Firefighters’ Memorial Day is celebrated on May 4 in the U.K. annually. It recognizes the unique contribution and sacrifice that active and retired firefighters have made in the line of duty. At midday at the National Firefighters’ Memorial, firefighters across the nation stand outside their stations and observe a minute’s silence for their fallen comrades. A wreath-laying service at St. Paul’s Cathedral London with representatives from the Fire Brigades Union (F.B.U) and the Firefighters Memorial Trust follows this.
History of Firefighters' Memorial Day
Fire has always been a source of awe and fear in human society. The act of fighting fires has been a part of our civilization since prehistoric times. However, the modern fire brigade or department as they’re called today took centuries to evolve alongside the technology that makes our firefighters extremely capable and effective at combatting various fires in diverse settings. In ancient Rome, while under the rule of Caesar Augustus, fire fighting became an active duty and discipline. However, it was under the leadership of Marcus Licinius Crassus that the first actual fire brigade was born in the third century A.D.
During the middle ages, homes and buildings comprised flammable materials — wood and straw. Many towns and not just individual residences burned to the ground because there was no infrastructure to form the fire brigade. Churches or parishes eventually got involved and organized firefighters to combat fires in their communities.
Many recent developments have helped firefighters become what they are today; however, the Great Fire of London in 1666 was the catalyst for regulating and implementing a dedicated fire fighting force. After the fire burnt out, massive reforms took place, the first fire insurance company was established, and the actual evolution of the modern fire brigade began.
Firefighters' Memorial Day timeline
Marcus Licinius Crassus establishes a cohort of ‘firemen’ who charge property owners to put out their fires; if the fee is not agreed to, they simply let the property burn, and the fire spread.
Emperor Nero forms the “Vigiles” — a band dedicated to fire fighting that use buckets and pumps to get water to a burning location as quickly as possible.
Fire brigades are increasingly popular; they receive payment directly from the insurance company once they stop the spread of destruction and kill the fire.
After the Edinburgh Fire Engine Establishment, the first modern fire brigade is formed.
Firefighters' Memorial Day FAQs
How can I become a firefighter?
If you’re 18 or older, you can apply with your local department. After a selection process based on your physical and mental abilities, you may qualify as a firefighter.
Can I volunteer?
Yes, most fire departments welcome volunteers. While you may not be an active firefighter, you can help and contribute in different, relevant ways.
What do I do if there is a fire?
Call your local emergency services.
How to Observe Firefighters' Memorial Day
Have a moment of silence
At midday, you can join firefighters and their families in observing a moment of silence for those firefighters who have lost their lives. This observance is a great way to honor them.
Practice Fire Safety
Most fires are avoidable. Practicing good fire safety and being aware of what that entails is a way to do your part.
Donate and offer support
Fire departments require financing, and government may not always have enough. Donations, no matter the size, can help save a life. Offering your support and letting firefighters know they’re valued is also a great way to boost morale and make them feel valued.
5 Facts About Great Fires
The great fire of Rome
In 64 A.D., this fire destroyed two-thirds of the ancient city; it burned for nine days.
The great fire of Suthwark
In 1212, just after rebuilding the London Bridge, a fire, aided by strong winds, consumed much of the southern parts of London.
The burning of Edinburgh
In 1544, an invading English navy sacked Edinburgh and set it ablaze.
The great fire of New York
From September 20 to 21, 1776, this fire raged and destroyed around 20% of the city.
The San Francisco earthquake and fire
In 1906, an earthquake rocked San Francisco; the resulting tremors caused fires to burn throughout the city, destroying 80% of San Francisco.
Why Firefighters' Memorial Day is Important
They do so much for us
Firefighters do so much for so many of us. You may not have ever been affected by circumstance and needed their assistance; however, they’re available and waiting to be of service. This day recognizes that commitment, and we love them for it.
It's an opportunity to say thank you
A day that says ‘thank you for your service’ is undoubtedly important. Use it to say thank you.
It reinforces a special relationship
Often, firefighters live within the communities they serve. Honoring their service and sacrifice lets them know they are a valued part of our communities.
Firefighters' Memorial Day dates