Our visit to Engine 69/Ladder 28 only confirmed what I have known since I began walking the side streets of Manhattan: Firemen are some of the friendliest people in the city. When we knocked on the door to the station, we were immediately welcomed in and invited to join the firemen in their air-conditioned break room. We were happy to escape the heat outside and enjoyed the chance to learn about what makes their station unique.
The station was nicknamed the “Harlem Hilton,” we were told, shortly after the gas crisis that hit the city in the 1970s. To avoid wasting extra gas by making too many trips between their houses and the station, many men chose to sleep over, hence earning the firehouse its name and their reputation as “a hospitable bunch.” The men were kind enough to let us visit their kitchen and dining room, where they proudly showed off the long table where they eat. It is made out of the floor of an old bowling alley. No one was sure about the origins of the table or the reasons behind its placement in their kitchen, but we all agreed that it added another quirky, albeit mysterious, element in the firehouse’s hundred-year history.