Fire department

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A fire department (United States and Canada) or fire brigade (United Kingdom and Commonwealth) (also known as a fire and rescue service or simply fire service) is a public or private organization that provides predominantly emergency firefighting and rescue services for a certain jurisdiction, which is typically a municipality, county, or fire protection district. A fire department usually contains one or more fire stations within its boundaries, and may be staffed by career firefighters, volunteer firefighters, or a combination thereof (referred to as a combination department).[1]

A fire department may also provide "fire protection" or fire prevention services, whereby firefighters visit homes and give fire safety advice and fit smoke alarms for members of the public. In many countries fire protection or prevention is seen as an important role for the fire service, as preventing a fire from occurring in the first place can save lives and property.

Most public or municipal fire departments also carry out an enforcement role, to ensure that buildings (homes, hotels, offices, factories, and so on) are equipped with adequate fire precautions to limit the chances of fire and ensure that in the event of fire, people can safely evacuate the premises unharmed. This is also part of the protection or prevention role.


Fire departments are organized in a system of administration, services, training, and operations; for example:

Emergency fire & rescue vehicles
  • Administration is responsible for supervision, budgets, policy, and human resources.
  • Service offers protection, safety, and education to the public.
  • Training creates skilled people with the knowledge to perform their duties.
  • Operations performs the tasks to successfully save the public from harm.

A fire department is normally set up where it can have fire stations and sophisticated fire engine strategically deployed throughout the area under its control so that dispatchers can send fire engines, fire trucks, or ambulances from the fire stations closest to the incident. Larger departments have branches within themselves to increase efficiency, composed of volunteers, support, and research.

  • Volunteers give advantages to the department in a state of emergency.
  • Support organizing the resources within and outside of the department.
  • Research is to give advantages in new technologies for the department.


Logistical Center & Maintenance Depot of the Houston Fire Department

The fire department's jurisdiction is organized by the governmental body that controls the department, although there are private fire departments as well. This comes from a municipality, county, prefecture, state, province, or nation type of government. The most common type of government control is at the municipality level. The jurisdiction size and organization would be set up by department or the government in charge of these duties. This deals with the placement of fire stations, equipment, and personnel within the area of control. Fire departments periodically survey their jurisdiction areas and use the data for redeploying proper coverage. This data comes from travel time, range from station, and/or a population survey. This brings equal service to the entire community and gives the department efficient places to launch operations.


Knox Automobile produced the world's first modern fire engine in 1905.
A 1951 Dennis P12 fire tender as formerly used by the Wiltshire Fire Brigade.
A Fire and Rescue NSW truck in 2008

The earliest known fire department was formed in Ancient Rome by Egnatius Rufus who used his slaves to provide a free fire service.[2] These men fought fires using bucket chains and also patrolled the streets with the authority to impose corporal punishment upon those who violated fire-prevention codes. The Emperor Augustus established a public fire department in 24 BCE, composed of 600 slaves distributed amongst seven fire stations in Rome.[3]

Fire departments were again formed by property insurance companies beginning in the 17th century after the Great Fire of London in 1666. The first insurance brigades were established the following year.[4] Others began to realize that a lot of money could be made from this practice, and ten more insurance companies set up in London before 1832: The Alliance, Atlas, Globe, Imperial, London, Protector, Royal Exchange, Sun Union and Westminster.[5] Each company had its own fire mark, a durable plaque that would be affixed to the building exterior. A company's fire brigade would not extinguish a burning building if it did not have the correct fire mark.[6]

The city of Boston, Massachusetts, established America's first publicly funded paid fire department in 1679.[7] Established in 1853, the Cincinnati Fire Department is the oldest paid fully professional municipal fire department in the United States.[8] Fire insurance made its debut in the American colonies in South Carolina in 1736, but it was Benjamin Franklin who imported the London model of insurance. He established the colonies' first fire insurance company in Philadelphia named the Philadelphia Contributionship,[4] as well as its associated Union Volunteer Fire Company.[9]

Amsterdam also had a sophisticated firefighting system in the late 17th century, under the direction of artist Jan van der Heyden, who had improved the designs of both fire hoses and fire pumps.[10]

In the 19th century, the practice of fire brigades refusing to put out fires in buildings that were uninsured led to the demand of central command for fire companies. Cities began to form their own fire departments as a civil service to the public, obliging private fire companies to shut down, many merging their fire stations into the city's fire department. In 1833, London's ten independent brigades all merged to form the London Fire Engine Establishment (LFEE), with James Braidwood as the Chief Officer.[11] Braidwood had previously been the fire chief in Edinburgh, where the world's first municipal fire service was founded in 1824, and he is now regarded, along with Van der Heyden, as one of founders of modern firefighting.[10] The LFEE then was incorporated into the city's Metropolitan Fire Brigade in 1865 under Eyre Massey Shaw.

In 1906, the first motorized fire department was organized in Springfield, Massachusetts, after Knox Automobile of Springfield produced the first modern fire engine one year earlier.[12]

Emergency Medical Services[edit]

Some fire departments such as the Statue Of Liberty Fire Brigade which covers Liberty Island and Ellis Islands respond to medical emergencies and provide care until advanced personnel can take over. In the United States, firefighters may get their First Responder Certification, Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) License, or Paramedic License. Some fire departments even offer ambulance services.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Cote, Arthur E. (2003). "Basics of Fire and Fire Science". Organizing for Fire And Rescue Services. Jones & Bartlett Publishers. p. 92. ISBN 978-0-87765-577-0. 
  2. ^ "Fire-brigades in the Roman realm". Retrieved 3 July 2010. 
  3. ^ Coe, Charles K. (February 2009). Handbook of Urban Services: A Basic Guide for Local Governments. M.E. Sharpe. p. 29. ISBN 978-0-7656-2294-5. Retrieved 4 October 2011. 
  4. ^ a b Cote, Arthur E.; Bugbee, Percy (December 1988). Principles of fire protection. Jones & Bartlett Learning. p. 6. ISBN 978-0-87765-345-5. Retrieved 4 October 2011. 
  5. ^ "From Fire Marks to James Braidwood, the Surveyor who set up the Fire Brigade". Independent Surveyors Association. Retrieved 2011-10-04. 
  6. ^ "Firemarks and payments". London Fire Brigade. Retrieved 2011-10-04. 
  7. ^ Klinoff, Robert (2007). "Public Fire Protection". Introduction to Fire Protection, 3rd Edition. Thomson Delmar Learning. p. 59. ISBN 978-1-4180-0177-3. 
  8. ^ Grace, Kevin (Oct 29, 2012). Irish Cincinnati. Arcadia Publishing. p. 44. Retrieved 2013-05-06. 
  9. ^ IFSTA (2004). Fire Service Orientation and Terminology. Fire Protection Publications, University of Oklahoma. ISBN 978-0-87939-232-1. 
  10. ^ a b Hensler, Bruce (1 June 2011). Crucible of Fire: Nineteenth-Century Urban Fires and the Making of the Modern Fire Service. Potomac Books, Inc. pp. 1–2. ISBN 978-1-59797-684-8. Retrieved 4 October 2011. 
  11. ^ "James Braidwood and the London Fire Engine Establishment (LFEE)". London Fire Brigade. Retrieved 2011-10-04. 
  12. ^ KNOX AUTOMOBILE COMPANY Accessed: 4/27/2012