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International Firefighters Day

Legend of St. Florian extinguishing a massive fire with only one bucket of water and saving a village from ruin.

The fire service in the United States has a long and glorious history stretching back to the early 1700s. Even in the early days of the fire service, the mission was the protection of life and property. With this noble desire and calling for a person to help their fellow man, it is easy to understand how this vocation has become an honored profession for over 275 years. Many times the Bible verse from John, Chapter 15:13 is quoted as an example of the conviction of firefighters, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” In the early 1900s, Chief Edward Croker of the New York Fire Department eloquently spoke about what it means to be a firefighter. He said:

Our proudest endeavor is to save the lives of men-the work of God Himself. Under the impulse of such thoughts, the nobility of the occupation thrills us and stimulates us to deeds of daring, even at the supreme sacrifice. Such considerations may not strike the average mind, but they are sufficient to fill to the limit our ambition in life and to make us serve the general purpose of human society.
Based on the willing service of so many and the perilous challenges they faced, a strong history and tradition developed over time as part of the profession of firefighting, whether career or volunteer.

Though many significant dates come to mind that contribute to this history and the subsequent traditions, one that comes to mind during May is the recognition of International Firefighters Day on May 4th. The significance of this date and how it came to be, has a special history.

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Preserving Our Fire Service Past

Presentation Trumpet, New Jersey Company, No. 4. Image courtesy of the National Museum of American History:

Preserving the past. It always upsets me when I see a military veteran’s memorabilia, uniforms, medals, even their burial flag, discarded or for sale at antique stores. Where are the relatives, decedents, or compatriots that should have honored and preserved the memory of this individual’s service and sacrifice?

It is similar to the fire service paraphernalia that represents the service of career and volunteer firefighters. I find personal items such as plaques, ceremonial items, and other honors, along with former equipment mementos of one’s fire service occupation or avocation discarded or in poor condition and being sold. Why are these not treasured and honored memories of some family member, or at least being preserved as an example of fire service history and traditions?

Over my 40 plus years in the fire service, I developed an appreciation for our profession’s heritage. I found myself becoming a curator or conservator of our history and traditions. In so doing, I have learned much about the past and its meaning to our future. Recently I reinstated and preserved a fire service speaking trumpet. If you are in the fire service and do not know what that is, you need to spend some time studying fire service history. I rescued it from a serious state of deterioration, and after substantial work to remove the corrosion and polish it, it was returned to somewhat of its former glory. Based on the little history I could find with the item, it was undoubtedly a presentation trumpet to a chief who retired in the 1940s for their long dedicated service. As I carefully restored and polished this artifact, I wondered about the life and service of this individual and what sacrifices he may have made to fulfill his life-long commitment to the fire service. What a disappointment it had been so poorly maintained, and then heedlessly disposed of.

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