Mid-Atlantic Rescue Systems, Inc.

Main Content


Celebrating 150 years, the FDNY

avatar image
September 01, 2015 | NEW YORK Larry Woodcock, Correspondent

The FDNY turned 150 years old this year. From a historical standpoint, 150 years is not long.

New York City has had a fire department as far back as 1648, when the first fire wardens were appointed. In 1865, the department was organized into a paid department with boroughs segregated and operating as separate entities.

And, in January of 1898, the merger was completed and the department became one.

One question frequently asked is why it is called the Fire Department of New York instead of the New York City Fire Department. That is because there was a fire department before there was a New York City.

In the beginning, it was called New Amsterdam until 1664. Other then the military, we would be hard pressed to find an organization that has brought more joy and happiness and on the other hand more agony and sorrow then the FDNY.

1169 men have died in the line of duty protecting the lives of this city and fellow firefighters.

Surprisingly and given the amount of fires and risks taken, more have not been killed. Countless others have suffered career ending and life changing injuries. Many more have died from job related cancers shortly after retirement, easily putting that total over 10,000.

Many members are fighting post 9-11 cancers that continue to plague the department. A close friend of mine has just been diagnosed with a form of brain cancer from working at the World Trade Center, forcing his retirement from Queens and making his future very uncertain.

Numerous high profile events and fires have made an impact on this city and for certain more will occur in the future.

Over 4,000 years of experience was lost on September 11th, including many high ranking officers and chiefs, who like in years past stood by the men and went down with them.

FDNY firefighters and officers developed policies and procedures used by fire departments across the country and around the world. Their influence and knowledge as well as expertise are far reaching.

Sure, books have been written and FDNY firemen span an entire century and some have even invented tools, but it’s the men and the stories that make this institution what it is today.

Talk to any men, who worked in the war years, and they will affectionately refer to it as the glory days. I am constantly aware of the impact this department has had on people’s lives when at Christmas party’s and company functions, members who retired for many years show up just to see the old place and talk about those times and the men they worked with.

This job and the friends I have because of it have made such a profound impact on my life that I can only wonder what it would have been like to be part of the FDNY, bittersweet for me.

My father spent 27 years on the job in New Jersey and was a pretty tough man. He told me that he envies them.

In March of 1911, 146 immigrant workers were killed when a fire trapped them on the upper floors of a ten-story building located at Washington Place and Greene Streets in Manhattan, known as the Triangle Shirtwaist Company.

The fire so outraged then Chief of the Department Edward Croker, who was one of the most influential and colorful men in the history of the FDNY, that he resigned as a direct result of the fire to start his own fire prevention company, which is still in existence today. A plaque is located on the outside of the building commemorating the tragedy.

This past March was the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Happy Land Social Club fire, where eighty-seven people were trapped and perished in a fire that was started by a jealous lover trying to get back at his former girlfriend, who had already left the building.

This year Rescue Company 1 turned 100 years old in March. It is the first rescue company in New York City and the first rescue company in the United States.

August 2nd marked the thirty-eighth anniversary of the Waldbaums Supermarket fire and collapse in Brooklyn that claimed the lives of six firemen. To this day as a child, I can still see the pictures in the Daily News, that my father brought home and showed me.

October of next year will be the 50th anniversary of the Wonder Drug Store fire, also known as the 23rd Street fire that took the lives of twelve firemen from division chief right the line to a probie.

August 17th, eight years ago while visiting a friend at 10 and 10, I witnessed from start to finish the seven-alarm fire that killed two firemen and where an unprecedented twenty maydays were called by members trapped, miraculously no one else was killed.

Let us not forget Chief Smoky Joe Martin, who fought fires in the city for 46 years despite being injured and killed multiple times.

Doctor Harry Archer, who rather then becoming a private physician, chose to respond to fires throughout the city and tended to injured firemen and civilians for sixty years, never receiving any compensation.

These events and people don’t scratch the surface of one of the greatest organizations in the world whose history and men served are the epitome of sacrifice and duty to serve. Their memories should always be cherished and never forgotten.

Everyday of the year, there is an anniversary of some kind within the FDNY. The city that never sleeps will always have some tales to tell. I implore you to get these books “The Fires” and “The Bravest 1865 to 2002”. They are quintessential books on the history of the FDNY.

Happy 150 Years to the Fire Department City of New York and to all my friends on the job current and retired, and to the ones I never had the pleasure to meet. Thank you for the difference you have made in my life.

avatar image
Larry WoodcockCorrespondent

No information from the author.