140 Years Of Fire Engineering: The Waiting Rooms

National Fireman's Journal

Celebrate with us all year long as we commemorate 140 years of Fire Engineering magazine. Look out for exclusive archival content and features leading up to our November 17, 2017 anniversary.

By Billy Goldfeder

140 years. Seriously!? 

But that’s how long Fire Engineering has been educating us. Actually, if I recall from the first issue, it was called National Fireman‘s Journal, then The Firemen’s Journal, then became Fire and Water, then Fire and Water Engineering, and finally, in 1926, Fire Engineering. (Fire and Water Engineering was separated into two publications: Fire Engineering for the fire service and Water Works Engineering for the water works field.)

They probably should have kept that word “water” in there somewhere so we would stay focused on water and its role in our jobs. I have an idea for a new T-shirt: Keep Fire & Water In Your Life. How about that? OK, relax, I’m not going to start the nozzle fights, hit it hard from the yard yelling or whatever else gives you agita. But I do want to focus on what we have been given by Fire Engineering

As a young kid, I mean in the single digits and early two-digits young, I would hang around the firehouses in my hometown on Long Island, New York. There were four I could get to easily on my bicycle. From the Great Neck Alert Fire Company, to the Great Neck Vigilant Fire Company, and the Manhasset-Lakeville Fire Department Companies 3 and 4. But besides just BEING there, I was thirsty for knowledge. There was no place else I would want to be than the firehouse, because in the firehouse were the firemen, the trucks and the possibility of a run coming in. 

Generally, after I was done unknowingly annoying the firemen by asking constant questions, I would go sit in the room. Each firehouse has a room…it was in those rooms, those “waiting” rooms that I learned and learned and learned. The room with the TV, the coffee, the fire radio, some old pictures on the wall. THAT was where the Fire Engineering magazines were. Piles of those magazines. In one firehouse they had them in binders. In others they were stacked. Some going back 15-20 years-piled up for me to explore. And explore I did–kid in a candy store explore! I read each issue from cover to cover-picture, to picture-article to article-advertisement to advertisement. I simply could not get enough information of knowledge. And then I read them again. Those old and not-so-old Fire Engineering magazines opened up a world to me, one that I was simply unaware of. 

Who knew that in Los Angeles “smoke showing” was called a “loom up”…I had no clue as to what large diameter hose was–as we didn’t have it back then–but other fire department’s did. I learned about high-rise fires, massive California wildland fires, and chemical responses–all foreign to me. I learned all about Jet-Axes (not the best idea ever conceived) but also about new types of nozzles, better self-contained breathing apparatus–I mean really, it was MY world opened up! 

I learned that some towns (like ours) alerted their firemen by blowing a town siren, others used a “Plectron” system. Some used “Group Alert” telephones and still others used “Instalerts”…

I also started learning about close calls and line-of-duty deaths. While there were many, one in particular always stood out.

Around 0400 hours on June 26, 1964, the Marshalls Creek (PA) Volunteer Fire Company was alerted to a tractor-trailer fire on the northbound side of Route 209. As volunteers, they–like most–jumped out of bed at their sound of the siren and headed to the firehouse. They geared up and responded to the tractor trailer on fire.

A tractor-trailer driver, whose trailer was carrying blasting caps, nitro carbo nitrate and partially gelatin dynamite, had temporarily abandoned his trailer to get help, which then caught fire from its two burning tires. 

As the Marshalls Creek firefighters arrived, flames had spread to the trailer’s cargo of nitro carbo nitrate (the oxidizing ingredient in fertilizer), partially gelatin dynamite and blasting caps. The trailer exploded as firefighters were preparing to put out the fire. This was way before the days of hazard warning placards. 

The explosion killed firefighters Edward Hines, 42, a welder who had helped start the fire company in 1945; Leonard Mosier, 38, a carpenter, architect and local rod and gun club member; and Francis Miller, 50, a state highway department employee who also had helped start the fire company and whose brother was chief at the time. Three other people were killed, and two fellow firefighters and eight others were injured.

The explosion left a large crater visible from the air, damaged three fire trucks, the Regina Hotel, Middle Smithfield Elementary School, and the Pocono Reptile Farm. The blast sent poisonous snakes flying for miles to the point where it took weeks to find them.

I remember reading that piece and researching that fire endlessly. I even took a trip to that fire company in the late ‘70s to learn as much as I could. My personal fire was more than lit when it came to learned why things went bad and what we can do to not repeat what went wrong to other firefighters. I learned because of a magazine called Fire Engineering. A place where firefightersPassed it on” (see what I did there?) so we could all learn. 

So what’s my point? We have to get out even when we can’t physically get out. We have to look beyond what we know about how our department operates and since the first issue I picked up, to the issues that come out today. Fire Engineering allows me to “get up and get out.” It primes our personal and professional “interest” pumps and allows the information and knowledge to flow! Fire Engineering has done that every month for 140 years and continues to do that in print, online, and live at FDIC.

Reading Fire Engineering has also allowed me to learn that the more things change–we change–but also how and when we don’t change.

If you look at the old issues of Fire Engineering, go back 50-75 or more years-you will read articles on such subjects as:

Sound familiar?

Next time you are at the National Fire Academy, go to the Learning Resource Center (a.k.a. library) and take a look at the old Fire Engineering magazines. You will find so many of the same challenges back then that we are still facing-albeit with different times, societal, culture, and value differences. 

Fire Engineering gave me the chance to “personally” hear from greats such as Alan Brunacini, Tom Brennan, Frank Brannigan, Warren Isman. Gene Carlson, William Clark. Ron Coleman. Chief Ray Downey, Hugh Halligan, Don Manno. Jim Page. Keith Royer. Hal Bruno. John T. O’Hagen. Dennis Onieal. Robert Quinn and so many more. All in the comfort of a so called firehouse office, kitchen, day room …all waiting room. 

As I got a little older and advanced in my career, I had the chance to personally meet and become friends with past editors in chief of Fire Engineering including Jerry Laughlin (with his enthusiastic southern drawl and love for the fire service) , Dick Sylvia (a true new England Yankee who loved doing things “different”), Tommy Brennan (a deeply respected FDNY and Connecticut fire officer who spoke his mind), Bill Manning (a non-firefighter who was able to help us better understand ourselves), and now Bobby Halton–who forces us to think well beyond our comfort levels–or at least mine. Those are the kind of people you would just want to sit in a room and listen to. Just sit and listen as they talk. Or read. The goal is to learn. 

Behind the Fire Engineering scenes, there are the Diane Rothschilds, the Mary Jane Dittmars, the Glen Corbetts, the ones who are able to take “stuff” so many contributors scratch out and turn it into words that we can all understand. They are like the “pumps” on fire apparatus–you may not be able to see them, but without them, we are lost. 

As time went on, I started to write. While in high school and college I HATED to write, but it turns out that I like to write about stuff I like to write about. I’ll never forget when I submitted my first article to a now-out-of-business fire magazine, the editor read it, thanked me, and told me to avoid writing. He didn’t like the way I wrote as I write stuff the way I speak. So I figured, what the hell, let me send it to Diane Rothschild at Fire Engineering (this was back when Bill Manning was the editor.) Unlike Mikey, they liked it, and so I got published. I also proposed to him an idea for a column about close calls and firefighting, but that’s another great story for another time. 

So now, one day in 2016, I woke up and am 61 years not so old. And at 61, Fire Engineering continues to “be there” in my home, my office, and in the many firehouse “waiting rooms” for all of us to just pick up and learn from. In 2016, we can also visit “virtual” waiting rooms and read all of this online, in your pocket, laptop or desk time–what a world! We can even “watch” articles now as videos, podcasts, and hangouts—all of which play an important role in training us. 

I have many Fire Engineering stories and I’ll be glad to tell more to you some day. The most important though is simply this–look in your fire station “waiting rooms” and pick up the magazine and read it. Get on line and read it. Watch the videos and learn it. It takes just a few minutes a day and a little self-discipline to provide each of us with the proper reading related maintenance needed to continue to grow and learn as firefighters of all ranks. 

If you believe the words of the late Chief Edward F. Croker, FDNY, (1863-1951) “I have no ambition in this world but one, and that is to be a fireman,” then do what he did, regularly read and enjoy Fire Engineering…it helped also him be a better firefighter, fire officer, and fire chief, as it has helped hundreds of thousands of us all. 


BILLY GOLDFEDER, EFO, Billy Goldfederis deputy chief of the Loveland-Symmes (OH) Fire Department. He has been a firefighter since 1973, a company officer since 1979, and a chief officer since 1982. He serves on the International Association of Fire Chiefs board of directors, the September 11th Families Association, and the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. He has taught at FDIC for 30-plus years and is a member of the Fire Engineering editorial advisory board and the FDIC executive advisory board. He writes the “Nozzlehead” column for FireRescue magazine and is in charge of www.firefighterclosecalls.com.

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