IAFF Celebrates 95th Anniversary
February 28, 2013 – The IAFF is celebrating 95 years of uniting fire fighters and paramedics to protect and enhance wages, benefits and working conditions, while providing better services to their communities. For nearly a century, the IAFF has been a leader in advancements that have changed the fire service and the lives of its members. From the coats on their back to the hours worked, this union has always been on the frontline.
The IAFF was formed in 1918 at a time when fire fighters worked seven days a week, had few benefits and safety meant putting a wet towel over their face before running into flames. By uniting fire fighters, this union became the voice of fire fighters and paramedics across the United States and Canada.
Before the IAFF was officially formed, 17 locals had affiliated with the American Federation of Labor (AFL). Pittsburgh fire fighters -- which became IAFF Local 1 -- decided to organize when their newly elected city government threatened to remove fire fighters who didn't support the new administration. At the 1917 AFL convention President Samuel Gompers helped create the IAFF, predicting that the IAFF would become one of the largest unions in the AFL-CIO. At the first IAFF Convention, 36 delegates representing 24 locals gathered in Washington, DC to adopt a Constitution and Bylaws. By the 1930s, the IAFF had assisted locals in Pennsylvania to pass the first heart and lung Act, Workers' Compensation Act and the Occupational Disease Law.
Over the decades, the IAFF continued to grow and improve working conditions for its members, including emergency medical personnel who became part of the IAFF when fire-based EMS first emerged in the late 1960s. The IAFF also passed Public Safety Officer Benefit legislation in 1976 and helped develop industry standards for fire departments, as well as standards for training and personal protective equipment for fire fighters beginning in the 1980s.
In 2001, the IAFF responded to the September 11 terrorist attacks -- a tragedy on a scale no one had ever seen and an event that changed the nation forever -- and was at Ground Zero providing assistance to help members and their families. When more than 200 locals felt the impact of Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita, and Hurricane Wilma, the union provided direct and immediate help to IAFF members, and more recently Super Storm Sandy. The IAFF continues to fight local, state and federal battles to help members re-build their departments and their lives.
The IAFF was a driving force behind creating minimum acceptable standards for fire departments to follow, the union championed NFPA Standard 1710, a national industry standard for on-scene operations, including adequate staffing to assure safe, efficient and effective operations and to protect fire fighter lives.
In 2002, the IAFF turned its attention to promote safe staffing after the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reported that inadequate staffing contributed to the deaths of two Houston fire fighters who were killed in 2000 while fighting a fire in a high-rise building. The IAFF proposed and passed the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) Act of 2003 authorizing funds to hire additional new fire fighters to help fire departments reach proper staffing levels. In 2010, the IAFF convinced Congress to amend the grant requirements so that federal funds could be used to rehire fire fighters who had been laid-off due to the troubled economy. Thousands of IAFF members have returned to work as a result.
The IAFF's role in national politics has given the IAFF increasingly more power and influence -- and the capacity -- to create and support legislation on behalf of first responders, as well as play an active part in the United States and Canada in electing politicians who support the IAFF and fire fighter issues. The IAFF's political action committee -- FIREPAC -- was formed in 1975 as a means for fire fighters to have their voices heard on legislative matters, and is now in the top one-half of one percent of the nearly 6,100 federally registered PACs in the country.
Today, the IAFF remains the primary advocate for providing fire fighters and paramedics with the tools they need to perform their jobs. Our history is our legacy. Collecting and sharing the beginnings of this union is more important than ever in order to continue that legacy of achievements and political accomplishments.