A recent email that came in got my attention once again. This time, this guy was trying to be funny… or was he?
“Hey Mike, nice hurricane piece! Got one for you… can you tell me what a siphonarius is?”
A what? Siphonarius?
Well, it turns out to be a legitimate question. A siphonarius was the title to the pump operator, so to speak, the world’s first highly trained and organized fire brigade in ancient Rome that was called the Corps of Vigiles.
The Emperor Augustus created the Corps that was considered so efficient that it lasted for 500 years. It began as volunteers but you had to commit to serve for 26 years. Since that was not exactly a popular idea for the time, slaves were brought in. All of the men, slave and free, were divided into three groups:
First, there was the Aquarius. No, not the guy born around Valentine’s Day… The Aquarius was the man responsible for providing for providing the water to extinguish a fire. Basically he was the hydrant man before there were hydrants.
The Siphonarius was the man who supervised the pump and getting the water onto the fire… he was the Engineer and Nozzleman all rolled into one.
Lastly, there was the Uncinarius, or the hook man. It was his job to tear down the burning building to enable the men with the water to get to the fire. He was the first truckie.
The funny part about this is, when I was doing my research, I was asked about being my own dinosaur in the fire service. I certainly don’t think of myself as a dinosaur, I have only been at this for about 22 years. But it did make me think about the ongoing changes.
I have always liked the historical aspects of the job. I like the old photos of the men in rubber coats and leather helmets battling the “red devil”. I appreciate the antique carts and traditional rigs from my youth. I don’t think of myself as a dinosaur, but I do have a familiarity with the term “seasoned.”
So there you go. There is really is a siphonarius. I appreciate the challenge and the new lesson in fire service history.