While the badge pictured is the first official badge issued to the Philadelphia Fire Department, most people do not realize that it was issued prior to the establishment of the paid department on March 15, 1871. In fact, badge number 986 was issued in June 1868 to G. W. Giles of the volunteer Humane Engine Company No. 13.
After the consolidation of the city of Philadelphia in 1854, a January 30, 1855 city ordinance established the Philadelphia Fire Department which was to be composed of the already serving volunteer fire and hose companies in the city. Even though the department’s command structure was elected by the volunteers, the Chief Engineer and the five Assistant Engineers, as well as their administrative costs, were paid by the City. Almost all facets of the fire department, including which existing volunteer companies were admitted to the new department, which new companies could join the department, and the appropriations for companies were regulated by the city through the Committee on Trusts and Fire established by the Common and Select Councils. Even which company could have a steam fire engine or a fire bell was regulated by the city.
By 1868 there were 15,000 members of the various companies, comprising of active, honorary and contributing members. The people showing up at fires usually had uniforms but many did not. At fires, it was hard to tell who was authorized to fight the fire and who was not. As a result, a March 30, 1868 ordinance created the above badge for firemen to wear at fires, unless they wore the equipment of their company.
As stipulated by the ordinance, the bronze oval badge with a stippled background had a border representing a section of hose; the words “PHILADa’ FIRE/DEPARTMENT” raised; and a silver one-half inch number in the center.
Each person receiving a badge paid a fee to cover the expense of furnishing the badge and upon resigning had to return the badge to the Chief Engineer. In addition, the Secretary of each company had to notify the Chief Engineer of the expulsion, resignation, or death of a member in possession of a badge.
Any person wearing a badge without proper authority would be fined not less than twenty dollars, nor more than one hundred dollars or imprisonment not exceeding six months, or both. Paid fines would be turned over to the Philadelphia Association for the Relief of Disabled Firemen.
Fireman’s Hall Museum has a copy of the badge registry required by the Chief Engineer, which contains the name of the fireman, name of the company, and the number of the badge. If you are the owner of one of Philadelphia’s first fire badges, drop us an email and we’d be happy to supply you with the identifying information.