This shield-shaped metal fire badge belonged to an exempt member of the Hoboken (New Jersey) Fire Department. The badge has a central image of a hook, ladder, lantern, and trumpet arrayed behind a fire helmet. A circle around the decoration bears the raised text “EXEMPT/HOBOKEN.FIRE.DEPT.” Different cities had different rules regarding the years of service necessary to be considered exempt and what duties were exempted. Generally, exempt firemen were firemen who had served a set number of years in the volunteer department and were now excused from certain civic responsibilities like jury duty, some taxes, and peacetime militia service. Later, exempt firemen created their own social associations to foster camaraderie and “continue the fraternal associations” established as volunteer firemen. The Hoboken Association of Exempt Firemen was established in 1860, and its meeting house still stands at 213 Bloomfield Street and serves as a Fire Department Museum.
Metal firefighter’s badges were a part of the firefighter’s uniform since volunteer companies began to proliferate in the early 19th century. As volunteer companies gave way to municipal fire departments during the mid–19th century, these badges became mandated by uniform codes. Badges served as official identification at fire scenes, as access to derelict buildings by unscrupulous citizens could result in looting. Fire badges came in a variety of shapes, most notably circular, shield–shaped, or the Maltese cross. While shield–shaped badges were often worn on the chest, circular and cross-shaped badges can be seen on jacket lapels or soft caps. Badges usually detailed the company’s name, number and department, and were often decorated with various symbols of the profession such as hose carriages, hand–pumped engines, hoses, trumpets, helmets, hooks, and ladders. For paid municipal companies, many badges also featured the badge number of the wearer.
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