History of Firefighting

Ancient Rome is known to have had a fire department consisting by the 1st cent. of approximately 7,000 paid firefighters. These fire brigades not only responded to and fought fires, but also patrolled the streets with the authority to impose corporal punishment upon those who violated fire-prevention codes. The inventor Ctesibius of Alexandria devised the first known fire pump c.200 B.C. but the idea was lost until the fire pump was reinvented about A.D. 1500. The only equipment available to fight the London fire in 1666 were two-quart hand syringes and a similar, slightly larger syringe; it burned for four days. Elsewhere in Europe and in the American colonies fire fighting equipment was equally rudimentary. The London fire stimulated the development of a two-person operated piston pump on wheels.

In 1648, Governor Peter Stuyvesant of New Amsterdam (New York City) was the first in the New World to appoint fire inspectors with the authority to impose fines for fire code violations. Boston imported (1679) the first fire engine to reach America. For a long time the ten-person pump devised by the English inventor Richard Newsham in 1725 was the most widely used. The inventor Thomas Lote of New York built (1743) the first fire engine made in America. About 1672 leather hose and couplings for joining lengths together were produced; though leather hose had to be sewn like a fine boot, fabric and rubber-treated hose did not come into general use until 1870. A steam fire engine was built in London in 1829, but the volunteer fire companies of the day were very slow to accept it. When a group of insurance companies in New York had a self-propelled engine built in 1841, the firefighters so hindered its use that the insurance companies gave up the project. Finally, in Cincinnati, Ohio, the public forced a steam engine on the firefighters.

The aerial ladder wagon appeared in 1870; the hose elevator, about 1871. Gasoline engines were at first used either as pumping engines or as tractors to pull apparatus. In 1910 the two functions were combined, one engine both propelling the truck and driving the pump. Modern equipment is usually diesel powered, and multiple variations of the basic fire engine enable firefighters to respond to many types of emergency situations.

Saint Florian

Saint Florian, the patron saint of firefighters, was an officer in the Roman army during the third century. Saint Florian had converted to Christianity but kept his new faith a secret to avoid persecution. When ordered to execute a group of Christians during the persecutions of Diocletian, Saint Florian proffessed his faith and refused to follow the order. He then had a stone tied around his neck and he was thrown into a river where he drowned. 

Florian is said to have once stopped an entire town from burning by throwing a single bucket of water onto the fire. Saint Florian is the patron saint of firefighters, chimney sweeps, barrel-makers, soap boilers, harvests, Austria, Poland and others.

History Of The Maltese Cross

The Maltese cross is known around the world as a symbol of the fire service. It is often seen painted on fire trucks, on the clothing of firefighters, depicted on firefighters badges, and is quite often the chosen design of firefighter tattoos. So where did the Maltese cross come from, and how did it get to be known as a symbol of the fire service?

The Maltese cross is named after the island of Malta, which came to be the home of the Knights of St. John. The Knights of St. John existed during the 11th and 12 centuries. The armor worn by the Knights covered their entire bodies as well as their faces. Because of this it was often difficult for the knights to recognize one another during battle. They realized they would need some type of symbol that could be used to quickly and easily identify them selves. They chose the Cross of Calvary, which would later be known as the Maltese cross. During the Crusades, the enemies of the nights commonly used fire as a weapon. It was quite common for a Knight to have to risk his own life to save another Knight or extinguish a fire.

The Knights of St. John were also known for their care of the sick and injured. Combined with their abilities to fight fires, and the pride and honor they took in their work, the Maltese cross seems a fitting symbol of the modern fire service. Firefighting is a proud profession, and only a symbol of pride would exemplify the work of a firefighter.

History Of The Star Of Life

The Star Of Life is one of the most highly recognized symbols in the world. Most of us associate the star of life with emergency medical care. The six points of the star represent the six aspects of the EMS system: Detection, reporting, response, on scene care, care in transit, and transfer to definitive care. The snake and staff in the center of the Star Of Life represent Asclepius, the son of Apollo in Greek mythology. Cheron taught Asclepius how to heal the sick and injured. Zeus, the king of the Greek gods, worried that Asclepius could make all men immortal with his powers of healing. To prevent this from happening Zeus killed Asclepius with a thunderbolt. How and why did this all come together in what we now know as the Star Of Life?

Leo R. Schwartz, chief of the EMS branch of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, designed the modern Star Of Life in the 1970’s after complaints from the red cross that many ambulance companies and other EMS organizations were using the Omaha orange cross, which was the symbol used by the red cross. Schwartz’s design was an adaptation of the symbol used by the American Medical Association. The Star Of Life was registered as a Certification Mark in February of 1977. The Star Of Life cannot be used by just anyone. Generally you must have some type of association with emergency medical services. It is most commonly seen on emergency vehicles, on the uniforms of EMS personnel, and to indicate emergency medical facilities.