The Organization and Equipment of the Largest Fire Fighting Body in the Country— Admission Requirements Very Rigid—Great Opportunity for Promotion— Physique of the Personnel

Chief John Kenlon New York City Fire Department; President of Internat’l Association of Fire Engineers

THERE are several features of organization and equipment in which the New York department excels, and which make it an interesting study. The size of the department alone makes it of unusual interest to all fire engineers. One outstanding feature that always impresses the stranger is the very fine body of men comprising the uniformed force. With admission requirements probably more rigid than any other organization and so strict that only a small percentage of the applicants pass, and with liberal retirement provisions, the force is kept vitally alive with a continuous inflow of young men of the highest physical standard. Once appointed the fireman’s position is guaranteed secure by civil service regulation and a steady stream of promotion is kept open to the ambitious man without any regard to politics or favoritism.

Eligibles from the civil service list are first appointed as un-uniformed firemen for a probationary period, and if this is passed successfully the applicant is made a fourth grade fireman at $1,200 a year. In the fourth year the first grade is reached, with a salary of $1,650. Firstgrade men may take the examination for promotion to engineer at $1,800 or lieutenant at $2,350. Lieutenants with six months’ service in the grade may qualify as captains at $2,800, and after the same service in this grade become eligible to take the examination for chief of battalion at $3,540. The deputy chiefs are appointed from the grade of battalion chief and receive a salary of $4,500. One deputy chief is detailed in charge of Brooklyn and Queens at $7,500, and another is assigned as assistant chief of department. The position of chief of department is protected by civil service, and the incumbent receives a salary of $10,000.

The New York fire department comprises about 6,000 employees, divided into several bureaus and all under the jurisdiction of the Fire Commissioner as civilian executive and member of the mayor’s official family. We will attempt to describe only the Bureau of Fire Extinguishment and the uniformed force.

The chief of department is executive officer of the Bureau of Fire Extinguishment and is in full charge of the uniformed forceThe quota gives him a force of 5,194 men, divided among the grades as follows:

New York city comprises five boroughs, Manhattan, The Bronx, Richmond, Brooklyn and Queens. The fire department is divided into two general administrative divisions, with Manhattan, Bronx and Richmond as one general division, with headquarters in the Municipal Building, and the headquarters for Brooklyn and Queens at the old Brooklyn Fire Department headquarters. Deputy Chief O’Hara is detailed in charge of Brooklyn and Queens, and Chief Kenlon is located at Manhattan headquarters. One of the two deputy commissioners is also located at the headquarters to look after the business administration of the Boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens. Deputy Chief Jos. B. Martin is assigned as assistant chief of department, with headquarters in Manhattan headquarters in direct charge of the personnel.

The other deputy chiefs are in charge of divisions, as follows:

The divisions are divided into 45 battalions, each in charge of a battalion chief, and with 2 to 5 battalions in a division. Manhattan has 14 battalions, The Bronx has 5, Richmond 2, Brooklyn 16, and Queens 8. Battalion Chief Thos. Larkin is detailed in charge of the School of Instruction, and Battalion Chief R. JMarshall looks after the shops.

Company Organization

Until recently it had always been the policy of the department to locate each company in a separate station. While in some cases engine and ladder companies were under the same roof, the stations were physically separated and there was no more communication between the companies than if they were located some distance apart. In harmony with this policy water towers have been located in quarters, with engines or ladders, and have been attached to these companies instead of being organized separately. Also in a number of instances small service trucks have been located with engines and operated by men detailed from the engine companies. Several of these so-called combination companies have recently been disbanded and the others probably will be, as more ladder companies are organized in the outlying districts.

Contrary to the practice in Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, etc., the New York Department does not organize its double companies separately. In other cities double companies are simply two companies located together, but each having its own running card and operating independently. The New York practice places two sets of apparatus in a station under one captain, who details men to operate each section. The details are made at roll-call each morning and the second section usually includes the men who will be on house-watch or who will be on day-off the following day. The second section is held in quarters to answer other alarms, while the first section is out. Unlike the practice in other cities, the second section never answers subsequent alarms from the same station to which the first section has responded.

The department’s organization of companies is as follows:

Military Organization

For purposes of parade and drill the department is organized as a brigade of infantry. The department rules give the chief of department the rank of colonel; the deputy chiefs are lieutenant-colonels, and the battalion chiefs hold the rank of majorCompany commanders are the captains and lieutenants, and the engineers and firemen are classed as privates.

Response to Alarms

First alarm assignments to signal stations in New York vary from five engines and two trucks for lower Manhattan to two engines and one truck in the outlying sections of Queens, etc. Response to each of the subsequent alarms is practically the same as the first alarm assignment. For instance, a fifth alarm from Station 84, West Broadway and Worth street, will bring 26 engines, 6 trucks and a water tower.

Because of physical conditions each borough of the greater city has its own fire alarm sp.stem. The Manhattan Central Office is at 157 East Sixty-Seventh street; The Bronx headquarters is at 451 East 176th street; Brooklyn central office is located at 365 Jay street; Richmond gets its alarms through central office in Borough Flail at St. George, and Queens’ central office is in Town Hall at Jamaica. The companies in each borough receive only the alarms from that borough except in case of “border” companies. To summon assistance from other boroughs the “borough call” is used. For instance, 7-7 is the Manhattan borough signal, and if sent over the Brooklyn telegraph would summon Brooklyn companies across the bridges to Manhattan. The signal 7-7-279-3-3394, for example, would read “companies due on third alarm station, 394 Brooklyn respond to station 279 Manhattan.” To summon more apparatus to a signal box than would respond on a fifth alarm the simultaneous call is used. This is strictly a New York innovation and has the advantage that a very large response can be secured by one signal. Several years ago, at the Adams Express fire, 57 Broadway, Deputy Chief Binns transmitted 5-5-23 and summoned 23 engines, 6 trucks and 2 towers. So threatening was the situation, however, that Chief Binns ordered the simultaneous call, or two 9’s, and the signal 9-9-23-3-3-427 brought a total of 50 engines to lower ManhattanOf course, signals are provided for summoning by telegraph any special apparatus or number of men needed. The call for men only is an unusual feature, but has proven valuable in several emergencies. The signal is 3-3-3-3, and if the call 3-3-3-3-5707-11 was sent out it would read “one officer and 10 men from 7th Division respond to Station 570.”

Two Methods of Double Companies

To cover districts stripped of apparatus, New York uses the two methods of double companies and “location.” The covering-in system is not employed as extensively as in most cities, and in the high value districts principal dependence is placed on the double companies. As half the engines below Twenty-third street and west of the Bowery are double companies, this system works out satisfactorily, although extravagant of men and apparatus.

The running card for Station 277 partly reproduced below will illustrate the system of assignments:

In Boston, where the covering in system is used extensively, a similar alarm would cause probably fifty to sixty changes of location. In other cities the companies covering-in gradually move to the fire, while in New York the locating companies never respond to the box for which they are covering. The fire alarm office frequently orders “locations” not provided by the running cards, but wherever possible only double companies are moved. In the example used above of Box 277 eight of the companies responding have left second sections in quarters and with the four companies moving in the district is well covered.

Examples of Organization and Equipment

To give you an idea of how the companies are equipped and manned, I have selected at random and will briefly describe some companies typical of the several classes of companies composing the fire department of New York.

Engine 1 is a single engine company, equipped with a firstsize Metropolitan steamer drawn by a cross two-wheel tractor. The tender is an extra size “Mack” motor hose car, with turret pipe, and carrying 2j4-inch and 3-inch hose. The company consists of 3 officers, 3 engineers and 12 firemen. The majority of the engine companies are equipped like No. 1 engine.

Engine 8 is a good example of the old regulation engine company. The engine is a first-size Metropolitan steamer, rubber tired, and drawn by three horses. The tender is a “New York regulation” hose wagon, with turret pipe, rubber tired, and drawn by two horses. The company includes 2 officers, 2 engineers and 12 firemen.

Engine 20 is a high-pressure hose company and is one of the three companies without pumping apparatus listed as an engine company. The apparatus includes two motor high-pressure hose cars, extra size, equipped with turret pipes and carrying 3-inch hoses. The company includes 4 officers and 22 firemen.

Engine 31 is a double company, with water tower attached and is one of the largest companies in the department. Its apparatus consists of two motor high-pressure hose cars, with turret pipes and carrying 3-inch hose. There is one steamer, a first-size LaFrance, drawn by a Christie tractor. The water tower is a Hale 65-foot tower, with larger deck pipe, and drawn by a four-wheel tractor. The company consists of 6 officers, 4 engineers and 25 firemen.

Engine 33 is an important double engine company. Its station is the headquarters of Chief Kenlon. The apparatus includes two tractor-drawn Metropolitan steamers, one first and one extra first size. The tenders are two motor high-pressure hose cars, extra size, with turret pipes, and carrying 21/2-inch and 3-inch hose. The company includes 3 captains, 3 lieutenants, 6 engineers and 23 firemen. Two of the captains are detailed to the chief of department.

Engine 65 is located in the hotel-theatre district. Its equipment includes an Ahrens-Fox motor pumping engine and an extra size motor hose wagon with turret pipe. Both cars carry hose of 21/2-inch and 3-inch size. The company consists of 2 officers, 2 engineers and 14 firemen.

Engine 85 is the fireboat “James Duane,” with a capacity of 9,000 gallons a minute. This company has 4 officers, 5 engineers, 2 pilots and 14 firemen,

Engine 91 is an uptown double company, with two secondsize tractor-drawn Metropolitan steamers and two motor combination hose and chemical cars with double tanks. The company includes 4 officers, 5 engineers and 20 firemen.

Engine 153 is a good example of the suburban motor engine company. The engine is an Ahrens-Fox motor combination pumper and hose car. The company has 3 officers, 3 engineers and 7 firemen.

Engine 246 is one of the 10 combination engine and truck companies. Its apparatus includes two horse-drawn steamers, second size La France, two regulation hose wagons, first size, rubber tired, and a horse-drawn combination city service truck. The company consists of 4 officers, 4 engineers and 20 firemen.

Engine 287has the distinction of being the only company occupying two separate stations. The apparatus includes a second-size tractor drawn Metropolitan steamer and two motor combination hose and chemical cars. The company has 3 officers, 2 engineers and 20 firemen.

Truck 1 is located in lower Manhattan. It has an 85-foot Seagrave aerial truck drawn by a Christie tractor. There are 3 officers and 15 firemen in the company.

Truck 20 is a double company. The two 85-foot aerial trucks are both drawn by Christie tractors. The company has 5 officers and 25 firemen.

Truck 24 operates an aerial truck and water tower. The truck is a 75-foot Seagrave, motor driven, and the tower is a 65-foot American-La France automatic, drawn by a 4-wheel tractor. The company consists of 4 officers and 19 firemen.

Truck 49 has a “Mack” motor city service truck, with chemical tank. This type is now standard among the suburban ladder companies. There are 2 officers and 12 firemen in the company.

Truck 78 on Staten Island is one of the few horse-drawn trucks remaining in the city. The truck is a Gleason & Bailey “old regulation” and is drawn by three horses. The company includes 3 officers and 11 firemen.

Truck 118 also operates Water Tower No. 6. Its truck is a 75-foot American-La France aerial, motor-drawn, and the tower is a Seagrave automatic 65-foot, with large deck gun, and drawn by a 4-wheel tractor. The company has 3 officers and 19 firemen.

Truck 149 is located with Engine 295 at Whitestone. These two companies are typical of the last twenty-five stations built. Truck 149 has a “Mack” motor combination city service truck and Engine 295 has a 700-gallon Ahrens-Fox combined pump and hose car. The engine company has 2 officers, 2 engineers and 9 firemen, and the truck company consists of 2 officers and 11 firemen.

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