Fire Department Rank Insignia History
Some terminology and the rank structure in the fire service is generally accepted as something that came from the Civil War. Prior to the Civil War, U. S. fire departments were often run something like a business. Many early fire brigades were private organizations who were paid by insurance companies. There were chiefs, bosses, leaders and foremen and such. During the Civil War entire fire departments joined up as a unit. They became units like Infantry “Companies” etc...
The leaders were given rank and that rank or title survived the war. After the war some men were known as “Captain” for the rest of their lives and when they were replaced, the department got a new “Captain” for that company. There were also other influences on the rank structure of fire departments. Credit for the first "professional" fire brigade is given to Napoleon Bonaparte. As French emperor, he ordered that a division of the French army known as Sapeurs-Pompiers be used to protect Paris with 30 powerful manual fire pumps by 1800. We can presume that this organization had ranks. In fact many military words, such as those for rank, come directly from Old French. (i.e. "Lieutenant" & "Captain")
The very first, recorded, full time, fire brigade was in first or second century Rome. This consisted of approximately 7000 "Vigiles". The rank insignia for the fire service is a combination of traditional fire service icons and the common military symbol for such a rank. For many ranks you might see either insignia or both. A captain may have one type on his collar and another on his helmet.
This excerpt from www.riotacts.com/fire/reporters.html
By Capt. Mica Calfee
Used by permission