BELLS BUFFS and BLAZES
TO BUFFS EVERYWHERE, New York City is without peer as the capital of buffdom. It’s a city of spectacularly big blazes and of disastrous fires: The Triangle Shirt Waist Co. fire; the famous Wooster Street blaze; and that fireman’s nightmare which regularly plagues the New York Fire Department—Hell’s Hundred Acres in lower Manhattan.
It’s a city of unusual fires: The recent Grand Central subway blaze; the highin-the-sky fire when an airplane crashed into the Empire State Building. It’s a city where some of the most rugged waterfront fire fighting is practiced: The SS Normandy blaze, the aircraft carrier Constellation disaster.
It’s a place where airliners collide over the city and come crashing down to set a five-alarm fire in a church and another multiple-alarm fire several blocks away.
It’s a city where one battalion chief gets so much action that a second battalion chief is moved into BC’s quarters to alternate with him on handling the alarms when the going gets rough.
It’s a city where buffs are as knowledgable about the complex procedure of fire alarm communications in that peculiar jargon of simultaneous borough calls and Signal 7-5 “holding all companies” and radioed reports from Car 5 (the fire chief) that he’s “doubtful will hold,” that many buffs concentrate on listening to the action on their radios and over alarm and telegraph registers. The fire isn’t nearly as interesting to them as the chess game that the dispatchers “on the platform” play in juggling equipment and manpower of the world’s largest fire department.
New York is a City where there are more buffs per square mile than any place on earth. It’s a city where the buffs get to fires faster (usually by subway) than almost any city anywhere. It’s a place where buffs cannot lay claim to the title until they have seen a simultaneous borough-call blaze before they go off to buff Valhalla and, hopefully, return reincarnated as a New York City fire buff.
Amid this plethora of firemanics, buffdom in New York City also lays claim to having more organized clubs than anywhere else—five of them in the various boroughs. And, if you count the environs where there is always plenty of fire fighting, too, three more of them. All of which makes a total of eight clubs in the Greater New York area.
In this and future columns, well visit, if only vicariously, these clubs and look at some ot the worthwhile community service performed by them as the New York Fire Department celebrates the centennial of its organization.
The city’s two best-known clubs are The Fire Bell Club of New York and the Third Alarm Association. Brooklyn, which can usually stand alone as an action-packed place for fire action, has the energetic 255 Fire Club, Inc. Staten Island has its eager-to-serve Signal 8-8. And, of course, there is the wellknown Association of Auxiliary Firemen of Manhattan, Inc.
Small wonder, then, that the International Fire Buff Associates decided to hold their 1965 midwinter board meeting in New York not long ago. The Third Alarm Association (TAA) was host club for the meeting and provided a program of scheduled events and some unscheduled events—but nonetheless predictable. In the latter category, the buffs turned out to a five-alarmer in a foam rubber factory in Flushing, Queens, on a Friday night.
And just to prove that the unusual can be counted upon to happen in New York, consider what happened to the city’s new fire chief, John T. O’Hagan. It’s something that will go down in his and the buffs’ record books.
The first multiple that Chief O’Hagan took in was a Saturday noontime blaze in a bowling alley near Broadway and 218th Street in Manhattan. They stopped it with second-alarm response. But not for long, because a firebug was not sated with a mere deuce.
The following evening, an alarm was again turned in for the bowling alley. Before Car 5 declared the fire under control, the affair had gone into a fourth alarm. Twenty-two TAA’ers responded with the American Red Cross canteen and operated at the scene for five hours.
When not counting the register taps, buffs are likely to be poring over the official FDNY magazine, “WNYF” which is one of the finest publications of its kind. With New York Firemen” is popular with buffs all across the nation who subscribe to it for $2.00 by the calendar year. Subscriptions should be sent to Samuel Black, Subscription Department, WNFY, Room 1104, Municipal Building, New York, N. Y. 10007. The magazine is celebrating the centennial itself with special commemorative issues.
Or, if you want a quick eyeball-to-eyeball rundown on what happened in the FDNY last year, send a big envelope—and we mean a big envelope— with about 15 cents postage affixed to it to Ira Hoffman, GPO Box 19, Brooklyn, N. Y. 11202. Ira tells me that he has a limited supply of the complete list of runs and workers for the FDNY during 1964.
Until the next simultaneous borough call, please send your anecdotes and club reports to me. There’s a new address— P. O. Box 66337, Los Angeles, Calif. 90066. Regretfully, letters cannot be answered other than in this column.