A lesser known and crucial aspect of New York’s fire history involves the protection of property by insurance companies. Firefighters are first responsible for lives, but worked alongside the members of the New York Fire Patrol to ensure the safety of residential and commercial property.
A nameplate advertising the Hibernia Underwriters of the Home Insurance Company of New York.
Advocating for Fire Insurance
Fire insurance companies in New York City guarded the interests of their policy holders by pushing for fire prevention activities and efficient firefighting techniques. In 1835, insurance companies created the Fire Police, the forerunner of the New York Fire Patrol (NYFP). Patrolmen attended fires and attempted to minimize property damage. In 1854, Alfred Baker became the first Fire Marshal and was paid by insurance companies to help avert fires and arrest arsonists. Under the paid department, a Fire Marshal was appointed and still exists to perform the same duty. Insurance companies also pushed for a paid department because greater efficiency at fires would lead to less financial loss and insurance claims.
As firefighting technology improved, firefighting became more efficient, and fire safety measures were taken more seriously, the fire insurance companies had to expand their focus. The 1930s and 40s marked the beginning of extended coverage added to fire insurance policies, including protection against hazards of modern life, such as explosions, tornadoes, hurricanes, hail, and damage to structures from falling aircraft and runaway vehicles.
Marks of Assurance
Fire marks were used to signal that a property was insured against damage by fire. Marks were initially used in England and introduced to the United States in the mid-1700s. Policy holders prominently displayed marks on the outside of their property, making them useful signs of insurance as well as advertisements for the companies.
The New York Fire Patrol
The New York Fire Patrol was organized as a salvage organization, not a firefighting force. Some fire insurance companies, in other cities, set up private fire brigades, but New York’s volunteer department was already organized to protect the city from fire. Patrolmen were funded by fire insurance companies and worked alongside the city’s firefighters until 2006 when the last Patrol was disbanded.