Fire Patrol No. 2: A Bit of NYC’s Firefighting History

Isn’t it funny how you can walk down a street a hundred times and miss something in plain sight? Recently I walked parts of Greenwich Village in my hunt for the Ai Weiwei installations (I wrote about those previously here), and I noticed something I’d never paid any attention to before: Fire Patrol No. 2. This time it intrigued me, and I took several photos, determined to research and learn more about it later.

From searching the internet, I discovered this building has an interesting history. I had assumed that the firehouse was part of the Fire Department of New York (FDNY), but it turns out that it actually predates the FDNY. Built in 1906 by the New York Board of Fire Underwriters, Fire Patrol No. 2 housed part of the New York Fire Patrol. The New York Fire Patrol was a private firefighting organization with roots going back to the early 1800s. It was funded by fire insurance companies that wanted to protect the city buildings they insured.

The New York Fire Patrol was disbanded in 2006, and the firehouse’s future was in question. At one point, there was concern that the historic building would be torn down to make way for new development, especially after it was denied New York City Landmark status. Eventually, Fire Patrol No. 2 was purchased by CNN anchorman Anderson Cooper, who renovated the interior to make it into a private home while meticulously restoring the outside of the building. Finally, about four years ago, the southern part of Greenwich Village achieved city landmark status, protecting the firehouse from future threats. (Wonder what the firehouse looked like before its restoration? The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation has several photos, as well as a more detailed version of the building’s history, here.)

One of my favorite firehouse details is this sculpture of Mercury, symbolizing swiftness. Speed would definitely be a virtue when responding to a fire.

On a more solemn note, I noticed this plaque honoring Patrolman Keith Roma, who lost his life while saving people at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Only 27 years old at the time of his death, Roma was the only member of the fire patrol to die that day.

Fire Patrol No. 2 is located at 84 West 3rd Street, between Sullivan and Thompson Streets.

NYC’s Historical Firehouses: Little Italy and Vicinity

In the early years of New York City’s history, the fire department was made up of volunteers. Beginning in 1865, however, the city had a professional firefighting force for the first time with the establishment of the Fire Department of New York. Over the next several decades, numerous firehouses were constructed to house neighborhood units. Most have since been torn down to make way for newer construction, but there are still some hidden gems scattered around the city. Each one has its own character and history.

The first firehouse I’m going to feature in this post is no longer an active firehouse, but it was originally home to Engine Company 31. It’s a gorgeous building, both a New York City landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places. The architecture draws inspiration from 16th century French chateau. Today, the building is home to the Downtown Community Television Center, which provides workshops and other resources for documentary filmaking in the local community.

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The building has some beautiful, intricate details.

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If you want to see the old Engine 31 firehouse for yourself, it is located at 87 Lafayette Street.

Another historical firehouse is the home to Engine Company 55. It is located at 363 Broome Street in Little Italy. Unlike Engine 31, the Engine 55 firehouse is still an active firehouse.

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The building has some interesting architectural details.

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One interesting note: the character actor Steve Buscemi worked as a FDNY firefighter when he was young, and Engine Company 55 was his unit.

Much more important, this firehouse has bronze memorial plaques on the walls to honor firefighters who died in the line of duty. The oldest one is this one, memorializing men who died in 1903 and 1918:

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Tragically, Engine 55 was one of the first units responding to the World Trade Center Twin Towers on September 11. The unit lost five of its own that day, and each one has his own plaque next to the firehouse’s entrance. Because the unit was one of the first ones on the scene of the terrorist attack, the firetruck itself was buried under the rubble when the towers collapsed. The crushed truck was not found until approximately 6 months later, when the recovery crews discovered it more than 40 feet below ground. Although the plaques look very similar, I thought it was important to honor each firefighter by showing them here. You will see that all of them state that the firefighter was “operating at Manhattan Box 5-5-8087.” From my research, it appears that 8087 was the fire alarm box associated with the World Trade Center.

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Solemn Reflection at the National September 11 Memorial

September 11, 2001. Any American who is old enough to remember that day can tell you where they were, what they were doing when they found out first one plane, then another, flew into the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers in lower Manhattan. I was not living in New York City at that time, but the memories of that day bring back feelings as strong as they were 15 years ago. It was the day before a new semester began, and I was working at home to prepare for the next day’s classes. I turned on the TV to watch the news as I sipped my morning coffee. Only minutes earlier, a plane crashed into the North Tower, but no one knew exactly what had happened. I watched in horror, along with millions of other people, as a second plane hit the South Tower a short time later.

I continued watching over the next several hours, a silent, sorrowful witness to the ultimate collapse of the World Trade Center buildings, the crash of yet another plane into the Pentagon, a final plane crash in Pennsylvania. I observed firsthand the loss of thousands of lives – something impossible to fully comprehend. How was I to go into the classroom the next day and teach when the world had been turned upside down?

Over time I have come to think of those memories less often, but it only takes a moment to recall how I felt on that terrible day. In the meantime, I’ve moved to New York City myself. I see the new towering One World Trade Center building, commonly known as the Freedom Tower, on a regular basis. I now teach many students who, even though they were alive on September 11, 2001, were so young that they don’t really remember that day. Additionally, an entire generation has been born in the 15 years since the Towers fell – a generation that will come of age in a post-9/11 world.

Despite the passage of time, September 11 has had an enduring effect on New York City and New Yorkers. The city has proved its resilience. New Yorkers take a great amount of pride in the way that they responded. There has been a sense of community uniquely forged in the fire of tragedy. Despite the fact that New York City clearly remains a target, New Yorkers go about their daily lives with purpose, a determination to carry on despite any adversity.

At the site of the Twin Towers, visitors now find the National September 11 Memorial. A multiple-layer set of waterfalls, framed in black granite, descend from the outline of each building deep into the ground. Inscribed on the surrounding walls of each footprint are the names of all those who lost their lives that day – the passengers, pilots, and crew members on board each of the 4 planes; the workers and visitors in the Twin Towers who were unable to evacuate the buildings before they fell; those who lost their lives inside the Pentagon; and the hundreds of firefighters, police officers, and others who sacrificed their lives in the attempt to save others. (The Memorial also commemorates 6 people who lost their lives in a terrorist bombing in the World Trade Center garage in 1993.)

In honor of those who lost their lives 15 years ago this weekend, here are a few pictures from the National September 11 Memorial. It is impossible to include photos of every name, but I wanted to give a sense of the solemnity of the site for those who have not yet had the opportunity to visit.

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