Nicknamed “The Batcave” for the emblem painted on the floor on the walkway inside, this particular fire station has been an active part of the FDNY’s network since 1865. Previously, it had been a Metropolitan Fire station starting in 1861, and before that it was run by volunteer firefighters. Firefighter Alex Laird was kind enough to give the Manhattan Sideways team a full tour of the historic building. The establishment is so old that it used to house horse drawn engines. Some of the original architecture still remains, most notably the spiral staircase that now sits alongside the modern fireman’s pole. Sadly, this firehouse lost five members in the attacks on 9/11. The station still has the original flag and radio from that day and has them on display out of respect for their fallen brothers.
Down the street from the Firemen's Memorial on Riverside Drive, Engine Company 76 has its home, earning it the nickname "Monumental Pride. " The firehouse is one of the largest in the city, since it was formed from what used to be two separate stations. In chatting with one of the firemen, I mentioned what appeared to me to be a firehouse on Amsterdam Avenue but belongs to Brusco Realty. When I inquired, he explained that this used to house the other half of Engine 76, thus the exterior resembles a firehouse. Oh the knowledge one gains when speaking to people in the know. While discussing the Firemen's Memorial, this devoted young fireman told me that on the second Wednesday in October, every year the entire Fire Department of New York assembles around the monument. "It's very impressive, seeing 8, 000 blue suits lining up, " he proudly stated. Right then and there, I added it to my calendar and have every intention of attending this event come the fall of 2016. As the fireman pulled down the firehouse calendar to find the exact date, a tiny firecracker went off, causing him to jump backwards. "The pranks around here are non-stop, " he declared with a wary smile. I was glad to know that firemen have such a keen sense of humor.
The Suburban Hook & Ladder Company No. 13 was formed in 1865, the same year that the cities of New York and Brooklyn were combined and the “Metropolitan District” fire department was officially created. With the creation of the department, firefighting became a profession, and firehouses were no longer filled solely with volunteers. The members of Hook & Ladder Company 13 are remembered for having helped during the deadly explosion on Park Place in 1891. It was referred to by the news as “one of the worst disasters that ever happened in this city. ” The firemen of Company 13 arrived on the scene on the third day to help reinvigorate the search for bodies. They also dealt with countless fires in the tenement houses of Yorkville, most notably a house fire at 60 East 87th Street filled with residents. The stories of the heroic deeds of the these firefighters could fill a book. In the twentieth century, the Company moved to 85th Street and the little brick house stood empty. In 1962, however, Andy Warhol rented the second floor to use as his very first New York studio.
When the City of New York acquired this lot to house Engine 65 in 1895, clubs and residents around the area feared it would disturb the peace. Having calls since their very first night on the job, and as the first responder to Times Square, it became clear that the service was needed and soon became wildly appreciated. One of the firemen, Chris, told me this was something he had always wanted to do. “I love the camaraderie between the guys, ” he said, a theme that seems to reoccur throughout all Manhattan fire stations.
Stopping into the firehouses on the side streets of Manhattan has continued to be a true joy for me and the Manhattan Sideways team. There is always an interesting story to be heard and warm, generous people to meet. When we visited the fire station on 125th, we were greeted by an apologetic fireman who told us that their trucks were out responding to a gas leak in the area. He did, however, show us the truck they had on loan, which some of the men were busy cleaning and which he called their Special Operations Command vehicle. We were immediately curious about the truck, and he explained that it is equipped with a dewatering shower unit intended for use after any kind of catastrophe that has potentially contaminated firemen or civilians. This was conceived following 9/11, but we were pleased to learn that in 2017 it had still only been used for training. It has never been needed in the real world. “It’s something we hope we never have to do, ” the fireman confessed.
Engine 16 and Ladder 7 were both organized in 1865, the former on East 25th Street and the latter on East 28th. Since 1968, the two have resided together in a double firehouse on East 29th. One of the firemen, James, took on the job with a desire to help others and loves the constant change of pace. Serving since 1990, James also takes to heart the tragedy that occurred on 9/11. “We lost a lot of great men that day, ” he explained, pointing to an inspiring memorial dedicated to the brave souls. The triumph of these several sacrificial men is certainly not forgotten.
It is impossible to miss Engine Co. 14 on a sunny afternoon. The ornate Beaux Arts design is simply eye-catching. Engine Co. 14 was erected in 1895 by architect Napoleon LeBrun, who was known for his decoratively designed fire stations. This style is typical of the earliest New York City firehouses. Today, Engine Co. 14 has been recognized as a historic landmark. For more than a century, firefighters have been working out of this building. When my intern, Emily, walked past the fire station, the garage doors were wide open, and locals were wandering in and out to greet the friendly firefighters. One older veteran was smoking a cigar and chatting with a new member who had finished his training just six weeks ago. The two firefighters showed an eager little boy and his father into the front seat of their largest firetruck. The boy honked the loud horn, which all the firefighters exclaimed was “quite impressive” for someone his age.