of these groups were organized for the assistance of fire fighters who were injured on the job or for the families of fire fighters who died in the line of duty.

By the beginning of the 20th Century, professional fire fighters were beginning to organize themselves into local unions. The first of these unions to be chartered by the American Federation of Labor was the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, union which still holds the designation of IAFF LOCAL 1.

By the end of 1916, there were 17 AFL-chartered local fire fighters unions in the United States and one in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

The World War I surge in unionism was eagerly joined by professional fire fighters. More than 40 local unions were chartered by the AFL in 1917, and interest grew in establishing an international union. The following year 24 local unions attended a charter conventions held in Baltimore, Maryland.

The Conventions deliberations resulted in the founding of the International Association of Fire Fighters on Feb. 28, 1918, and its chartering by the AFL. The original IAFF constitution established the union along organizational lines that are continued to the present day, advised against strikes, and laid out a set of objectives essentially similar to those cited in the preamble to the present IAFF Constitution.

The convention also founded the IAFF publication, The Fire Fighter, and established and enduring precedent of active participation in legislative affairs.

Delegates to the 1918 Convention took time off from their deliberations to visit their congressmen to urge them to enact a "two-platoon system" for the fire fighters of Washington, DC They also formed a legislative committee on the IAFF Executive Board. Advocacy of the two-platoon system was a primary issue for fire fighters of the day. In 1918, only 34 American cities maintained two shifts of fire fighters, with one on duty while the other was off. The common practice was "continuous duty", requiring fire fighters to live constantly in the fire house, except for meals and an occasional day off.

At the time the IAFF was founded with 5,400 members, the average salary of a top-grade fire fighter was $1,346 a year. In addition, few fire fighters were protected by civil service laws and almost all pay, promotions, and other benefits came and went at the whim of local politicians.

Other enduring goals of the IAFF also appeared early in its history. The 1919 convention endorsed the eight-hour work day, called for universal health insurance, and urged "its speedy enactment with provision for adequate medical and financial benefits, free choice of physician, active preventive work, and democratic management." That same year, Boston police went out on strike and public outrage over the strike in the Untied States had a disastrous effect on most public employee unions, including the IAFF. In the wake of the strike, many public employees were forbidden to belong to unions and many city governments required IAFF locals to give up their charters in return for pay raises. At the same time in Canada, public sentiment was in sharp contrasts to that displayed in the Untied States with the Canadian public generally supportive of the plight of fire fighters and their right to unionize.

The IAFF, which had reported almost 25,000 members in a August 1919, saw a loss of 5,000 members over the next year. In 1923, the IAFF worked aggressively to encourage the enactment of civil service laws to remove the fire service from politics. Although membership was down to about 17,000, the IAFF's civil service reform demands were beginning to show results. The first major victories were in Canada, where provincial laws governing fire services were enacted to protect fire fighters from politics.

By 1926, membership was beginning to edge upward again and the public support for fire fighter issues was increasing. At the IAFF's convention that year, members of the Portland, Oregon local proudly reported winning a salary increase after an unprecedented campaign for public support in which they distributed 100,000 pamphlets, 80,000 letters and 70,000 flyers, advertised in movie theaters, and fulfilled more than 40 speaking engagements.

That same year, the convention turned its attention to professional education for the first time, hearing a speaker from the U.S. Bureau of Chemistry discuss the hazards of dust explosions and how to fight them. Although the effects of the Boston police strike lingered and the IAFF in 1930 adopted a "no strike" provision in its Constitution- the membership and influence of the IAFF continued to grow "Continuous service" was largely a thing of the past. With the IAFF president and vice presidents serving as organizers, local unions were chartered by the dozens. The effect of the Great Depression, with its manpower cutbacks and pay-less paydays, further fostered fire fighter unionism.

The IAFF and its affiliates continued fighting for descent wages and working conditions, although prospects for more pay and shorter hours were hampered by the Great Depression if the 1930s. During the Depression years, when millions of citizens were unemployed, IAFF members in many cities assisted private relief agencies by organizing "Sunshine Divisions" for the distribution of clothes and commodities to those in need. The charitable activities of IAFF members during this period set a precedent that lives on - and to this day, IAFF members still donate their services to assist the public in charitable and community endeavors.

By 1939, the IAFF could celebrate the spread of civil service laws, significant shortening of hours of work, and growing salaries for fire fighters. That year also marked the IAFF's first efforts involving occupational safety and health when the IAFF engaged its first "medical advisor" to carry on research into the physical effects of fire fighting with special attention to heart disease. IAFF membership, which reached 23,000 in 1932, increased to about 45,000 in 1940 as the IAFF got involved in the new civil defense activities being inaugurated in the Untied States and Canada.

The 1940s saw major advances in membership and effectiveness, even as the union coped with wartime and postwar problems. The year 1944 saw the first eight federal locals chartered and the growth of state associations to 33, most of which maintained legislative representatives to promote issues affecting fire fighters in the state legislatures. Although a World War II wage freeze largely stymied efforts to counter wartime inflation, the 48-hour week became widespread in the fire service and, in 1948, the IAFF chartered its 1000th local union.

With the largest cities paying an average of $3,500-a-year to fire fighters, the 1950 IAFF convention set as the union's objectives a base salary of $5,000,a 40-hour workweek, retirement at half-pay after 20 years of service, $1,200 minimum annual benefits for widows, and three-quarters pay for fire fighters disabled in the line of duty.

The IAFF entered the 1950s with a membership of more than 72,000 and a rising awareness among fire fighters that pay increases were not matching the ravages of inflation. In 1955, when the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations untied to form the AFL-CIO, the IAFF remained an active affiliate of the newly constituted and larger House of Labor in the Untied States and its counterpart in Canada, the Canadian Labour Congress. The IAFF turned its
attention to strengthening the bargaining process by advocating the passage of compulsory arbitration laws. In the 1950s, the IAFF also began a decades-long and largely successful effort to keep fire fighters' pensions from being absorbed into the social security system. Meanwhile, the IAFF's membership continued to climb, boosted by an upsurge of interest in unionism among federally-employed fire fighters in the Untied States and Canada. The 1956 convention noted with satisfaction that 85 per cent of all eligible professional fire fighters belonged to the IAFF. A growing concern of fire fighters in that period was occupational health and safety and the IAFF began a concerted effort to seek legislation recognizing and providing protection against occupational hazards. In 1958, the John P. Redmond Memorial Fund for Research of Occupational Diseases of Fire Fighters, named for a former IAFF president who died during attendance at an AFL-CIO convention, was founded. Its first activities included establishment of a medical library to assist locals in the presentation of disability and pension cases. The late 1950s saw many U. S. Locals winning referendum campaigns for higher wages and better working conditions. Canadian locals by now generally worked under written contracts required by provincial law. The IAFF established a research department to compile statistics on fire fighter working conditions and other data for use in local bargaining. Meanwhile another threat appeared. The IAFF had to turn its attention to municipal attempts to merge fire and police departments, with generally disruptive effects on fire services. It was an issue that would remain a top priority for decades.

The 1960s saw a major expansion of IAFF membership services. In 1960, the International began producing and distributing printed materials for its affiliates in support of bargaining, negotiating, public relations, and local union administration. Two years later, the IAFF established a public relations program, followed in 1963 by a program of educational seminars. That same year, the union began mailing issues of the Fire Fighter directly to all IAFF members. The magazine had previously been distributed by local unions. Also in 1963, Canadian IAFF members gained important rights when all Canadian provinces began requiring binding arbitration of bargaining disputes.

More and more states began passing binding arbitration laws by the mid-1960s under prodding from IAFF affiliates, and to this day the IAFF is still working for enactment of a federal law to guarantee collective bargaining rights for all state and municipal fire fighters.

The 50th Anniversary of the IAFF in 1968 came at a time of considerable turmoil in fire service affairs. The convention that year removed the "no strike" clause from the IAFF Constitution. Convention delegates were reflecting widespread dissatisfaction with employers' responses to demands for better pay and working conditions, fire fighter casualties resulting from civil disorder in large cities, and governmental foot-dragging on occupational health hazard problems.

To intensify its efforts on these and other issues, the IAFF that year also established an international legislative representative position, a vice-president representing fire fighters in the federal sector, and a full-time Canadian representative. A committee, established to deal with issues of harassment of fire fighters during the performance of their duties, began a campaign for protective equipment and other measures, but also firmly closed the door on any proposals that fire fighters carry firearms.

The year also saw a major legislative victory for the IAFF. President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the federal Fire Research Act, which for the first time focused national attention on fire safety problems and led to the establishment of the National Fire Academy. The IAFF had been a major proponent of the law and its provisions.

In the following years, the IAFF steadily increased its membership services and influence. By the late 1980s, the modern IAFF could point to impressive and growing list of accomplishments on behalf of the professional fire fighters of the Untied States and Canada.

Among the more recent accomplishments are fostering enactment of a national death benefit for fire fighters killed in the line of duty, an increasing number of state "right to know" laws in the health and safety area, the establishment of sophisticated, computerized research and analysis programs to assist affiliates in bargaining and other union activities, protection of pension systems from assault by a host of attackers, significant public acceptance of professionalism of the fire service, and a growing awareness of the authority with which professional fire fighters address community fire safety needs.

With the 1990s, and the era of tighter municipal budgets, several new challenges have faced the IAFF and its membership. State and local governments have attempted to raid the hard-earned pension funds of fire fighters and other public employees in effort to balance annual budgets. The IAFF and its affiliates have fought back to protect public employee pensions. Increasingly, unit and departmental staffing have come under attack over the past decade, with many communities fielding engine and ladder companies at levels below minimum safe staffing requirements. Also in the 1990s, the provision of fire department-based emergency medical services has emerged as one of the keys to the future of the fire service. With improvements in emergency medicine and technology have come an increased demand for EMS. Beginning in the 1980s, more and more locals began turn to cross-training of fire fighters, paramedics and/or emergency medical technicians to take advantage of the growing opportunities presented by EMS.

But the potential profits from providing EMS has drawn the attention of many large corporations which are fighting to privatize many municipal services. The IAFF has been involved in a city-by-city battle over EMS. At the same time, even as safety improvements spearheaded by the IAFF made many aspects of the fire fighters' job less dangerous, a variety of new occupational hazards appeared including that of chemicals, hazardous materials, and infectious diseases. The IAFF moved to the forefront of these areas, developing an extensive Hazardous Materials training program for fire and emergency personnel and winning a lengthy legislative battle in Washington to enact an infectious disease notification law for fire fighters.

1901 – The AFL charters the first Union of Fire Fighters in Washington D.C.

1903 – Pittsburgh fire fighters organize and affiliate themselves with the AFL, becoming Local #1 of the IAFF in 1918.

1917 – Firefighters in Vancouver B.C. become the first in Canada to form a firefighters union.

1917 – A motion is passed at the AFL convention in Buffalo, N.Y. authorizing the president of the AFL to form an international Union of Fire Fighters chartered under the AFL.

1918 – The average firefighter earns 29 cents an hour and works either a continuous duty system or 84 hours per week.

1918 – The first IAFF Convention is held in Washington D.C. on February 28th with 36 firefighter delegates. 5,400 fire fighters become the first members of the new IAFF.

1921 – IAFF membership grows to over 20,000 members.

1938 – The first article in a series on heart disease among firefighters is published in The International Fire Fighter.

1939 – The IAFF assists locals in Pennsylvania to pass the first Heart and Lung Act, Worker’s Compensation Act, and the Occupational Disease Law establishing the first presumptive heart and lung legislation.

1939 – U.S. Congress repeals laws prohibiting the Washington D.C. Fire Department from being affiliated with the IAFF.

1943 – The average firefighter earns 50 cents an hour and works 70 hours per week.

1948 – The IAFF charters its 1,000th local union.

1954 – The IAFF adopts muscular dystrophy as it particular charitable endeavor.

1958 – The IAFF established the John P. Redmond Foundation for the health and safety of firefighters.

1962 – President Kennedy’s Executive Order 10988 brings new recognition to the IAFF’s Federal Fire Fighters.

1963 – Canadian IAFF members gain important rights when all Canadian provinces begin requiring binding arbitration of bargaining disputes.

1966 – The IAFF begins the Harvard University Trade Union Program Scholarship and sends its first IAFF member to Harvard to explore key issues of the labor movement.

1968 – The IAFF officially opens its Canadian Office in Ottawa, Ontario to serve as the central clearing-house for member services and information in Canada.

1968 – The average firefighter earns over $2.00 an hour and works 56 hours per week.

1968 – President Johnson signs the National Fire Research and Safety Act into law, authorizing for the first time in IAFF history a fire research and safety program which the federal government will largely frame.

1970 – Ground breaking for the new International Headquarters building takes place three blocks from the White House in Washington D.C.

1970 – IAFF President McClennan is made co-chairman of the National Commission on Fire Prevention by President Nixon.

1970 – The IAFF charters its 2000th local.

1971 – The IAFF conducts its first Redmond Symposium on the health hazards of the fire service.

1976 – The IAFF is instrumental in extending coverage of the FLSA to include firefighters after presenting key testimony to Congress.

1976 – At the urging of the IAFF, President Ford signs the Public Safety Officer Benefit Act (PSOB), providing federal money to the families of four firefighters killed in the line of duty.

1982 – The IAFF is instrumental in the developmental work that resulted in the standard on Personal Alert Safety Systems (PASS).

1984 – At the urging of the IAFF, federal firefighters are now covered under PSOB.

1986 – The IAFF is instrumental in establishing the first edition of NFPA 1500, Standard of Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Programs.

1986 – President Reagan signs the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act establishing first responder and advanced Hazmat training. The IAFF receives federal funds to begin a training program for firefighters.

1986 – The IAFF established the Occupational Medicine Residency Program with Johns Hopkins University.

1987 – The IAFF established its Hazmat Training Program with a grant from the federal government.

1988 – The IAFF is reorganized to provide expansion of its services through the following departments: Research & Labor Issues, Governmental Affairs & Political Action, Public Relations & Communications, Education, Occupational Health & Safety, Hazardous Materials, In-House Legal Counsel, Special Events, and the Canadian Office.

1990 – The IAFF conducts its first Regional Seminar as part of a new Educational Seminar Program.

1991 – The IAFF holds its first EMS Conference to promote fire-based EMS.

1992 – The IAFF is instrumental in getting OSHA to pass 29 CFR1910.1030-Bloodborne Pathogens Regulation.

1992 – The average firefighter earns over $13.00 an hour and works 50 hours per week.

1994 – After assisting in getting the Ryan White Act passed 1990, the IAFF is instrumental in establishing the Ryan White infectious disease notification for firefighters implemented by the Centers for Disease Control.

1996 – The IAFF continues its push for fire-based EMS integration with the creation of a new EMS Department.

1996 – The IAFF launches an internet web site at www.iaff.org.

1996 – The IAFF is instrumental in obtaining a permanent exemption for firefighters from the ADEA.

1997 – IAFF and IAFC join together for the Joint Labor Management Wellness/Fitness Initiative.

1997 – IAFF and NIOSH develop Line- of-Duty Death Investigation Programs. President Clinton includes $2.5 million to begin the federal investigation program for firefighters.

1998 – The IAFF is instrumental in getting OSHA to update 29 CFR1910.134-Respiratory Protection Regulation, including 2 in/2 out provisions for firefighting in an immediately dangerous to life and health atmosphere.

Jun 22, 2007


The Dalmatian


The Dalmatian was first used in the fire service when most fire companies were volunteer or privately operated. There was some competition for services. Some of the firefighters were actually recruited not only for their strength in fighting fire but for their fighting abilities to protect the company and its equipment. Insurance companies paid the fire company that put out the fire, so the one that made it to the scene, hooked up to a hydrant and completed the task, got paid. The dogs worked well at this task of protecting not only the horses, but the equipment in the stations and on the fire ground as well.

Early firefighters took tremendous pride in their companies. They would turn out and parade through the city at almost any occasion. Great care was taken in making your rig fancier than the next one. Polished brass brilliant paint jobs and gleaming leather were always maintained. It was only natural that when word of this remarkable spotted dog was heard, companies had to have one. Dalmatians began appearing with fire companies and they had the expected impact. People pointed and gawked. They were that extra piece of fancywork that every Jake wanted on his rig. The Dalmatian did the job proudly but they had some drawbacks. They were hard to get and many of them were deaf. The American fire service was well served by this noble breed.

These free roaming dogs would dash out at passing teams of horses. They would nip at the legs of the horses and generally harass the equines. In addition to keeping the horses calm in the stable, the coach dog also had to fend off these marauding dogs whenever the steam engine traveled over the road. It was a very common sight to see the dog running out in front of the horses.

Today the Dalmatian serves as a fire house mascot, but back in the days of horse drawn fire carts, they provided a valuable service. Dalmatians and horses are very compatible, so the dogs were easily trained to run in front of the engines to help clear a path and guide the horses and the firefighters to the fires quickly. They are still chosen by many fire fighters as pets in honor of their heroism in the past.

Jun 22, 2007

Bagpipe Tradition

The tradition of bagpipes played at fire department and police department funerals in the United States goes back over one hundred fifty years. When the Irish and Scottish immigrated to this country, they brought many of their traditions with them. One of these was the bagpipe, often played at Celtic weddings, funerals and ceils (dances).

It wasn't until the great potato famine and massive Irish immigration to the East Coast of the United States that the tradition of the bagpipes really took hold in the fire department. In the 1800's, Irish immigrants faced massive discrimination. Factories and shops had signs reading "NINA" - No Irish Need Apply. The only jobs they could get were the ones no one else wanted - jobs that were dirty, dangerous, or both - firefighters and police officers. It was not an uncommon event to have several firefighters killed at a working fire. The Irish firefighters' funerals were typical of all Irish funerals - the pipes were played. It was somehow okay for a hardened firefighter to cry at the sound of bagpipes when his dignity would not let him weep for a fallen comrade.

Those who have attended a funeral where bagpipes were played know how haunting and mournful the sound of the pipes can be. The most famous song played at fire and police funerals is Amazing Grace. It wasn't too long before families and friends of non-Irish firefighters began asking for the bagpipes to be played for fallen heroes. The bagpipes add a special air and dignity to this solemn occasion.

Bagpipe bands represent both fire and police often have more than 60 uniformed playing members. They are also traditionally known as Emerald Societies after Ireland - the Emerald Isle. Many bands wear traditional Scottish dress while others wear the simpler Irish uniform. All members wear the kilt and tunic, whether it is a Scottish clan tartan or Irish single color kilt.

Today, the tradition is universal and not just for the Irish or Scottish. The bagpipes have become a distinguishing feature of a fallen hero's funeral.

Jun 22, 2007

Why Red Fire Engines


The most widely-accepted reason that fire engines are painted red dates back to the 1800s -- a time when there was a lot of competition between the fire brigades of neighboring cities and towns. The firefighters of each brigade took great pride in their pump. Each brigade wanted their rig to stand out by being the cleanest, having the most brass, or being a regal color. Because red was the most expensive color, that's what color most crews chose to paint the pump.

Other sources cite the tradition of painting fire engines red going back to the early 1920's. Henry Ford wanted to make cars as inexpensively as possible and only offered cars in one color: black. With all of these black vehicles on the road, the fire service began painting their vehicles red in an effort to stand out.

Today, just as you have many more choices of colors available to you for your vehicle, so do the fire engine manufacturers, and it is not uncommon to see white, yellow, blue, orange, green, or even black fire engines, in addition to red. And while some studies hint that colors such as lime-green may be more visible to the public than traditional red, the vast majority of fire departments continue to use red fire engines -- a color instantly recognized by everyone as that of a fire engine.

Most recent fire engines purchased have shifted to the Chicago-famed, black over red paint scheme. The first closed-cab chief's cars in Chicago had black canvas tops which would not take paint. Someone among the brass liked the appearance, so as new closed-cab apparatus came onto the roster; the cabs of the fire engines were painted black.

You may also notice the green light on fire engines in northern states. This is also a traditional Chicago-style fire engine feature. Commissioner Albert Goodrich of the Chicago Fire Department (1927 - 1931) had a nautical background. He applied the marine scheme (red light on port, green light on starboard) to fire apparatus, and the idea became a tradition of the Chicago Fire Department. It is also used to mark the bay doors at most Chicago fire stations.

Page Last Updated: Jun 23, 2007 (07:44:00)
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