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CFD Traditions

The Chicago Fire Department is well known for maintaining numerous traditions unique just for this department, some of them going all the way back to the beginning of the 20th century. 




One of the most well-known CFD traditions is the classic black over red paint scheme. This tradition dates back to the late 1920s and started more or less accidentally when the CFD purchased 28 Ford model "A" Battalion Chief cars. The rigs came equipped with a black tar coated roofs which could not be painted red as the rest of the cars and had to be left in their original color. Somebody from the brass liked the look of the black/red buggies and decided that the rest of the fleet will adopt this color scheme as well, starting a tradition which is followed for more than 80 years until these days. The black over red paint scheme is currently used not only on ground fire apparatus but also on the CFD's fireboats.

Also interesting to note is that even before the adoption of the black over red paint scheme the CFD unlike many of the other major Fire Departments throughout the nation which experimented with different color schemes (often white or white/maroon etc...), never used any other color than red for it's fire apparatus.



This tradition began back around 1927 when Albert Goodrich became the Chicago Fire Commissioner. Goodrich, having a family which operated a steamship line, applied the nautical light scheme used by all ships during bad weather (red light on the port and green light on the starboard side of the ship) to the fire apparatus and also the fire houses. It's worth to note that by the time the CFD's fleet was already completely motorized.



Although it appeared on some Department documents at least as early as around the turn of the 20th Century (and probably even earlier), the classic intertwined logo used as a symbol of the Department started to appear on the CFD apparatus around the same time period as the black over red paint scheme - around the late 1920s.



From the 19th Century until these days the Chicago Firefighters wear exclusively black traditional fire helmets and black turnout gear. Throughout the time the CFD tested many different models and manufacturers of their protective equipment. The classic CFD Firefighter's protective equipment since the late 19th Century up until the early 2000s consisted of a Cairns leather (or later plastic) fire helmet and a "long coat" used together with rubber "hip boots" protecting the whole Firefighter's legs. Prior to the "hip boots" the Chicago Firemen of the 19th Century wore the leather Cavalry boots which were about the same length. Until the late 1970s the long coats were made either from rubber or canvas, later during the 1980s these were replaced with a rubberized fire-retardant Nomex coats with reflective stripes. The first reflective stripes began to appear on the CFD turnout gear as soon as the early 1970s but didn't see wider use until the late 1970s/early 80s.

Starting with the first order in 1981 the Chicago Fire Department became the largest Department to use almost exclusively the Cairns 880 plastic fire helmets. This model became such a familiar sight in the CFD for the last decades that the manufacturer eventually decided to change the name of this model to Cairns 880 "Chicago".



The Chicago Fire Department is well known for it's use of the Snorkel articulating platforms. Starting in the late 1950s, when the CFD became the World's first Fire Department to deploy this type of fire apparatus in the field, throughout the "golden age" of Snorkels in the 1960s and 1970s up until today, the CFD deployed numerous Snorkels from several different manufacturers such as the original Pitman Snorkel, Hi-Ranger, Strato-Tower or recently Rosenbauer.