On January 16, 2015 the New York City Fire Department turned 150 years old. Back then it was organised as the Metropolitan Fire District and it consisted of 34 Engine Companies and 12 Ladder Companies. Today the FDNY has nine divisions, 51 Battalions, 202 Engines, 143 Ladders, five Rescues, seven Squads, four Marine Companies, a HazMat Company and more than 40 special units protecting the 7.5 million people that call New York City home – not to mention the more than three million people that come to New York City everyday to work or visit this amazing place.
In 2013, the New York City Fire Department responded to 493,377 Fire Incidents and 1,310,770 EMS incidents, using 10,282 fire personnel, 3,240 EMS, and 1594 civilians coming out of 218 fire houses and 34 EMS stations, a Headquarters Building and a multitude of other buildings throughout the five boroughs. What a difference a 150 years can make.
Back in 1981, when I first became a New York City Fireman (we were called firemen, not fire-fighters), we had eight weeks of fire school and not the six months the new recruits have to endure today. We were using scaling ladders and made to feel the heat in the burn buildings. Why heck, we were even taught how to ‘eat smoke’. You could still order an inkwell from the store house. An inkwell! My, how things have changed in the years since!
The FDNY is a unique place to work. The camaraderie is second to none. Living, eating, sleeping and playing with the people that you freely go in to harms way with makes for a deep relationship. Together, as comrades in arms, moving forward to do battle with our age-old enemy, an enemy that today, is becoming even more dangerous, and more toxic. Together, or alone, venturing in to the dark abyss, braving unbearable heat, even pain, to save the life of an unknown civilian, or, pushing even further for a brother or sister. Even to the point of making the supreme sacrifice.
But why? Because it’s what we do. We are fire-fighters. We save lives. Many a good fire-fighter has made the supreme sacrifice for their brothers, sisters and civilians. In the FDNY, from 1865 to 2015, there are 1170 names posted on the wall of honour. That includes the names of the 343 members that perished in the attacks on America in 2001 and the many that have died since the attacks from Trade Center-related diseases.
I had the pleasure of being a part of this culture for 28 years, moving up the ranks and retiring as a Special Operations Captain based out of Brooklyn. I would not trade a single day; well, except for the Trade Center. The experiences that I have had, good and bad, have moulded me in to the person I am today. The lessons that were handed down to me from the senior men, the drilling, the schooling, it all made me a better fire-fighter. With the amount of fire duty we were doing when I got on the job, my engine company did over 7000 runs, all fire, no EMS, the ‘old timers’ are the ones that taught us how to stay alive. What to look out for. How to spot the ‘booby traps’, or the secondary fires that were lit below us. The South Bronx was a dangerous place during the ‘war years’ in New York City. I was fortunate enough to catch the end of this era.
With this knowledge that has been passed on to me, I know that I have done the best I could, I stayed alive and there are many people walking on this earth today, just because I was a fire-fighter. I can only hope that I was able to pass on the knowledge that has been handed to me by my brothers before me and that one fire-fighter will look back and remember where this knowledge came from, I know I did, many times. I have even had the opportunity to tell some of the ‘old timers’ how much I appreciated their lessons in fire-fighting, leadership, and brotherhood.
It is up to you, the older fire-fighter, to pass on this knowledge, teach our younger generation how to stay alive. It is up to you, the younger fire-fighter to absorb this information, store it, and stay alive to become an old fire-fighter and pass it on the next generation.
I am very proud to be here to witness the 150th anniversary of the Department I have grown to love so much, to have been a part of such a magnificent organisation. I truly enjoy knowing the history of the Fire Department, where it was and how is has grown in to the fire fighting force it is today. And, at the same time, I stand in awe when I try to imagine what the next 150 years will bring.
Happy Anniversary to the FDNY!