Imagine you’re driving down the road and come across an emergency scene with flashing lights everywhere. Firetrucks and ambulances block the way as firefighters work to put out a massive blaze. Who is directing traffic around this chaotic scene and keeping bystanders safe? Enter the fire police.
A Special Breed of First Responder
You’ve likely seen fire police in action without even realizing it. These specialized officers play a vital role at fire emergencies and accidents by managing crowds, securing the scene, and ensuring other first responders can work safely. But what exactly are fire police and what is their job?
In a nutshell, fire police are volunteer firefighters who receive special training and authority to carry out police duties at emergency incidents. They regulate traffic, assist regular law enforcement, and protect fire personnel so firefighters can focus on extinguishing fires and rescuing victims.
Fire police aren’t like normal beat cops walking the streets. They are trained firefighters who serve their community in an expanded capacity when emergencies strike.
According to the U.S. Fire Administration, there are approximately 1 million firefighters serving in over 30,000 fire departments nationwide. Of these, around 5% are certified fire police officers providing an extra layer of emergency scene management.
Origins Date Back Over a Century
Fire police units as we know them today trace their origins to the late 1800s in Pennsylvania. As early fire brigades began responding to large fires that drew crowds, the need arose for members to control traffic and secure the fire ground.
One of the first known fire police units was organized in Meadville, Pennsylvania in 1896. These initial units exercised authority granted by their fire chiefs and local municipalities to protect the fire scene.
The role of fire police was later formalized with the passage of Pennsylvania’s Fire Police Act of 1941 which granted legal police powers to properly trained fire brigade members during emergencies.
Over the next few decades, legislation expanded the policing authority and jurisdiction of fire police to non-fire emergencies. Similar units following this model were established in other states.
A Paramilitary Structure
Most fire departments with fire police are volunteer-based. Fire police officers are appointed by chiefs and complete specialized training to receive certification.
The fire chief serves as the highest ranking officer who fire police report to during emergencies. They coordinate with police chiefs and follow law enforcement command at incidents like crime scenes or missing person searches.
Like police officers, each fire police unit has a structured chain of command. They wear distinctive uniforms with badges that mark their authority. Ranks include captain, lieutenant, sergeant, and corporal.
Limited but Important Powers
The exact legal powers granted to fire police depend on state and local laws. However, they derive authority from their status as sworn officers who take an oath of office.
At emergency scenes, fire police essentially function as peace officers with targeted policing duties. They can halt and redirect traffic, block off areas, and order crowds to disperse. If someone refuses to cooperate, fire police may detain them until regular cops arrive.
Most fire police cannot make full arrests or carry firearms like regular police. Their role centers on traffic and access control so firefighters can work unimpeded. By managing the outside environment, fire police enable successful fireground operations.
Handling Hot Zone Hazards
Of course, the primary job for fire police revolves around emergency duties. So what are some typical tasks?
- Directing traffic flow – Fire police set up barricades and cones to divert vehicles away from crashes, fires or hazmat incidents. This clears a path for fire trucks and ambulances to get close to the scene.
- Securing the scene – They establish a safe perimeter around the incident and ensure only authorized personnel can access the hazardous hot zone.
- Protecting personnel – Fire police keep overeager bystanders from interfering with responders or accidentally wandering into danger.
- Preserving evidence – At fires or crimes, they cordon off the area to maintain scene integrity for investigators.
- Enforcing fire laws – Fire police enforce local ordinances related to fire codes, hydrant access, and smoking bans.
- Assisting police – They provide extra manpower for officers when needed for traffic duty, searches, or public events.
- Public relations – Fire police are often the first point of contact with onlookers, keeping crowds calm and answering questions.
Getting Certified to Serve
To become a fire police officer, recruits must pass certification exams on traffic control methods, crowd management techniques, and relevant emergency response laws.
Pennsylvania’s fire police curriculum involves over 50 hours of initial classroom and field training. New York requires 24 hours of instruction plus a state licensing exam.
Training covers topics like:
- Scene security procedures
- Emergency traffic direction
- Self-defense and personal safety
- ICS and NIMS protocols
- Interacting with motorists and crowds
- Fireground operations
Many departments mandate continuing education to maintain certification. Fire police must stay up to date on the latest traffic control methods and legislation changes.
A State-by-State Breakdown
There are currently around 14 states that officially recognize fire police forces including:
Pennsylvania – First fire police laws in 1941. Can detain individuals and direct any emergency scene traffic.
New York – Have full peace officer status under the law when on duty. Can enforce all fire safety laws.
Connecticut – No arrest powers but can block roads and halt traffic during emergencies.
North Carolina – Firefighters in uniform can direct traffic and enforce traffic laws at emergency scenes.
Maine – Has public safety traffic flagger status to redirect vehicles at fire scenes.
New Jersey – Early adopters of fire police with 1950s era state laws regulating powers.
Not all areas use the fire police model. Some states allow regular firefighters to handle scene security without special certification. But the core traffic control purpose remains the same nationwide.
Keeping Emergencies Under Control
Whether they go by fire police, fire patrol, or other titles – these specialized officers fill an important niche in emergency services. Handling police duties at chaotic fire and crash sites allows firefighters and medics to focus on life safety.
So next time you’re stuck in a road detour or diverted around an emergency, remember the fire police have your best interests in mind. Their traffic management and perimeter control provides order in otherwise dangerous situations.
What Are Fire Police?
Fire police play a critical role securing emergency scenes, directing traffic, and protecting other first responders like firefighters and paramedics. But what exactly are fire police, what is their job, legal authority, training, history, and how do they differ by state? This definitive guide provides an in-depth look at these important but often overlooked emergency personnel.
A Brief History Dating Back Over 120 Years
- Earliest known fire police units established in Pennsylvania and New Jersey in the late 1800s.
- Formalized by laws passed in early 1900s granting policing powers at fires.
- Role expanded over decades to cover more emergency types.
- Now recognized in over a dozen states with around 50,000 active fire police nationally.
Organization – A Paramilitary Chain of Command
- Membership drawn from volunteer fire departments.
- Sworn in and take oath of office like regular cops.
- Rank hierarchy of captain, lieutenant, sergeant, corporal.
- Under control of local fire chief at fire emergencies.
- Coordinate with police chiefs at crime scenes and accidents.
Legal Authority Varies but Focus is Traffic Control
- Powers defined by state laws and local ordinances.
- Have limited police powers when on emergency duty.
- Can halt traffic, set up barricades, order crowds to disperse.
- No arrest authority in most jurisdictions unlike police.
- Focus is traffic direction to allow emergency access.
Major Duties at Fires and Accidents
- Direct vehicles and control crowds
- Secure emergency scene perimeter
- Keep bystanders away from hazards
- Protect firefighters, equipment, and evidence
- Enforce fire codes and safety laws
- Assist police with manpower as needed
- Act as public relations liaison
Getting Certified Through Specialized Training
- Complete fire police training course on traffic control.
- Pass exam on relevant laws and procedures.
- Credentials approved by state or local authority.
- Background check required in most areas.
- Continuing education maintains up-to-date skills.
Fire Police Forces Differ Across States
- Pennsylvania – First fire police laws in 1941. Can detain individuals.
- New York – Full peace officer status when on duty.
- Connecticut – No arrest powers but can halt traffic.
- Maine – Public safety traffic flagger status.
- New Jersey – Early adopters in 1950s.
- North Carolina – Firefighters can direct traffic.
An Important Niche Role Within Emergency Response
Fire police fill a vital operations support role at chaotic emergency scenes. Their traffic management and access control allows firefighters, paramedics, and police to focus on critical tasks. Next time you see fire police in action, remember they are there to keep the public and other responders safe!