Professional fire fighters first started uniting in the mid-19th century as organizations designed to assist fire fighters injured on the job or for the families of fire fighters killed in the line of duty.
Many individual fire unions independently affiliated through the American Federation of Labor (AFL) – established in 1886. Pittsburgh fire fighters, who organized as AFL Local 11431 and would become IAFF Local 1, decided it was time to organize when their newly elected city government threatened to remove fire fighters who weren’t supporters of the new administration.
When their first president, Captain Frank G. Jones, was fired by the city, members of the union paid his wages and fought to have him reinstated. A partial victory was achieved in 1906 when he was reappointed as a lieutenant. Jones went on to submit a resolution to the AFL for fire fighters to be able to organize locals across the country, marking the beginning of the IAFF, a separate union for fire fighters.
AFL President Samuel Gompers supported the number of fire fighter locals, and by 1916, 17 unions had been charted by the AFL, including Vancouver, British Columbia, in Canada.
In 1917, when union fire fighters in Tacoma, Washington, won a two-platoon schedule (“We felt like we had been let out of jail.”) – it showed their union strength and what could be accomplished.