According to most historians, the "first so called organized" fire department was the 500 slaves comprising a Roman fire brigade formed by Marcus Licinius Crassus who it is said, negotiated payment for fighting each fire before having his squad attempt extinguishment. Since most members were slaves, they were not too eager to put themselves in harm's way and the group were soon disbanded. The first linking of fire and police duties occurred in 6 AD by Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus. Remembered as the a first Roman Emperor, he formed a corps of the Vigiles or Vigiles Urbani (watchmen of the city). Comprised of soldiers, this group proved more successful and patrolled Rome searching for fires while also acting as a police force.

Along the same lines, in 1254, King Saint Louis IX of France formed the Guet Bourgeois (Burgess Watch) where town folk established night watches, again acting as both firemen and police, looking for fires as well as criminal activity. This possibly could be considered the first volunteer fire/police "department".


In 1839 New York City was protected by a volunteer department which formed a fire police force which was recounted in the book New York City Fire Patrol by Arthur C. Smith. The function of the Fire Patrol was to protect the interests of the Fire Underwriters. According to Smith, the fire underwriters began in 1803 with 65 members and in 1839 the Association of Fire Insurance Companies employed 40 men as a fire police force whose duty was the night patrol of the mercantile district of the City.

The first mention of the "Fire Police" by the Firemen's Association of the State of New York was at their fourth annual convention held in Elmira in 1876. They were again mentioned as "Protective Police" at the 1877 convention with the suggestion that they, "should be composed of the most reliable people to be found".  However, fire police in New York State, as they are known today, originated with a bill sponsored by Senator Arthur L. Swartz and a companion bill sponsored by Assemblyman Harold C. Ostertag at the request of FASNY. The measure was passed in both houses of the NYS Legislature on May 20, 1939. On May 29th of the same year, then Governor Herbert H. Lehman, signed Chapter 583 of the Laws of 1939 legalizing the formation of fire police by state fire departments. Fire police can be called a 'step-child' of both the volunteer fire and police services. They are unique in that they are first trained firefighters, belonging to a fire department and responsible for all the requirements and duties of a volunteer member. However, when placed on duty by the chief, or activated for an emergency or other detail, they have certain police powers. These are granted under Section 209 (c) of the General Municipal Law. As New York State Peace Officers they are required to take an oath, a copy of which must be kept on file in the town clerk's office in the municipality in which they serve. As mandated by Executive Law, Section 845 (Chapter 482, Laws of 1979 and Chapter 843 Laws of 1980) they are also listed with the Central Registry of Police and Peace Officers at the New York State, Division of Criminal Justice Services-Office of Public Safety in Albany, NY. It is the duty of each fire chief to insure compliance and to update his fire police with DCJS as required. Those failing to do so may be held in contempt of court. Although most officers are well aware of their authority under Article 35, (Use of Force Justification under New York State Penal Law) in all but the most immediate serious situations, most units consider it prudent to relegate these problems to, and request assistance from, the attending police agency. The existence of and size of each fire police squad or company is up to each department and is governed by their needs, location and size. This can be as few as two members that respond to calls in their private autos to well over fifty officers equipped with a specially designed piece of apparatus or even a boat.

New York State is not unique in having Fire Police as part of their Fire Departments. Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, New Jersey, Deleware and Maine are among those states with similar laws providing for Fire Police officers. Even countries such as Japan, Australia and New Zealand utilize Fire Police in various capacities.

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