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|The examples and perspective in this article deal primarily with the United States and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (October 2013)|
A fire department or fire brigade (also known as a fire and rescue service or simply fire service) is a public or private organization that provides predominantly emergency firefighting and rescue services for a certain jurisdiction, which is typically a municipality, county, or fire protection district. A fire department usually contains one or more fire stations within its boundaries, and may be staffed by career firefighters, volunteer firefighters, or a combination thereof (referred to as a combination department).
A fire department may also provide "fire protection" or fire prevention services, whereby firefighters visit homes and give fire safety advice and fit smoke alarms for members of the public. In many countries fire protection or prevention is seen as an important role for the fire service, as preventing a fire from occurring in the first place can save lives and property.
Most public or municipal fire departments also carry out an enforcement role, to ensure that buildings (homes, hotels, offices, factories, and so on) are equipped with adequate fire precautions to limit the chances of fire and ensure that in the event of fire, people can safely evacuate the premises unharmed. This is also part of the protection or prevention role.
Fire departments are organized in a system of administration, services, training, and operations; for example:
A fire department is normally set up where it can have fire stations and sophisticated fire apparatus strategically deployed throughout the area under its control so that dispatchers can send fire engines, fire trucks, or ambulances from the fire stations closest to the incident. Larger departments have branches within themselves to increase efficiency, composed of volunteers, support, and research.
The fire department's jurisdiction is organized by the governmental body that controls the department, although there are private fire departments as well. This comes from a municipality, county, prefecture, state, province, or nation type of government. The most common type of government control is at the municipality level. The jurisdiction size and organization would be set up by department or the government in charge of these duties. This deals with the placement of fire stations, equipment, and personnel within the area of control. Fire departments periodically survey their jurisdiction areas and use the data for redeploying proper coverage. This data comes from travel time, range from station, and/or a population survey. This brings equal service to the entire community and gives the department efficient places to launch operations.
The earliest known fire department was formed in Ancient Rome by Egnatius Rufus who used his slaves to provide a free fire service. These men fought fires using bucket chains and also patrolled the streets with the authority to impose corporal punishment upon those who violated fire-prevention codes. The Emperor Augustus established a public fire department in 24 BCE, composed of 600 slaves distributed amongst seven fire stations in Rome.
Fire departments were again formed by property insurance companies beginning in the 17th century after the Great Fire of London in 1666. The first insurance brigades were established the following year. Others began to realize that a lot of money could be made from this practice, and ten more insurance companies set up in London before 1832: The Alliance, Atlas, Globe, Imperial, London, Protector, Royal Exchange, Sun Union and Westminster. Each company had its own fire mark, a durable plaque that would be affixed to the building exterior. A company's fire brigade would not extinguish a burning building if it did not have the correct fire mark.
The city of Boston, Massachusetts, established America's first publicly funded paid fire department in 1679. Established in 1853, the Cincinnati Fire Department is the oldest paid fully professional municipal fire department in the United States. Fire insurance made its debut in the American colonies in South Carolina in 1736, but it was Benjamin Franklin who imported the London model of insurance. He established the colonies' first fire insurance company in Philadelphia named the Philadelphia Contributionship, as well as its associated Union Volunteer Fire Company.
In the 19th century, the practice of fire brigades refusing to put out fires in buildings that were uninsured led to the demand of central command for fire companies. Cities started to form their own fire departments as a civil service to the public, forcing private fire companies to shut down, and merging their fire stations into the city's fire department. In 1833, London's ten independent brigades all merged to form the London Fire Engine Establishment (LFEE), with James Braidwood as the Chief Officer. Braidwood had previously been the fire chief in Edinburgh, where the world's first municipal fire service was founded in 1824, and he is now regarded, along with Van der Heyden, as one of founders of modern firefighting. The LFEE then was incorporated into the city's Metropolitan Fire Brigade in 1865 under Eyre Massey Shaw.
Some fire departments such as the Statue Of Liberty Fire Brigade which covers Liberty Island and Ellis Islands respond to medical emergencies and provide care until advanced personnel can take over. In the United States, firefighters may get their First Responder Certification, Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) License, or Paramedic License. Some fire departments even offer ambulance services.