Regarded as one of the top five public service professionals, Firefighters are held in high esteem across the world: no one can forget the pictures of the heroic Firefighters of New York that became the enduring image of the tragedy that was 9/11.

In recognition of the sacrifices made in towns and countries all over the globe, International Firefighters’ Day – IFFD – was inaugurated on 4th May 1999. Since then it has been held annually, to mark a time when Firefighters of the present and past are remembered, recognised and thanked for their dedication in saving lives and protecting the environment.

Saint Florian, the Patron Saint

The date of May 4th was chosen because it is traditionally known as the day of Saint Florian: the first recorded commander of a fire fighting squadron, in the Roman province of Noricum circa 300AD.

Legend says that Florian saved a whole village from burning with a single bucket of water. Later, he refused to renounce his Christian faith and was sentenced to death and drowned in the River Enns in Austria with a mill stone attached to his neck.

Believed to be the protector of those in danger of fire, Saint Florian also became the patron saint of Poland, and his statue stands in the Fire Brigade Museum in Vienna. His selfless dedication to saving lives reflects the same values and beliefs of the Firefighters of the world today, who have no hesitation in putting themselves in danger in order to save and protect members of the community.

The Origin of IFFD

International Firefighters’ Day was the brainchild of JJ Edmondson, a volunteer Firefighter in the Clyde-Cardinia Fire Brigade in the Country Fire Authority of Victoria, Australia.

After five fellow Firefighters died trying to save life and property in Lindon in 1998, members of the Country Fire Authority and Victorian Community wore a red ribbon in honour of their sacrifice. This tribute inspired JJ Edmondson to solicit support via the internet for an internationally coordinated event and symbol to recognise Firefighters.

The response was immense, and extended as far afield as the US. Advice and suggestions were sought from the international community and it was agreed that a universal observation of the Day should take place on May 4th.

The Ribbons of IFFD

A defining symbol was found in red and blue ribbons, 5cm long and 1cm wide, which when joined at the top, represented the two elements of fire and water. Red and blue are also the colours internationally recognised to represent an emergency service.

On May 4th each year, people show support and recognition of Firefighters by wearing the blue and red ribbons on their lapels, pinning them to car aerials, hanging them in windows or using them to decorate trees. After its inauguration in 2002, a “Sound Off” became traditional when fire stations across the world set off their sirens at noon local time for a 30 second tribute, followed by a minute’s silence in memory and respect for all Firefighters killed in the line of duty.

Each year Firefighters everywhere gather outside their stations to observe the silence, and in many places a memorial service takes place to commemorate those who have given their lives.

International Firefighters’ Day also represents an opportunity to thank present Firefighters for their commitment, and recognise the dedication of those who offer their services voluntarily. Events organised include exhibitions, fetes, fundraising campaigns, long service presentations and talks by guest speakers. Firefighter themes are often used at local schools. Sometimes the local fire station challenges the local community to “fun” competitions like bucket races.

International Firefighters’ Day is often used as an opportunity to create fire awareness, when simulations allow members of the community to make an escape through smoke filled rooms, manoeuvre their way through a fire safety obstacle course, or take part in hose demonstrations.

Above all, International Firefighters’ Day is a day when people across the world can unite in respect and support for the Firefighters. For as the founder, Lt JJ Edmondson says, “In the fire service, we fight together against one common enemy – fire – no matter what country we come from, what uniform we wear or what language we speak.”

Source:, UK.