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Red Hook and it's Fire Department
130 Years of Service 1869-1995

By: Dispatcher 350 Mike Boucher Staten Island CO

The first European settlers to this area of Brooklyn in 1636 were the Dutch. They gave this area the name of “Roode Hoek” or Red Hook, because of the color of the dirt and shape of the land. It would not be a thriving harbor until the early 1850’s. Before this, and the opening of the Atlantic Basin, this area remained marshy and sparsely populated. Red Hook grew into a major port that saw ships come and go to every corner of the globe. By this time, the population was mostly Italian and they worked at the docks.

Fire protection for this area was provided by Neptune Engine 2, which was organized in 1797 with a shed at Hicks Street and Atlantic Avenue. The next company in the area was Hope Hose 9 at Van Brunt Street and Hamilton Avenue in 1861; followed in 1868 by Water Witch Engine 8 and Sprague Ladder 6 on the same street.

Engine 2 and Ladder 1 were both placed in service on September 15, 1869 as part of the newly organized Brooklyn Fire Department. On that day the City of Brooklyn replaced its volunteer fire department with a fully paid force. The volunteers had grown from a single engine company in 1785 to twenty-six steamers, twenty-three hose companies, and nine ladders in the Western District and six steamers, ten hose companies and three ladder companies in the Eastern District.

Brooklyn in 1869, did not include that which is Brooklyn today. The southern City limits went only to 51 st Street and 5 th Avenue. Prospect Park was the eastern boundary, and to the north was Williamsburgh and Greenpoint. The area around the waterfront was the most densely populated and had most of the fire companies. Bed-Sty area was just becoming a newly developed area. The out lying area were sparsely populated and had the least amount of coverage. Downtown Brooklyn was protected by six of the thirteen engines. The six ladder companies were thinly spread and included large areas to be protected.

Engine 2 was located in the former quarters of Engine 8 on Van Brunt Street. The first crew of nine men included of Forman James Doyle, Engineer Curran, Driver John Greary, Stoker Daniel Fitzpatrick and Privates John G. Noonan, A. Leonard, Robert O’Donnell, Henry Ryan and James Farrell.

Ladder 1 was placed in the former quarters of Degraw Ladder 4 on 19 th Street just west of 4 th Avenue. Their crew was under the command of Foreman Timothy Nolan, Driver James Currin, and Privates S.C. Brower, Michael McCarroll, James Donnolly, James Smith, Charles Speeden, John McGee and A. Bullin. Also placed in service with Engine 2 was District Engineer 1.

When Ladder 1 was placed in service it was believed that it was located in a strategic area only to find out that most of it’s running was to the north and west to the docks. It was decided that a new location closer to the dock would be needed for Ladder 1. All of the firehouses that the paid department used were from the volunteers. These were not built for horses or men living in them 24 hours a day. Engine 2’s quarters was one of the worst of all of them and the first to be replaced. Knowing this the Fire Department started looking for a lot to build a new firehouse. A corner lot on Van Brunt and Seabring Streets was purchased from Daniel Dougherty and his wife for $4,000 on July 20, 1871.

The lot measured 50 feet in the front and was 90 feet deep. On March 1, 1872 a new two bay, two story firehouse was opened with Engine 2, and District Engineer 1 in one bay and Ladder 1 in the other. The cost of the new building was $10,000 to complete with the latest and most modern features for fire fighting and for the comfort of the men. Although it was one building on the outside, it was two separate houses on the inside. A wall split the house in two for the engine and truck. It would be the only such house to be built by the Brooklyn Fire Department.

The firemen of the 1870’s did not have to worry about mutual partners or if he had to work today or tomorrow. The work chart was quite simple; 24-hour tours for 14 days and one day off. A fireman could go home for meals for an hour at a time, three times a day. During the twenty-hours, a fireman had a watch at the front desk, then a walking patrol in the neighborhood. Then there was also the care of the horses, feeding, exercise, grooming and cleaning to keep one busy. Most companies had at least three horses to look after. Then a fireman could be detailed as a messenger to headquarters or to the battalion or to another firehouse. Occasionally a fire run would come in. A busy company would respond to maybe 100 runs a year. The pay for a fireman was $800 a year or ten cents an hour.

The Brooklyn Fire Department would turn to the New York City Fire Department for its rules and regulations, apparatus and harness. Brooklyn was a copy of New York except for its apparatus. New York’s rigs were painted red while Brooklyn’s was painted a two tone green. In 1883, Brooklyn purchased its first aerial ladders three years before New York. Before this, ladder trucks would carry only ground ladders on roller frame trucks.

Ladder 1’s truck, a Leverick, was rebuilt in 1886 with a new aerial placed on it. The Leverick ladder is believed to have been one of the volunteer ladders that were rebuilt for the paid department. In 1899, they received a new LaFrance/Hayes 85 foot aerial. Ladder 1 was still responsible for the southern end of Brooklyn and as it grew so did the number of responses to the south. In 1891, Ladder 9 was placed in service in Engine 1’s old quarters, 4 th Avenue and 19 th Street; around the corner from Ladder 1’s old quarters.

Engine 2’s first apparatus was an 1869 Amoskeag 2nd size steamer capable of pumping 700 to 800 gallons a minute. They also received a new two-wheel hose reel also built by Amoskeag. Three new Amoskeag steamers were assigned to Engine 2 over the years They included an 1871, an 1885 and an 1891 and a new four-wheel hose wagon in 1890.

On January 1, 1898, the City of Brooklyn along with Long Island City, parts of Queens County, Staten Island, Manhattan and the Bronx merged into City of New York. The Brooklyn Fire Department had grown to 56 engines, including two fireboats, 25 ladders, 14 District Engineers, a water tower and one chemical engine in its 29 years.

The Brooklyn Fire Department lost its identity and became part of the Brooklyn and Queens Fire Division of the New York City Fire Department on January 28, 1898. Company numbers remained the same. Members assigned to Brooklyn or Queens had B & Q listed after the company number in personal matters. The reason for this was that now there were two of the same numbers one in Manhattan, and the other in Brooklyn. This confusion lasted until October 1, 1899. Engine companies’ numbers were given 100; thus, Engine 2 became Engine 102. The ladder numbers received 50 and Ladder 1 became Ladder 51.

In 1905, the paid department was extended to Staten Island with Engine 201 thru 208 and Ladder 101 to 105. January 1, 1913, the companies were again renumbered. Brooklyn Engine 102 now became 202 while Brooklyn Ladder 51 became 101. The Staten Island companies adopted the 150 numbers for the engines and the trucks were numbered starting at 76. Ladder 101 on Staten Island became Ladder 76 and Engine 202 became Engine 152.

District Engineer 1 moved out of Engine 2’s quarters and in with Engine 3 on Hicks Street on February 12, 1896. When the cities merged, the District Engineer’s title was replaced by Battalion Chiefs and these numbers were changed. On April 13, 1898 Battalion 1 at Engine 3 was renumbered to Battalion 22. District Chief 12 at Engine 43 became Battalion 32 on the same date. The Battalions were renumbered again on April 15, 1906. Battalion 32 became the 42 nd and Battalion 22 nd became the 32. Battalion 32 moved back to Engine 202’s quarters on August 6, 1912 when Engine 103’s quarters were closed and torn down for a new building. They remained there until April 16, 1922 when they returned to Engine 203.

The firehouse on Van Brunt Street was starting to show signs of wear and tear after 85 years of service. The 1957 Capital Budget started a rebuilding program of replacing any firehouse that was over fifty years old. The report stated even though there were other firehouses older than Engine 202 and Ladder 101, none were in such bad shape. The second floor had a tilt to it. The windows were sagging, doors were sticking because of the floor tilting, the walls were bowing out and the plaster had patches on top of patches.

The report also stated that Ladder 101 responded 61 blocks to the north, 20 to the south, 52 to the east and 10 to west, while the Engine only responded 10, 20, 8 and 2 blocks in the same directions. In 1935, the Engine responded to 179 runs and the truck went on 272 alarms. In 1955, the companies were responding to 454 runs for the engine and 616 for the ladder. Because of the size of the area and the number of runs the companies made, they could not be disbanded or relocated to a different area of Red Hook.

Located just one block away on Richards Street and Seabring Street the response of both companies would not change. The new two-story house had room for three pieces of apparatus on the large open apparatus floor. The house opened on March 10, 1960 with Engine 202’s two pumpers and Ladder 101. Battalion 32 moved in on December 20, 1974 from Engine 203’s quarters when that house was closed.

Each year the Fire Department honors the bravest of the bravest with a medal ceremony. The first medal winners date back to 1868 in Manhattan. Brooklyn had no medals until 1897.It was earned in 1900 and awarded in 1903. Three members of Ladder 101 have received medals. Fireman Martin J. McNamara, Jr., earned the Hurley Medal on December 18, 1918; Fireman Alexander J. Brown received the Delehanty Medal for a rescue made on January 1, 1954 and Lieutenant John P. R. McFarland earned the O’Dwyer Medal on March 25, 1955. Engine 202 has had one medal winner, Fireman Julias A. Deja earning the Hurley medal on December 16, 1912. Battalion Chief Patrick Hickey, Battalion 32, received the Hugh Bonner Medal for a rescue he made on October 2, 1939.

Since the Fire Department was formed in 1865, 790 members of the force have made the Supreme Sacrifice by losing their lives protecting the citizens of New York. In the 130 years of service, Engine 202 has had five members killed in the line of duty. Two members of Ladder 101 have died and one in Battalion 32 over the same time. The members of Engine 202 to make the Supreme Sacrifice were Fireman John Carbush of on June 8, 1905, Fireman James Casey on January 6, 1918, Captain Edward A. Dougherty on October 4, 1930, Fireman Joseph Dunn on November 3, 1936 and Fireman John P. Schwinteck on February 14, 1940. The members of Ladder 101 to lose their lives were Fireman John Keupp on December 29, 1920 and Fireman William Ormsby on September 7, 1931. Battalion Chief Anthony Jireck of Battalion 32 was killed on January 27, 1945.

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