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International Firefighters’ Day – May 4th

Many of us have had reasons to be thankful for the work carried out by the emergency services. Whether it’s a quick-witted ambulance worker or a police officer working to rectify a criminal incident, showing appreciation for those whose job is to protect us from harm is important.

Workers within the firefighting industry are one such group that deserve recognition, responding to thousands of incidents every day with a speed and efficiency that saves countless lives and properties.

That’s the goal behind International Firefighters’ Day – an annual event that encourages remembrance of those who have lost their lives while attempting to save those of others in the event of a fire.

The Beginning

While firefighters and emergency teams put their lives at risk in a number of different situations daily around the world, the specific incident that instigated the start of International Firefighters’ Day occurred in Australia back in 1998. Five members of the Geelong West Fire Brigade (Garry Vredeveldt, Chris Evans, Stuart Davidson, Jason Thomas and Matthew Armstrong) were responding to an emergency call for assistance from the nearby Linton brigade, who were attempting to tackle an enormous wildfire that was spreading out of control. With a sudden change of wind direction, the Geelong West fire engine was consumed by flames inside the hot zone, killing all five.

Marking the Occasion

In the aftermath of the disaster, it was suggested by volunteer lieutenant and firefighter JJ Edmondson (from Victoria, Australia) that an annual event be observed that acknowledged the sacrifices of all firefighting service members globally, with May 4th being designated International Firefighters’ Day (IFFD) from 1999 onwards. This date is significant, as it is the day of St Florian – the Austrian-born patron saint of firefighters (as well as chimney sweeps and soapmakers). In fact, in many parts of the German-speaking world, Florian is used as an informal name for a firefighter.

To show support, thousands around the world wear a blue and red ribbon, representing the elements of fire and water that are involved in the work of the firefighter (as well as signifying emergency services in many countries).

Some variations on the observance have occurred in the past, with the 2002 “Sound Off” minute’s silence proving to be a moving example. Incidentally, the Sound Off was so well received that it now occurs annually on the first Sunday of May in many places.

Raising Awareness

Marking the IFFD annually is about remembrance, but it is also about vital education. Spreading the word of the main facets of fire safety and prevention is crucial in the battle against injury and death as a result of a blaze. A number of talks at schools, offices, within communities at public events and elsewhere across the IFFD period helps to inform those with a responsibility towards the safety of other persons as to the correct way to manage fire safety, helping to save lives.