International Firefighters’ Day (IFFD) is observed on May 4. It was instituted after a proposal was emailed out across the world on January 4, 1999 due to the deaths of five firefighters in tragic circumstances in a wildfire at Linton in Victoria, Australia.
Each year firefighters face times of tragedy and triumph, arguments and lessons, reflection and celebrations. These vary in their impact and influence on each individual are now a part of our lives and in many cases cannot be easily dismissed. Linton was one such tragedy.
On December 2 1998, a tragic event shook the Linton community, Australia and the world: Firefighters in Linton, approximately 150km west of the city of Melbourne in Victoria, Australia, were fighting a large wildfire and called for assistance. This urgent call brought firefighters from a wide area including volunteers from the Geelong West Fire Brigade to the scene not knowing the despair and tragedy that was in store. Garry Vredeveldt, Chris Evans, Stuart Davidson, Jason Thomas, and Matthew Armstrong were the crew on the Geelong West tanker that fateful day, they were part of a strike team and were being sent to help extinguish the flames. As the five headed out from the fire to refill their tanker with water, there was a sudden violent wind change as the cold change hit the area, engulfing the truck in flames and killing all five members.
JJ Edmondson, a volunteer Lieutenant and firefighter in Victoria, Australia had had the safety and training drills ingrained into her over the years and had always been aware that her friendship with other firefighters could lead her to joy and the sense of being part of a greater family as well as to potential loss.
When Matt, Stuart, Jason, Garry and Chris of Geelong West lost their lives all of this struck home hard. It didn’t matter that these five were from a different brigade or in another region, they could have been from another state or country for all that mattered. What was important was that they were firefighters, who lost their lives doing something that they have all been trained and are proud to do – they died trying to save life and property.
This, and the letters of support and fellowship that flowed from the tragedy spurred JJ to set a New Year’s resolution for 1999: to organise an internationally recognised symbol of support and respect for ALL firefighters and a date for which this could be co-ordinated world wide.
For weeks JJ coordinated email discussions with the national and international community for their comments and suggestions as to an appropriate date and symbol to use, and the response was overwhelmingly positive with great support for the chosen date and ribbons.
IFFD could only have come about with the input from numerous people worldwide helping to ensure that this was truly an international decision. Without their comments, suggestions and endorsements it may have just remained a dream rather than the internationally recognised event it now is. To all who contributed, our sincere and complete thanks.
The Date – May 4
The date chosen for International Firefighters’ Day was linked to the feast day of St Florian (the patron saint of all firefighters). St Florian was the first known commander of one firefighting squad in the Roman Empire. He lost his life, as well as those of his colleagues, for protecting the same humane ideas which firefighters all over the world share even today.
Firefighters in most of the European countries celebrate their day on 4th of May as a ‘Day of Fire Service’ as well as St. Florian’s Day. This date is also known as St Florian’s Day worldwide and has been tradition for more than 150 years in Europe.
The IFFD Ribbons
The IFFD ribbons are linked to colours symbolic of the main elements firefighters work with – red for fire and blue for water. These colours also are internationally recognised as representing emergency service.
The IFFD Proposal
The original IFFD Proposal was first emailed out on January 4, 1999 and people were asked to copy and forward it on to anyone who might be able to assist in promoting IFFD: fire organisations, brigades, magazines, internet links and sites, all media, educational institutions, industries associated with fire, etc.
Often communities remember human sacrifice through observing a minute’s silence. For International Firefighters’ Day in 2002 the inaugural “Sound Off” was conducted to reflect on the commitment and sacrifices of firefighters’ worldwide in a truly poignant manner for emergency service workers. Due to the amazing support of the Sound Off in 2002, there is now an annual Sound Off on the first Sunday of every May.
Read more about the Sound Off.
International Firefighters’ Day has been promoted through a variety of forums, including letters, newspaper articles, emails, web forums and list serves – however the most successful has been the website. Over the years our website has undergone a number of changes of appearance however the latest layout was launched in February 2012 thanks to the hard work of webmaster Lindy Barker, web hosting by DISKMANdotNet and fantastic new logos by Matthew J. Root.