“The funny thing about firemen is, night and day, they are always firemen. “ Gregory Widen, Backdraft
There is evidence that already in Ancient Egypt fire-fighting machinery was used, but organized firefighting started in Ancient Rome under the rule of Augustus.
The first Roman fire brigade (of which we have any evidence) was formed by Marcus Licinius Crassus and was 500 men (slaves) strong. According to the story, Crasssus´ men would rush to a burning building, but they would not start working until Crassus had negotiated a satisfactory price to buy the building. In case an agreement was made, Crassus´ men would put out the fire. If not, they would let the building burn and Crassus would buy it for a fraction of the value. So, it was not a public service that Crassus intended to provide, but it was rather a business opportunity for him.
Emperor Augustus later on created the Vigiles around 6 AD, a public firefighting force comprised of slaves. They were equipped with buckets and axes and were also called spartoli, or little bucket fellows.
The brigade consisted of seven cohorts, each one thousand men strong. Each cohort was responsible for the safety of two of the fourteen regiones into which the city of Rome had been divided. The corps was commanded by the praefectus vigilum of equestrian status. The cost of maintaining the vigiles was paid out of public funds. In addition to extinguishing fires, the vigiles also acted as Rome´s night watch.
The progress of fire fighting and the awareness of the dangers of fire in Europe were lost after the fall of the Roman Empire. The city of London for example suffered big fires, with the Great Fire of 1666 as the most notorious example. In this fire two square miles was consumed by the fire, leaving tens of thousands of people homeless. After this incident, insurance companies started their own fire brigades to protect their clients´ property.
A big breakthrough in fire fighting came with the invention of fire engines in the 17th century. In 1698 German inventor Hans Hautsch created the first suction and force pump and added some flexible hoses to the pump, a big improvement from the manual pump. In 1672, Dutch artist and inventor Jan Van der Heyden developed the fire hose.
The first modern fire brigades were formed in France in the beginning of the 18th century. In 1699 François du Mouriez du Périer, who was very interested in Van der Heyden’s invention, asked for an audience with King Louis XIV. He demonstrated the new pumps and convinced the king to grant him the monopoly of making and selling “fire-preventing portable pumps” throughout the kingdom of France. François du Mouriez du Périer offered 12 pumps to the City of Paris, and in 1716 the first fire brigade of Paris, the Compagnie des gardes-pompes (Company of Pump Guards), was created.
In the United States, the firs publicly funded fire department was formed in 1679 in Boston, Massachusetts.
1. a person who tends or feeds fires
2. a member of a fire department
3. an enlisted man in the navy who works with engineering machinery
4. a relief pitcher in baseball (source: Merriam Webster).
The English fireman comes from the words fire and man. Fire comes from Old English fyr, from Proto-Germanic *fuir, from Proto-Indo-European *perjos, from root *paewr-, all meaning fire. Proto-Indo-European apparently had two roots for fire: *paewr– and *egni- (source of Latin ignis). The former was “inanimate,” referring to fire as a substance, and the latter was “animate,” referring to it as a living force.
Man comes from Old English man, mann, human being/person/brave man/hero/servant/vassal, from Proto-Germanic *manwaz, from the Proto-Indo-European root *man-, man (source: www.etymonline.com).
Dutch brandweerman consists of the words brand, fire, weer, avert, and man, man. It is a loan translation from German Feuerwehr. Brand comes from Old High German brant, from Old English brand, from Proto-Germanic *brandaz, from root *bran-/*bren-, to set on fire/to burn. Weren comes from Old High German werien/werren, to defend/to prevent, from Proto-Germanic *warjan-, to defend.
Spanish bombero comes from bomba and the suffix –ero, indicating a profession. Bomba comes from French bombe, from Italian bomba, from Latin bombus, meaning a deep, hollow noise; a buzzing or booming sound, from Greek bombus, deep and hollow sound.
Italian pompiere comes from French pompier, from pompe, pump, from Latin bombus.
Fireman in other languages:
Spanish: el bombero
Italian: il pompiere