With people packed like sardines into Manhattan’s barely escapable tinder box apartments, the Fire Department of New York has become one of the city’s most essential and brave public departments right alongside the NYPD and the the paramedics, and the single largest such force in the county. Their long and ever-evolving history is on display at the New York City Fire Museum.
The FDNY has been in existence since New York was a Dutch colony and was originally teamed exclusively by volunteers. Between the late 1600’s and the mid-1800’s when at the height of the volunteer era, fires were fought with buckets and later on by hand pumps after being alerted via rattling wooden poles. However, as the population of the colony quickly grew, the local volunteer force was quickly outstripped by the demand for brave men to fight fire’s primal attacks. Along with pressure from providers of the newly invented, “Fire Insurance,” the city was able to disband the volunteer forces in 1865 and establish a governmentally run and funded fire department. By 1870, the organization we now know as the Fire Department of New York was established. This led to the use of more advanced fire fighting technology such as carriage drawn pumps and custom tools, and the department continued to change and evolve ever since.
Today the NYFD is the second largest firefighting force in the world, second only to the Tokyo Fire Department with over 10,000 active heroes, not including the thousands of support staff that they also have on call. With such an important and ever changing history, it is no wonder that their museum is so massive.
Held in a 1904 fire station on Spring Street in Manhattan the New York City Fire Museum contains over 10,000 artifacts from the history of the storied institution as well as countless photos, files and other pieces of memorabilia. The collection includes everything from old uniforms with brass helmets to Victorian firefighting carriages complete with lantern headlights. The changing nature of the tools and pike can be tracked along the various displays right up to the response tactics to the tragic events of September 11th, 2001.
New York’s Bravest have rarely looked more impressive than in this museum that one could unfortunately describe as “totally hot.”