Volunteer Fire Departments in Austria and Czech
The first traces of organized Fire departments on Austrian soil date back to the 3rd Century A.D. and were discovered during excavations in the Roman Camps of Carnuntum, Vindobona, FlaviaSolva, Ovilava, Lauriacum and Virunum.
The first volunteer fire departments were founded in the mid-19th Century. Ferdinand Leitenberger in the Bohemian town of Reichstadt was a Pioneer of the movement that at the turn to the 20th Century already saw 2.677 departments established. Today around 300.000 women and men are organized in 4.528 volunteer Fire Departments around the country. Basically anyone from the age of 10 can become a member and will be trained and employed according to her/his abilities.
Especially in rural areas the fire, disaster protection and emergency services are mainly attended to by volunteer fire departments. Their active members train regularly and compete with other outfits in their spare time to be fit and ready for deployment. The financial responsibilities are with the communities but activities such as sport competitions and cultural events bring in urgently needed donations. Apart from the vital emergency services the departments provide, they also are invaluable for the social structure of the community. But in some regions their existence is endangered by the increasing loss of youth migrating to the cities.
Saint Florian, patron of firefighters
The life of St. Florian (Florian of Lorch) is surrounded by many legends and myths. He was an officer in the Roman army. In 304 he publicly objected to the Emperors antichristian campaigns and demanded the release of 40 incarce-rated fellow believers. He was arrested, tortured and forced to renounce his faith. When he refused he was executed on May 4th of the same year, thrown into the Enns River with a stone tied around his neck. Florian’s remains have become relics, which since the 11th century can be found in churches around Italy (Rome and Bologna), Poland (Krakow) and the Czech Republic (Cathedral of St. Vitus in Olomouc, Kladno church and Havlíčkův Brod). These relics are supposed to protect the cities from fires. As Florian was martyred in the water he became the patron saint of firefighters and all occupations related to fire (ironworkers, chimney sweepers, potters, bakers…). He became one of the patrons of Poland, and Austria’s first saint and martyr. His cult spread throughout Europe, as documented by several monasteries, countless statues (in Slavonice on the upper square), shown on official seals, coats of arms, the facades of houses, and especially at fire stations (on our route: Reibers, Reingers, Gilgenberg, Tiefenbach,. .). He is depicted as a Roman officer in armour with a helmet, flag in one hand and a barrel of water in the other.