Fire buffing is an old and honorable tradition. Legend has it that the name “buff” comes from the buffalo robes worn in the winter by volunteers in New York City in the 1700s. The term was later applied to the regular spectators at fires back in the early 1800s. These spectators offered encouragement to the firefighters and helped spur on their efforts. They began to offer refreshments and comfort to the firefighters. Today, buff clubs operate rehab vehicles for firefighters. There are many organized buff clubs across the United States and in Canada. Like the Tacoma Fire Buff Battalion, about 85 of them belong to and follow the guidelines and ethics of the International Fire Buffs Association (I.F.B.A.), which was founded in 1953. The I.F.B.A. holds regional conventions and a national convention bringing the members of these independent organizations together to share their experiences and the comradeship. There are more than 50,000 fire buffs in the United States, most of whom do not belong to any organized group.
There are a number of well known fire buffs including, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia of New York City, and Arthur Fiedler, Conductor of the “Boston Pops” Orchestra. To fire buffs, fires are not mere spectacles of disaster. Behind what may appear to the casual eye to be mass confusion at a working fire, is in reality the application of strategy and tactics designed to bring the fire under control and save lives and property. An experienced buff can tell at a glance, how the battle lines are drawn by observing the placement of the apparatus, the hose lines, the ladders and the firefighters’ activities. Today’s buffs are passionate about serving the firefighters who selflessly serve their communities.