50 Engine and 30 Truck
When one thinks of Harlem, New York, many images come to mind. 125th Street is the main thoroughfare with its crowds of people and stores that line both sides.
The Apollo Theater is the renowned venue that has played host to some of this century’s most famous entertainers. When I think of Harlem, I think of the zoo, and none other than the zoo. Not the Bronx Zoo, but the Harlem Zoo.
What zoo is in Harlem? It has been around for over one hundred years through thick and thin, 24 hours a day 7 days a week 365 days a year. Never a day off. No animals reside in this zoo, well not the ones we would associate with the Discovery Channel or children’s toys.
59-Engine and 30-Truck at 111 West 133rd Street just off the corner of Lenox Avenue is really Harlem’s one and only zoo. Residing at this location since November of 1962, this glazed brick firehouse is the only one of its kind in the city and adds to the unusual when it comes to this area.
The tradition and reputation that this firehouse holds is well documented among former and current firefighters. In a neighborhood that was once considered to be the beginnings of our country, this area was a farming village, a battlefield during the Revolutionary War, an industrial suburb, a stronghold for the Italian mafia, an American ghetto with its tumultuous and dangerous streets of the 70’s and 80’s, and a renowned center of African-American culture.
Today, it is comprised of a mix of ethnic groups and million dollar brownstones along tree lined streets. Simply put, Harlem is summed up as quintessential New York City.
Historic, legendary, and ever changing; no one including myself would ever think that Harlem would morph into what it is today. And with the present day Columbia University expanding almost yearly, who knows what Harlem will look like in the next 50 years.
The history of 30 Truck started out as a single company on February 1, 1907 on 135 Street and Lenox Avenue. Fourteen firemen and one assistant foreman were on the entire roster.
In the late 1950’s, plans to build a new school next door to the firehouse prompted city planners to build a new firehouse that incorporated 30-Truck and 59-Engine, who at the time were sharing their firehouse along with Squad Company-1 on 137th Street.
And in 1962, the two moved into their new quarters along with Squad Company-1 on 133rd Street. Squad Company 1 was relocated to the firehouse of Ladder-58 in November of 1972, leaving 30 and 59 the lone occupants since.
Several theories surround the company’s slogan “The Harlem Zoo”. One is that back in the 60’s members had nicknames like bull and snake and tiger. And they decided to call it the zoo. After al, the animals were all represented.
But the most plausible and most widely accepted reason is that in the early 1970’s a softball league was started by a few remembers of the house and as the games got more and more competitive other companies in Harlem joined the league and also come up with slogans and designs for company patches.
Hence, the zoo was born and so were intense rivalries and bonding among neighboring companies. Another Harlem institution is Firefight3er Keith Nicoliello of 30 Truck, who I have known for many years and has spent 31 years in this firehouse and counting.
I am starting to believe that he was cracking the whip when they still had horses, and he has no intention of leaving. His dedication and love of this job is second to none. And he embodies the pride and loyalty to one of the city’s premier truck companies.
30 Truck was established in February of 1907 and 59-Engine in April of 1894. Keith has told me before that they, like many companies across the city, are not going to work like they used to. Times have changed as well as technology and fire prevention. But, when the time comes, they will be ready and I have the utmost confidence that they will.