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The Paid Department 1865–Present


Paying firefighters was only the first step in providing New Yorkers with more effective protection from fire. Horse drawn steamers, motorized ladder and engine trucks, specialized companies, and medical services, all became part of the professional force as it expanded to fit the growing needs of a developing city.


FDNY was incorporated by the NYS Legislature in 1798, but the reorganization to the paid Department in 1865 is viewed by most as the origin of the FDNY as we know it today.”

Firefighters on Salary

Firefighters became full-time public employees in 1865. While the volunteer department was overseen by the City, the paid department was organized under the supervision of New York State. Within five years, Boss William Tweed orchestrated the return of the paid department to city regulation, where it remains.

Laying the Groundwork

During this period, the Department underwent many transitions. Volunteers left the Department and hand-drawn apparatus were replaced by horse-drawn. A few years after the city consolidated, and grew from one borough to five, the high-pressure system and motorized apparatus helped firefighters deal with the rising number of fires.


During the first half of the 1900s, after many preventable fires in sweatshops and tenements, firefighting also became proactive and fire codes more strict.

20th Century Firefighting 

The 100 years of the 20th century saw exponential growth in technology throughout the world.  New York City and its fire department were not only affected by those advancements, it also a period when the City’s population doubled, it prepared for the possibility of attack during multiple foreign wars, and the cost and complexity of protecting the populous grew.

Special Operations 

In order to fully protect New York City from destruction by fire, the MFD commissioners, in 1866, retained the services of a steam salvage boat, John Fuller, to help fight fires along the waterfront. Soon after, the Department acquired its own fireboat. Fireboat companies were designated Engine Companies until 1959, when the Marine Division was established. Marine companies have been critical to fighting major New York fires, such as the September 11, 2001 attacks, and have also provided mutual assistance to other city waterfront fires, such as the Jersey City Pier fire in 1964.

Emergency Medical Services 

It is not uncommon for fire companies to assist civilians with a complete range of injuries and medical emergencies. The FDNY put its first ambulance in service in 1906, but after decades of improvements, everything changed in the fire department when New York City Emergency Medical Services was merged into the FDNY in 1996.

Post 9/11 

From tragedy comes triumph. After the devastating losses and impact on the FDNY as the result of the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, the Department rebuilt in both human resources and equipment. But more importantly, it learned how to monitor, prepare for, and respond to the new threats that it now faces.


For centuries, the members of the FDNY have been a mirror image of the communities they served; in ways of national origin, race, religion, etc. This has changed over time as the result of the growing population, often arriving in immigration waves due to worldwide conditions, like wars and famine. More recently, the FDNY has been criticized for not being as diverse as other City agencies and not as reflective of the City’s population. Efforts are underway to change that.

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