BELLS BUFFS and BLAZES
FIRE BUFFING is an avocation that is too often marked by a common trait: taking oneself too seriously. Whether this seriousness results from the defensiveness too many buffs feel about their avocation is a moot point. What is refreshing is the sense of humor shimmering through the basic philosophy of the Fire Bell Club of New York, headquartered in the Martinique Hotel: “Let’s not take ourselves too seriously.”
“All attempts to make the organization into anything other than a pleasant meeting place for a congenial group of buffs and firemen are usually laughed down or summarily rejected at a meeting,” says a spokesman for this club which ranks as one of the nation’s leading buff organizations.
Just as the New York Fire Department is this year celebrating an anniversary—its 100th as a paid department—so, too, are the Bell Clubbers looking back upon their recent celebration of their own 25th anniversary. In commemoration of this silver anniversary, the Fire Bell Club published an intriguing history which was remarkable as well for its delineation and spoof of buffdom. A few random quotes:
“Most people think of buffs as one particular type of person. The buffs, however, recognized a number of varieties of the species. There are those who simply respond to fires and observe the operations of the companies at work. This is the common or garden variety of buff.
“Then there are the telegraph buffs. They like to hear the bell ring and can give a complete description of all signals currently used or in the past, and will even comment knowingly on the telegrapher’s technique with the key.
“A highly specialized type of buff is the apparatus buff. He can tell you the type of pumper in every company and if hard-pressed will give you the serial numbers of the apparatus that was ordered last week by the city for delivery next summer!
“We have walking buffs. They enjoy long walks around the city, but if you’re in a hurry don’t join them. Walking buffs must travel from one firehouse to another so that they can check the board to see if anything is in.
“Relocating buffs are closely related to walking buffs. They will stand in front of a firehouse for hours. If a greater alarm sounds they’ll move on to a firehouse with a company that has relocated. Why? Well, if anything else comes in for that area the chief will roll short and it might be a more interesting fire to watch.
“Ruins buffs are a tragic group. They’re the ones who never make the big fires but have to respond the next day to the scene and reconstruct the conflagration. Ruins buffs are usually found in the company of ‘first-in’ buffs.
“This particular variety will always be waiting for you when vou arrive and tell you that he came in with the second-due truck on the first alarm or the first-due engine on the second alarm. Anything later than that means a loss in status. Naturally he fills in the details the next day for the ruins buff.
“Hand-shaking buffs are the most sociable. They can be seen at nearly any fire with their backs to the scene, busily shaking hands with all and sundry. There are some buffs who don’t even go to fires but prefer to get all the details over the radio. These radio buffs are also quite knowledgeable about the workings of complicated radios. Marconi would have had great difficulty in keeping up with some of their machinations.
“Historical buffs are usually loaded with such esoteric information as the name of the chief of the 6th Battalion in 1888, but aren’t too sure they approve of the doing away with horse-drawn apparatus!
“Borough buffs are a mixture of all types. They steadfastly defend their particular borough as having the worst problems, greatest hazards and best firemen— who can argue with them?
“All in all they’re a crazy group,” concludes the Fire Bell Club’s ‘let’s not take ourselves too seriously’ look at itself. We suspect that what they have to say about the genus New York fire buff applies to fire fans from Gloucester to Seattle.
Bell Clubber President Connell, incidentally, helps to inject a serious note to the organization. In 1954 he was selected by the Fire Department Honor Emergency Fund to replace the famed Dr. Archer. Dr. Connell has, for years, given emergency treatment to firemen at fires and is an honorary deputy chief, FDNY. His son, John, is a second-generation buff.
Unless we make some attempt at returning to seriousness next month in this space, please send me your club reports, news notes, and other comments for possible inclusion in this column. The address: P.O. Box 66337, Los Angeles, Calif. 90066. Regretfully, letters cannot be answered other than in this column.