The Vigili del Fuoco of Venice and “Firetrucks” on Water

I’ve made it a mission to create a photo essay of the life of Venetian workmen hard at work in the canals and passages of Venice. I’ve yet to find women working on outdoor crews, including the one female gondolier (I’m hoping that will change and I hope I’m able to capture the evolution as it happens).

Observing everyday life and functions on the water in Venice is endlessly fascinating

How do everyday functions such as trash collection, deliveries (can’t wait to delve into how reaches a person’s doorstep), medical emergency services (i.e. ambulances on water), etc.? That’s where I had been focusing my questions. I hadn’t really spent much mind space on the vigili del fuoco, or firefighters, until I stood on a bridge watching a bright red boat approaching, with a group of men seriously scouring the sides of the canal and engrossed in their observations. “Great photo opp incoming,” I thought to myself.

vigili del fuoco

The vigili del fuoco are serious about their jobs © 2017 Jed Smith

While the photo I took of these fellows as they passed under the bridge on which I was standing seems quite serious, they subsequently broke into smiles and waved warmly when I gave them my thumbs up to thank them for the photo opp. It was when the boat passed and I ran to the other side of the bridge to see them emerge and make the turn into the next canal that I realized these were a group of Venetian vigili del fuoco, or firemen.

I had seen plenty of police, carabinieri, and even a water ambulance, but not the Venice firefighters. So, the bigger picture of how Venice functions for all public support service comes into greater focus. But, other than capturing these Venetian firefighters making the rounds, I have little understanding and appreciation of the particularities of doing their jobs in the complicated maze of waterways in Venice. I’ll have to start working my connections in Venice to see if I can land an introduction and interview with one of the vigili del fuoco to go deeper into this story.

As always, stay tuned!

vigili del fuoco

A Venetian “fire truck” © 2017 Jed Smith

By |2019-01-19T21:43:49+01:00December 5th, 2017|A Romance with Venice, Exploring the Veneto|9 Comments

About the Author:

I’m an American expat living in Italy!


  1. Joee Balestrieri December 6, 2017 at 2:05 pm - Reply

    I love all your posts Jed, but I just returned home last night from visiting friends in Piacenza. Turin and Brescia…. I’m crying this morning because I want to be in Italy so badly. Anyway, last year I was in Venice and I saw from my hotel balcony the boats come to the hotel to take away trash and dirty linens and deliver clean perfectly folded linens…it was very early in the morning and almost done as a secret mission. It captured me the way it has captured you…. I cannot wait to read your next post! Un abbraccio e grazie mille. Ottimo!

    • Jed December 8, 2017 at 12:36 pm - Reply

      Ciao, Joee, Thank you so much, as always, for your supportive comments. I, too, love catching the “behind the scenes” views of services supporting life in Venice!

  2. Gaye Hart December 5, 2017 at 9:33 pm - Reply

    A couple of years ago I saw a TV documentary on the vigili del fuoco of Venice. You might be able to find it on YouTube? At the time the head of the service was a woman. And, I also looked for the females gondolier during October, without success!

    • Jed December 6, 2017 at 11:21 am - Reply

      Thanks, Gaye, I’ll be sure to research that and add a link to this post if I can find the video!

  3. Kevin December 5, 2017 at 6:43 pm - Reply

    Hey Jed! When my wife and I visited Venice in 2009 we went to a museum…don’t recall the name….but it was a maritime museum only open to the public a few times a year. It was at the Venice Aresenale. Our trip timed perfectly and we went to see the old boats and gondola’s. Few tourists know or go to this event While there my wife noticed a few men wearing the uniform of the Vigili del Fuoco. I spoke to them to try and get a sense of what their jobs might be like in such a unique place. I’m a little fog brained and don’t remember what all was said….I just remember they really wanted to know what a firefighter in the USA made as salary. I got the sense that they don’t get paid very well for what they do. I suspect you would find it interesting how they maintain territory knowledge, the ways they access water to fight fire, and what types of lines and gear they use when they enter a building. I also wonder how many more boats they have and if they are all similar? For example….do they have boats dedicated to carrying ladders? I was so caught off guard by the questions of salary that I didn’t ask any good questions! LOL One interesting thing from your last photo is on the back deck. You can see three discharge outlets…with one much larger than the others. It’s hard to tell…it may be that the large “discharge” is actually an intake. On the other hand…it could be a special discharge for attaching a large deck gun type of nozzle. For most operations I’d bet that they have a pump that draws water up from the canal and into a hose/s attached to one of those two smaller discharges. Very cool!

    • Jed December 6, 2017 at 11:20 am - Reply

      Hi Kevin, The questions about salary don’t surprise me. I’m often times surprised at how openly many Italians are about salaries. They’re certainly curious about their equivalent positions in the States, and they suspect (usually correctly) that their counterparts earn a heftier salary. But, regarding salaries in Italy overall, they tend to be significantly lower when compared with U.S.salaries. Italians seem to do a fine job of living within their means, plus living costs usually are also correspondingly lower. Credit isn’t as readily available, at least in a way that allows a person to go so deeply into debt!
      You make some great observations regarding the vigili photos and you raise some good questions. I will endeavor to, one day, have answers!

  4. mark wholey December 5, 2017 at 3:05 pm - Reply

    The Venice that I love is the hidden places and “normal” life of that city. It is surreal that the city functions as do many other cities except its streets are water! Great that you are bringing this aspect of the city to our eyes.

    • Jed December 6, 2017 at 11:13 am - Reply

      Thanks, Mark! So much still to learn in this regard!

  5. Joe December 5, 2017 at 1:29 pm - Reply

    Fascinating! Can’t wait to read more.

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