Fire stations famously fly flags
More than a century ago, the dedication of a firehouse in New Jersey was a major extravaganza, complete with – as a newspaper headlined – “New Fire House, New Fire Engine, New Flag and Big Time.”
On the first Saturday in August 1907, the citizens of Slackwood, N.J., gathered to celebrate the completion of the town’s engine house. They also witnessed an American flag being raised, the installation of a volunteer fire department, “the acceptance of a new chemical engine and a hot fire to try it on.”
A key moment at the dedication was hoisting an American flag up a new flagpole. “With bowed heads,” The Trenton Evening Times reported, “all followed the Rev. Charles H. Elder in prayer.” Next came “a spirited flag drill,” performed by participants decked out “in patriotic regalia, each carrying a silk flag.” The banner, which had 45 stars, had been purchased with donations collected by the village’s kids.
When the drill concluded, a dozen little girls – none more than five years old – proudly carried “the starry flag” into the center of the throng and passed it to one of the firemen. As he lifted it, and as Old Glory’s stars and stripes opened in the breeze, two women sang “America” and the National Anthem.
Such events have happened all over America. In 1921, for example, the Wake Forest Fire Department was established in North Carolina. Things moved quickly for the department that first year: a hand-pulled reel was bought to bring hoses to fires; new fire equipment, including the chassis for a truck, was purchased; the local phone system was updated so that emergency calls could be processed more easily; and space was rented to shelter the truck.
Today, one of the most striking aspects of the WFFD is its elaborate patch, which is also part of its firehouse flag. As described on the department’s website, the seal’s Maltese cross “represents charity, loyalty, gallantry, generosity to friend and foe, dexterity of service, and protection of the weak.”
Also featured is the Star of Life, the “badge of medical service personnel” that “represents the six-system functions of emergency medical services: Detection, Reporting, Response, On Scene Care, Care in Transit, and Transfer to Definitive Care.”
The patch’s center sports an image of Binkley Chapel on the campus of the South-Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary. It’s included, the department explains, “as an icon for the town and its residents.”
Three special years are listed on the patch: “the organization of the Town of Wake Forest Fire Department (1922), the organization of the Wake Forest Rural Fire Department (1955), and the merger of the Town and Rural Departments” (1983).
Flags and firefighters go together. Check it out the next time you pass a firehouse.