THE PAID DEPARTMENT
Special Operations 1865–Present
In 1912, a massive fire at the Equitable Building in lower Manhattan, motivated the FDNY to, research and eventually, organize, Rescue Company 1.
The principle piece of specialized equipment that Rescue 1 carried was breathing apparatus that would allow members to operate in choking, or even hazardous, air for more time than an unprotected firefighter could endure and, hopefully, save lives. Rescue Companies were eventually added to each of the five boroughs. In the 100+ years since Rescue 1 was organized, the equipment carried, capabilities of the members, and the apparatus to carry it all, has grown exponentially. Added to this are also numerous “second pieces” – one or more apparatus with equipment to handle specific types of emergencies, such as structural collapses and fires in high-rise buildings.
Rescue Company patches
In addition to the five Rescue Companies, the department has eight “Squad Companies” that fall under Special Operations Command. These companies, with apparatus configured like an engine, respond as an Engine Company in their primary response area, but can be called out for fires and other emergencies within, or outside of, their primary response areas. Certain Ladder Companies receive additional training and are designated “SOC-Support” companies. (SOC = Special Operations Command.) They provide extra resources and assist Rescue Companies as needed.
FDNY’s rescue capabilities are admired the world over and are considered the best of the best.
In a city the size of New York, there are hundreds, perhaps tens of thousands, of hazardous substances being used or may just be passing through. They may be spilled, ignited, or released to the environment. To contain and mitigate such incidents, the FDNY organized a hazardous materials (HazMat) response team in 1982 and Hazardous Materials Company in 1984.
Emergency Medical Services also has capabilities for HazMat situations, with special ambulance crews designated HazTac units that are equipped to handle and transport contaminated patients.
When the Metropolitan Fire Department was established in 1865, the fire commissioners expanded the Department’s ability to fight fires on the waterfront by obtaining a “floating engine.” The first fireboat, John Fuller, was actually a steam salvage tug the MFD leased from John C. Baxter & Son, dealers of ship and sailing supplies. In 1875, the Department bought its own boat, William F. Havemeyer. Until 1931, fireboats were steam driven. Due to high maintenance and fuel costs, a gasoline powered fireboat, John J. Harvey, was built and replaced the decommissioned The New Yorker. Diesel-electric fireboats soon followed – the first being Fire Fighter.
Companies assigned to fireboats were designated engine companies and assigned to whichever battalion their boat was docked in. The men initially lived aboard the boats, which served as their equivalent to a firehouse, and remained with the boat as it moved to different locations. The New Yorker, built in 1891 and assigned as Engine Co. 57, was the first fireboat to have a station house, which was located at the Battery. The FDNY’s fleet of fireboats was at its apex between 1908 and 1948 with ten manned fireboats. In June of 1959, the Marine Division was created and “Engine Company” designations were replaced with “Marine Company.” Today, only Marine Companies 1, 6, and 9 are still in service.
Fire Fighter, one of the most well-known fireboats of the FDNY, was put on display at the 1939 World’s Fair and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1989. She was put into service in August of 1938, and served for more than seventy years, until she was decommissioned in 2010. This fireboat fought in some of the major fires and rescues in New York City. Fire Fighter, alongside John J. Harvey – another fireboat with a long career – pumped water onto the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, and in 2009, Fire Fighter assisted passengers of Flight 1549 when it landed in the Hudson River.
Over the decades, various watercraft have been acquired by the FDNY of various sizes, capacities and apparatus. The primary vessels currently in the fleet are the 343 commissioned and Firefighter II, commissioned in 2010.
FDNY’s latest additions to its fireboat fleet: Three Forty Three (left) and Firefighter II (right).