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UTUSN's Journal
UTUSN's Journal
March 31, 2020

Who knew?!1 (I just learned.) "Trumpets" (actually: Bugles) are a rank/symbol for firefighters

There was a pop-up advert for law enforcement badges and it was a charming thing of what I thought were "trumpets" (think: angels' long horns). I looked at the website and there were badges with different numbers of "trumpets" on them labelled for firefighters, called the company to ask why "trumpets" were associated with firefighters. The dude just said they are "Ranks" for firefighters. Once the speakerphone's garbled "Ranks" got clarified, I said fine but why TRUMPETS with firefighters. He said that all he knew was the ranks part, not the WHY.

So, of course, that's what the internet and The Google are for, so it turns out these are *BUGLES* (not trumpets), specifically "speaker bugles" like megaphones that in the olden days were used for yelling orders and directions in the chaos of the fire scene. Like how a ship's bell used to be for ringing the time. And that now, replica brass bugles are presented at retirement ceremonies and such. I'm sure there are firefighters or family amongst us here who knew that. Wow. A beautiful brass item of this can be ordered - I'm thinking, I'm *THINKING*!1


In the early days, of North American fire departments, orders were given to the troops, by officers, through the use of a large brass device that resembles a megaphone. These were very ornate brass horns. They were commonly called “bugles” or speaking trumpets.

The person with the bugle hanging from his neck or shoulder was easily identified as the person in charge. Officers became identified with these objects so a small pin in the shape of a bugle became a type of rank insignia for officers. The more “bugles on his collar” the higher the rank. An expression still used today.

Note: It is probably OK that we traditionally refer to fire department rank insignia as a bugle, even though they are not really musical instruments. Some people object to the term "bugle" because it is not a brass musical instrument, and never was. Let's face it, this is the way people name things. We latch onto something the item resembles or was derived from historically. This best example might be the fire "plug". It is not a plug. It is a hydrant. What many fire departments call a PTO has long been replaced by a transfer case. A fire engine and its crew is traditionally a "company" not a unit! Jackrabbits are not rabbits at all, they are hares. The Belgian Hare, a popular pet, is a rabbit. (Who stores gloves in a "glove compartment"?) There are hundreds (perhaps thousands) of other examples of common inaccurate names being derived from historical, fictional or erroneous perceptions. Yet we don't seem to worry about them. It is the nature of a living language. (BTW, "Bugles" are also a tasty corn chip and a glass bead sewn into clothing.)


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