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The History of the Institutions of First Responders

By Cody Sung

Volume 2 Issue 2

November 19, 2021

The History of the Institutions of First Responders

Image provided by Florida National University

October 28th is National First Responders Day, and while Congress has only designated this day for four years, there is a long history behind the institutions of the first responder, the humble firefighter (fire department), police officer (police force), medic (hospitals, among other places), and others who help in our darkest hours.

In ancient Rome, when it was ruled by Augustus, a person named Marcus Licinius Crassus made a brigade of 500 firefighters, but instead of helping with the fire, he would first bargain the price of his services. The first actually free service would be with the Roman emperor Nero in AD 60, called the Vigiles. This firefighter service would also lead to the first firefighting service in Britain, as the Romans invaded it in AD 43. After the Romans left, though, there would be no solid firefighting service in Britain until after the Great Fire of London in 1666.

In the United States, the first fire department was in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,  but the first government-run departments did not exist until the Civil War. Prior to this, private firefighting companies competed with one another. In the early 1800s, fire departments began accepting steam-powered fire engines, and as technology advanced, old technology, like horse-drawn fire engines, were phased out. Further advancements in firefighting technology would lead us to the modern firefighting system we know today.

The policeman in the United States wasn’t always there. The first organized police force was formed in Boston in 1838, to protect shipping interests. In the South, police forces were not created to protect shipping interests, but to preserve slavery.

However, in the late 19th century, the leadership in many police precincts were becoming corrupt, turning a blind eye to illegal actions in exchange for payment from political leaders. To solve this issue, President Hoover appointed the Wickersham Commission in 1929 to investigate how ineffective police forces were nationwide. To solve this problem, police precincts were changed so they would not correspond with political wards. After this, there was a drive to professionalize the police force, which only grew into the 20th century, creating the police force we know today.

If you happen to have a severe illness or injury, a hospital should be your destination. The first example of a hospital would most likely be in early India, with a Chinese Buddhist monk recording examples of “healing institutions”. Similar buildings existed in ancient Greece and Rome. In 805, the first general hospital in the Islamic world was built in Baghdad.

In Europe, hospitals became less religious and more secular, and after this movement was over, more and more hospitals began to appear across British cities, including London in the 18th century. During this time, hospitals became more of centers of medical innovation and discovery than providers of basic care for the ill. More advancements in technology during the Industrial Revolution and afterwards brings us to the modern hospital, centers of medical care and development.

The role of the institutions first responders work at have changed over time, and have grown to become essential services to society, maintaining order when all else fails, and swooping in during times of great need. Thank you, first responders, and we will always appreciate you!

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