How five deaths sparked a worldwide memorial event – International Firefighters’ Day

The deaths of five firefighters in a blaze in Australia sparked a desire in a colleague, to have the world recognise the contribution to public safety made every day by operational firemen and women. This was in January 1999, since then the commemorative day has spread worldwide. Fire and Safety Centre is happy to join in its promotion.

It takes a special kind of individual to defy the instinct felt by the rest of us; when we flee burning buildings, they’re the ones prepared to go in to put out fires and save lives.

They’re highly trained, of course, and they have a host of specialist equipment, but it only controls their exposure to the risks they face; it doesn’t remove those risks completely.

These people are firefighters, and at this time of year we’d like to invite you to join in with a worldwide event that recognises what they do for us – it’s International Firefighters’ Day, which takes place on Monday May 4th.

You may well get a reminder, at noon on the day before, which is when firefighters will take part in a ‘sound off’. That’s the time for the sounding of sirens for 30 seconds before a minute’s silence in memory of firefighters who have lost their lives whilst at work.


How the day began

International Firefighters’ Day is relatively new, inaugurated by an email sent around the world in early January 1999 in the wake of the deaths of five firefighters in tragic circumstances a month earlier, in a wildfire in a place called Linton in Western Australia.

The saddest part of that event was that the firefighters didn’t have time to use their training or deploy the equipment they had. Garry Vredeveldt, Chris Evans, Stuart Davidson, Jason Thomas, and Matthew Armstrong were all aboard one fire engine.

They were part of a team sent to deal with a wildfire in the state of Victoria, almost 100 miles west of Melbourne. As they drove into their assigned position the wind changed, suddenly their engine became engulfed in flames and as a result they lost their lives in the unfortunate event. The details are covered in this report.


Why May 4th?

International Firefighters Day falls on May 4th every year; the day of the feast of St Florian, the patron saint of firefighters.

Florian was an officer in the Roman army who was also a senior figure in the administration part of Austria; at the time called Noricum. He is said to have been martyred for his Christian faith. After a brutal flogging he was set alight and thrown into a river with a rock tied around his neck. His body was eventually recovered and taken to the Augustinian Abbey of St Florian, near Linz.

The driving force behind the creation of International Firefighters’ Day is JJ Edmondson, a female firefighter in the same part of the world as the five whose deaths we mentioned earlier.

She is currently a Lieutenant in the force, and teaches about wildfire control and suppression. She was determined to set up the day after the Linton incident. Her ambition was furthered after the events of 9/11, as seen in our picture from Wikipedia, she made it her aim for the day to be recognised around the world – an ambition we are happy to help promote through our blog.

Take no risks with fire

In the event of a fire you should take no risks. Leave the premises as soon as you are alerted about a fire and call the fire brigade. Only people trained to use firefighting equipment such as fire hose reels or fire extinguishers should attempt to extinguish a fire.

Firefighters understand those risks, but even they aren’t immune to the danger of fire, as JJ Edmondson’s campaign illustrates.