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  • Canadian IAFF History
    Updated On: Jul 06, 2011

    IAFF History

    The International Association of Fire Fighters was established on February 28, 1918, for the sole benefit of rank-and-file fire fighters in the United States and Canada. It was on this date that thirty-six fire fighter delegates attended the first IAFF Convention and adopted the IAFF Constitution and By-Laws. The objectives incorporated into that Constitution remain in our preamble to this day.

    The International Association of Fire Fighters was formed to achieve the following objectives:

    To organize all fire fighters and emergency medical or rescue workers; to secure just compensation for their services and equitable settlement of their grievances; to promote as safe and healthy a working environment for fire fighters as is possible through modern technology; to promote the establishment of just and reasonable working conditions; to place the members of the Association on a higher plane of skill and efficiency; to promote harmonious relations between fire fighters and their employers; to encourage the formation of local unions, state and provincial associations and joint councils; to encourage the formation of sick and death benefit funds; to promote the research and treatment of burns and other related health problems common to fire fighters; to encourage the establishment of schools of instruction for imparting knowledge of modern and improved methods of fire fighting and prevention; and to cultivate friendship and fellowship among its members. [From the Preamble of the Constitution and By-Laws of the International Association of Fire Fighters AFL-CIO, CLC.]

    The history of fire fighting is really a story of men and women who have dedicated their lives to helping people. The heritage of fire fighting has always been one of bravery, loyalty, and devotion to public service. These characteristics, coupled with a strong commitment to a personal calling that places their lives in jeopardy every day, makes the career of fire fighting truly a Proud Profession. Success in this proud profession is only possible when there is a unity of purpose. When the IAFF was established on February 28, 1918, fire fighters brought with them a newly formed union, and shaped the IAFF into the Bold Union that it is today.

    It is through the collective strength of its diverse membership that the IAFF has fairly earned the honor and respect necessary to move forward and accomplish its mission to improve wages, hours, and working conditions of its membership. As you examine the history of the IAFF, you can see that the success of the IAFF has always been dependent on its membership. The growth, achievements, and success of the IAFF and its membership are as distinguished as its Future is Bright.



    History of the Maltese Cross


    The symbol of a fire department and the badge of a firefighter is, the Maltese Cross. The Maltese Cross is a symbol of protection and is worn as a badge of honor. Its story is hundreds of years old.

    When a courageous band of crusaders known as the Knights of St. John fought the Saracens for possession of the holy land, they encountered a new weapon unknown to European warriors. It was a simple, but a horrible device of war. It wrought excruciating pain and agonizing death upon the brave fighters for the cross. The Saracen's weapon was fire.

    As the crusaders advanced on the walls of the city, they were struck by glass bombs containing naphtha. When they became saturated with the highly flammable liquid, the Saracens hurled flaming torches into their midst. Hundreds of the knights were burned alive, others risked their own lives to save their brothers-in-arms from painful, fiery deaths.

    Thus, these men became our first firemen and the first of a long list of courageous firefighters. Their heroic efforts were recognized by fellow crusaders who awarded each a badge of honor - a cross similar to the one firefighters wear today. Since the Knights of St. John lived for almost four centuries on a little island in the Mediterranean Sea named Malta, the cross came to be known as the Maltese Cross.

    The Maltese Cross is your symbol of protection. It means that the firefighter who wears this cross is willing to lay down their life for you just as the crusaders sacrificed their lives for their fellow man so many years ago. The Maltese Cross is a firefighter's badge of honor, signifying the performance of courageous acts -- a ladder rung away from death.


    Historic Success

    The IAFF exclusively represents full-time, paid professional members of the fire and emergency medical rescue services. The history of the IAFF is a story of how these professionals have made extraordinary accomplishments through organized strength, collective unity, and collaborative teamwork. Today, the International Association of Fire Fighters represents unparalleled professionalism in the fire and emergency medical rescue services.

    Making up more than 90% of all professional fire fighters in the United States and Canada, the IAFF also proudly represents paramedics, emergency medical technicians, hazardous material experts, technical rescue personnel, crash and fire rescue specialists, communications personnel, fire investigators, and other related fire and rescue services. The IAFF is a strong and proud labor organization solely dedicated to the welfare of its more than 225,000 members and representing over 2,400 locals.

    The success of the IAFF has always been dependent upon the diversity of its membership and their solidarity. Throughout its history the IAFF has played an active role in protecting the lives and rights of our members and their families. Over the past eighty years, the services of the IAFF have greatly improved the wages, hours and working conditions of career fire and rescue service professionals.

    1901 – The AFL charters the first Union of Fire Fighters in Washington D.C.

    1903 – Pittsburgh fire fighters organize and affiliate themselves with the AFL, becoming Local #1 of the IAFF in 1918.

    1917 – Firefighters in Vancouver B.C. become the first in Canada to form a firefighters union.

    1917 – A motion is passed at the AFL convention in Buffalo, N.Y. authorizing the president of the AFL to form an international Union of Fire Fighters chartered under the AFL.

    1918 – The average firefighter earns 29 cents an hour and works either a continuous duty system or 84 hours per week.

    1918 – The first IAFF Convention is held in Washington D.C. on February 28th with 36 firefighter delegates. 5,400 fire fighters become the first members of the new IAFF.

    1921 – IAFF membership grows to over 20,000 members.

    1938 – The first article in a series on heart disease among firefighters is published in The International Fire Fighter.

    1939 – The IAFF assists locals in Pennsylvania to pass the first Heart and Lung Act, Worker’s Compensation Act, and the Occupational Disease Law establishing the first presumptive heart and lung legislation.

    1939 – U.S. Congress repeals laws prohibiting the Washington D.C. Fire Department from being affiliated with the IAFF.

    1943 – The average firefighter earns 50 cents an hour and works 70 hours per week.

    1948 – The IAFF charters its 1,000th local union.

    1954 – The IAFF adopts muscular dystrophy as it particular charitable endeavor.

    1958 – The IAFF established the John P. Redmond Foundation for the health and safety of firefighters.

    1962 – President Kennedy’s Executive Order 10988 brings new recognition to the IAFF’s Federal Fire Fighters.

    1963 – Canadian IAFF members gain important rights when all Canadian provinces begin requiring binding arbitration of bargaining disputes.

    1966 – The IAFF begins the Harvard University Trade Union Program Scholarship and sends its first IAFF member to Harvard to explore key issues of the labor movement.

    1968 – The IAFF officially opens its Canadian Office in Ottawa, Ontario to serve as the central clearing-house for member services and information in Canada.

    1968 – The average firefighter earns over $2.00 an hour and works 56 hours per week.

    1968 – President Johnson signs the National Fire Research and Safety Act into law, authorizing for the first time in IAFF history a fire research and safety program which the federal government will largely frame.

    1970 – Ground breaking for the new International Headquarters building takes place three blocks from the White House in Washington D.C.

    1970 – IAFF President McClennan is made co-chairman of the National Commission on Fire Prevention by President Nixon.

    1970 – The IAFF charters its 2000th local.

    1971 – The IAFF conducts its first Redmond Symposium on the health hazards of the fire service.

    1976 – The IAFF is instrumental in extending coverage of the FLSA to include firefighters after presenting key testimony to Congress.

    1976 – At the urging of the IAFF, President Ford signs the Public Safety Officer Benefit Act (PSOB), providing federal money to the families of four firefighters killed in the line of duty.

    1982 – The IAFF is instrumental in the developmental work that resulted in the standard on Personal Alert Safety Systems (PASS).

    1984 – At the urging of the IAFF, federal firefighters are now covered under PSOB.

    1986 – The IAFF is instrumental in establishing the first edition of NFPA 1500, Standard of Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Programs.

    1986 – President Reagan signs the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act establishing first responder and advanced Hazmat training. The IAFF receives federal funds to begin a training program for firefighters.

    1986 – The IAFF established the Occupational Medicine Residency Program with Johns Hopkins University.

    1987 – The IAFF established its Hazmat Training Program with a grant from the federal government.

    1988 – The IAFF is reorganized to provide expansion of its services through the following departments: Research & Labor Issues, Governmental Affairs & Political Action, Public Relations & Communications, Education, Occupational Health & Safety, Hazardous Materials, In-House Legal Counsel, Special Events, and the Canadian Office.

    1990 – The IAFF conducts its first Regional Seminar as part of a new Educational Seminar Program.

    1991 – The IAFF holds its first EMS Conference to promote fire-based EMS.

    1992 – The IAFF is instrumental in getting OSHA to pass 29 CFR1910.1030- Bloodborne Pathogens Regulation.

    1992 – The average firefighter earns over $13.00 an hour and works 50 hours per week.

    1994 – After assisting in getting the Ryan White Act passed 1990, the IAFF is instrumental in establishing the Ryan White infectious disease notification for firefighters implemented by the Centers for Disease Control.

    1996 – The IAFF continues its push for fire-based EMS integration with the creation of a new EMS Department.

    1996 – The IAFF launches an internet web site at www.iaff.org.

    1996 – The IAFF is instrumental in obtaining a permanent exemption for firefighters from the ADEA.

    1997 – IAFF and IAFC join together for the Joint Labor Management Wellness/Fitness Initiative.

    1997 – IAFF and NIOSH develop Line- of-Duty Death Investigation Programs. President Clinton includes $2.5 million to begin the federal investigation program for firefighters.

    1998 – The IAFF is instrumental in getting OSHA to update 29 CFR1910.134-Respiratory Protection Regulation, including 2 in/2 out provisions for firefighting in an immediately dangerous to life and health atmosphere.




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