This anniversary is a celebration of the 150 years since the FDNY was established in 1856 as a professional firefighting force, bidding farewell to it’s previous 217 year history as a primarily volunteer force. It is a remarkable journey, not just in terms of firefighting skills but in the migration of the FDNY from a needed municipal service into a deeply loved, always honored group of first responders.
The culmination of that journey was undoubtedly 9/11 when 343 firefighteres lost their lives as the twin towers collapsed, embedding in the hearts of New Yorkers the committment unto death that firefighters have in their dedication to keeping everyone safe. That moment of willing sacrifice was a far cry from the original days of ‘rattlers’ walking around the streets of 17th Century Mnahattan warning of fires and volunteers forming bucket brigades from water sources to a fire to enable volunteers to do their best in bringing a fire under control.
The development of firefighting in NYC happened in fits and starts. The experience of dreadful fires brought about ever changing rules about how buildings were constructed and the responsibilities of owners to supply escape routes for workers and residents (see video about Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire below), the development of a reliable supply of water changed how fires were fought, the introduction of new technology provided firefighters with ever new and better equipment and finally the challenge of defending a huge metropolis against fire dictated the implemntation of professional standards in the operation, management and training of the now 12,000+ firefighters and specialist units that make up the FDNY.
Organizationally the FDNY has been pulled and pummelled into the shape it is today reflecting different social and political realities at different times in it’s history. Always overwhelmingly masculine in every way there are now quotas in place to ensure both African American and Latino firefighters have a secure presence in it’s ranks. Female firefighters have not found it easy to establish a presence and that continuing presence has been something of a white knuckle ride but the current leadership is ‘leaning in’ on allowing women to make their mark.
But at the time of this 150th anniversary there isn’t a New Yorker anywhere who doesn’T hold the FDNY in the highest regard, who doesn’t honor the work they do and who doesn’t remember always those who laid down their lives. thank you FDNY, you are always ‘New York’s Bravest’.