In the past two centuries, the Cincinnati Fire Department (CFD) and the Cincinnati Reds have forged a unique and lasting relationship, transcending the realms of sports and public service.
“The connection between Cincinnati fire fighters and the Cincinnati Reds baseball team goes all the way back to the 1800s,” said Cincinnati, OH Local 48 President Matt Alter. “It is a proud and honored tradition that the entire city still celebrates today.”
In 1853, Cincinnati became the first city to establish a professional and fully paid fire department in the United States, while just years later in 1869, the Reds (formerly known as the Red Stockings) emerged as the country’s inaugural professional baseball team.
Today, the ties between the Reds and union members remain firmly rooted in shared traditions and values. Within a unique history lies a unique ceremony – the retirement of fire engines around the city.
For years, Reds’ legends have left their signatures on retired firetruck doors, aligning engine numbers with jersey numbers. From Johnny Bench (#5) to Joe Morgan (#8), Sean Casey (#21), and most recently, Joey Votto (#19), these players have unabashedly supported the city’s fire department.
Numbers on both jerseys and engines create a sense of individuality within a greater team, whether it’s the Cincinnati Fire Department or the Cincinnati Reds. For athletes, jersey numbers are synonymous with their personal identity, establishing a sense of pride and providing an outlet for deeper self-expression, while engine numbers represent the identity of an individual station and the union members who comprise it.
One strong example of this identity is seen with CFD Engine 5, stationed in Over-the-Rhine. For over a century, Engine 5 has been the physical and symbolic leader of the annual Findlay Market Opening Day Parade, since the days when horse-drawn wagons and water pumpers took center stage. The parade holds immense significance for Cincinnati’s residents.
“Each year, the Opening Day parade is a huge event, it’s a holiday here,” said Alter. “You have to experience it to really get a grasp of what it’s like in the city.”
Local 48 plays a pivotal role in the Opening Day festivities, with hundreds of union members and their families proudly marching in the parade. Over the past decade, these same dedicated individuals have been entrusted with the solemn responsibility of unfurling a massive American flag across the entire outfield during the singing of the national anthem, a profound honor replicated on a national stage when the Red’s Great American Ballpark hosted the 2015 Major League Baseball All-Star Game.
Members of Local 48 and the Reds share striking commonalities in their work ethic and culture. The unmistakable presence of uniforms unifies both fire fighters and professional ballplayers. More importantly, a team-centric mentality prevails, emphasizing collective efforts over individual achievements.
Alter highlighted this comparison, stating, “No one person wins or loses a game. Just like in the job we do, no one person can be attributed to absolute success or less than a desirable outcome of any incident.”
The relationship between Local 48 and the Reds is authentic, devoid of scripted events. Ballplayers frequently visit various fire stations, fostering genuine admiration and respect between the two parties.
“It is so cool to see these professional ball players that we see on national television, to see what they do and have them visit our firehouse and have them be enamored with what we do,” said Alter.
The Reds’ support extends beyond symbolic gestures, with players proudly donning Local 48 apparel that combines local imagery, CFD symbols, and Reds branding.
“There are so many things that can divide us in society,” said Alter. “What we try to do in the union in Local 48 is really focus on what makes us one – that’s our job and our service to our community and being able to do events like this that bring everyone together and transcend all the things that divide us is a really cool opportunity.”