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The Schism was the altercation, disagreement, or confrontation that divided the noble organisation of V.F.D. into two sides, the Fire-Fighting side and the Fire-Starting side. One of the sides consisted of people (known as "Volunteers") trying to be noble and uphold the V.F.D. tradition of putting out fires, both literally and figuratively. The other side "turned to much less noble schemes", including starting fires (and were known as "Villains" or "Fire-Starters").


It is unknown who caused the schism directly or indirectly. While the incident is referred to by many characters, no one, even those who could shed some light on the origin of it bothers to expound upon it at all. Even when the Baudelaires find out about the occurrence and begin asking questions, no one seems to be providing any answers at all.

Kit Snicket specified that she was four at the time that the schism happened,[1] but the books do not indicate directly how old she is in relation to her brother Lemony Snicket; however, Lemony and his siblings were recruited when Lemony was an infant, and it is noted that the practice of ankle-tattooing stopped when the schism began.[3] Seeing as Kit has an ankle tattoo,[4] it is likely the schism began when Lemony was still an infant.

The schism seems to have worsened over time, as the Snicket siblings are presumably present for a VFD transcript meeting that discusses potential enemies to the organization, and Jacques Snicket claims in a letter to Jerome Squalor that the schism was caused- or at the very least, exacerbated by- the greedy and violent actions of Count Olaf.[3]

In any case, the schism began before the burning of Anwhistle Aquatics, as Gregor Anwhistle was cultivating Medusoid Mycelium to use on the enemies of VFD, an action described by Kit as "playing with fire."[5]

It has also been said by Dewey Denouement that the schism grows worse with each passing generation.[1]

Possible causes

  • The disagreement between the organization's motives.
    • Lemony Snicket describes Volunteers as "proclaiming reading [knowledge] to be the greater good", while Esmé Squalor (a member of the Firestarters) claims that the greater good is money [material items].[6]
  • Count Olaf acting in a very greedy manner.
    • Claimed by Jacques Snicket, despite the fact that Olaf would have been a young child when the schism began.[3]
  • Beatrice stealing the sugar bowl.
  • The murder of Count Olaf's mother and father.

The Fire-Fighting Side

Main article: Volunteer Fire Department
The World is Quiet Here.
— Motto.[3]

Presumably a V.F.D. class.

The Fire-Fighting side are the side of VFD that, as described by Lemony Snicket, believe "that well-read people are less likely to be evil, and a world full of people sitting quietly with good books in their hands is preferable to a world filled with schisms and sirens and other noisy and troublesome things[...]"[6] Their main focus is the preservation of knowledge and keeping the world "quiet."

Dewey says that the woman who recruited him into the organization (most likely the fire-fighting side) told him that he should be "unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in big things, and happy in small ways."

The Volunteers seem to value knowledge, intellect, and keeping the world "safe, secure and smart."[1] They are not paid for their work- hence "volunteer." Young potential Volunteers are also recruited via kidnapping.[3] 

While the leaders of the Volunteers are unknown, known active volunteers who were heavily involved in their sides of the schism were:

The Fire-Starting Side

Fight fire with fire!
— Motto[6]

Snicket describes the Fire-Starting side as feeling "that well-read people ought to be lit on fire and their fortunes stolen," and believe in fighting fire with fire. Esmé, a member, states that material goods are their goal.[6] There is also a figurative form of "fire-starting" that they do, as they also cause general panic and spread discontent.[1]

Members of this side seem to have more resources and work in more obviously underhanded ways. Their main form of attack tends to be setting places on fire and burning the information or people that is considered valuable to the other side.

However, it is probable that several members of this schism joined out of desperation due to attempting to leave the Fire-Fighters; it is known that Fernald joined only after being framed for the Anwhistle Aquatics fire, and later his sister Fiona joined only because she was promised assistance in finding her Stepfather.[5]

The leaders of this side of the schism appear to be the Man with a Beard but No Hair and the Woman with Hair but No Beard, as all other known Fire-Starters seem to follow their lead and are terrified of them.

Other known, influential Fire-Starters are:

Infighting between Sides

While the schism "began" when Kit Snicket was four, it seems to have been relatively stable when she was a teenager, as during All the Wrong Questions, no schism is mentioned by Lemony when discussing the organization. Things grew worse as that generation grew older.

Both sides trained animals for their own uses:

  • The Fire-Fighters are stated to have "won" trained reptiles and carrier crows,[6] though they are also known to use crickets.[3]
    • Count Olaf believes himself to have rid the Volunteers of their reptiles.[6]
    • They tried and failed to train fish, due to salmon harvesting by Café Salmonella.[5]
    • It is also possible that they attempted and failed to train leaches, as Lemony describes them as "impossible to tame."[11]
  • The Fire-Starters use lions and eagles.[6]

By the time the Baudelaire parents were killed in a fire, the Fire-Starters had wiped out almost every safe place for the Volunteers.


The schism brought serious consequences on not only the organization, but perhaps to the unsuspecting world.

  • Safe places became dangerous.
  • Both sides use the same codes and disguises.
  • The V.F.D. eye insignia, which was "known for its noble ideas," is now known for being related with crime and suspicion. It could also lead noble volunteers into the arms of villains who use the sign.
  • The Schism directly led to the creation of the Medusoid Mycelium, a dangerously deadly mushroom, which in turn led to the destruction of Anwhistle Aquatics, murder of Gregor Anwhistle, and defection of Fernald.[5]

Netflix Series Divergent Canon

The Netflix series chooses to portray the cause of the schism onscreen, being a night at La Forza del Destino in which Beatrice Baudelaire stole the Sugar Bowl from Esmé Squalor and accidentally murdered Count Olaf's father with a poison dart, which Lemony Snicket took the fall for. Count Olaf was then recruited by the Woman with Hair but No Beard and Man with a Beard but No Hair to start fires.

This explanation, however, cannot align with book canon. In the show, the Sugar Bowl contains an immunization to the Medusoid Mycelium, which was canonically cultivated in order to be used against the Fire-Starting side of the schism, meaning that it was created after the schism began. (Not to mention the fact the schism canonically began when Kit was four, and she was well into adulthood during the schism in the Netflix series.)