The FDNY has approximately 11,400 uniformed officers and firefighters and over 2,500 uniformed EMTs and paramedics. It faces an extraordinarily varied challenge. In addition to responding to building types that range from wood-frame single family homes to high-rise structures, there are the many bridges and tunnels, large parks and wooded areas that can give rise to major brush fires, and the largest subway system on the planet. These challenges add yet another level of firefighting complexity and have led to the creation of the motto for FDNY firefighters of New York’s Bravest.
Like most fire departments in the United States, the New York City Fire Department is organized in a paramilitary fashion. The department's executive staff is divided into two areas including a civilian fire commissioner who is in charge of the department and a fire chief who is the operational lead. The current fire commissioner is Nicholas Scoppetta and the current fire chief is Salvatore Cassano. The 32-member executive staff includes the civilian fire commissioners who are responsible for bureaus within the Department, along with the Chief of Department, Chief of Fire Operations, Chief of EMS, the Chief Fire Marshal and the nine staff chiefs. Staff chiefs include the seven citywide tour commanders, the Chief of Safety, and the Chief of Fire Prevention.
Operationally and geographically, the department are nominally organized into five borough commands for the five traditional boroughs of New York. Within those Borough Commands exist nine divisions, each headed by a Deputy Chief. Within each division operate four to seven battalions, led a Battalion Chief and typically consisting of 180-200 firefighters and officers. Each battalion consists of four to eight companies, with a company being led by a Captain. He or she commands three lieutenants and 25 firefighters. Lastly, the unit consisting of the members of the company on call during a given shift.
In 1664 New Amsterdam became a British settlement and was renamed New York. The first New York fire brigade entered service in 1731 equipped with two hand-drawn pumpers which had been transported from London, England. These two pumpers formed Engine Company 1 and Engine Company 2. These were the first fire engines to be used in the American colonies, and all able-bodied citizens were required respond to a fire alarm and to participate in the extinguishing under the supervision of the Aldermen.
The city's first firehouse was built in 1736 in front of City Hall on Broad Street. A year later, on December 16, 1737, the colony's General Assembly created the New York Fire Volunteer Fire Department, appointing 30 men who would remain on call in exchange for exemption from jury and militia duty. The city's first official firemen were required to be "able, discreet, and sober men who shall be known as Firemen of the City of New York, to be ready for service by night and by day and be diligent, industrious and vigilant."
In 1865 a state act was passed to create the Metropolitan Fire District and the Metropolitan Fire Department (MFD). The MFD lasted until 1870 when the Tweed Charter ended state control in the city. As a result, a new Board of Fire Commissioners was created and the establishment of the Fire Department City of New York (FDNY) came into existence. The change met with a mixed reaction from the citizens, and some of the eliminated volunteers became bitter and resentful which resulted in both political battles and street fights.
Subsequently, the volunteers declared that they would accept the decision and, despite their disappointment, continue to function until properly relieved by paid units. Volunteer fire fighters were also given preference when the paid department recruited its members. With the introduction of the steam engine the need for volunteers to pump water disappeared, and the introduction of horses to draw the engines eliminated the problem of hauling fire engines by hand.
Initially, the paid fire service only covered New York City (present day Manhattan), until the act of 1865 which united Brooklyn with New York to form the Metropolitan District. The same year the fire department consisted of 13 Chief Officers and 552 Company Officers and firemen. The officers and firemen worked a continuous tour of duty, with 3 hours a day off for meals and one day off a month, and were paid salaries according to their rank or grade. 1865 also saw the first adoption of regulations, although they were fairly strict and straitlaced.
Following several large fires in 1866 which resulted in excessive fire losses and a rise in insurance rates, the fire department was reorganized under the command of General Alexander Shaler, and with military discipline the paid department reached its full potential which resulted in a general reduction in fire losses. In 1870 the merit system of promotion in the Fire Department was established.
Southwestern Westchester County (which would later become the western Bronx) was annexed by New York in 1874 and the volunteers there were phased out and replaced by the paid department. This pattern was repeated as City services expanded elsewhere. One volunteer unit in the Bronx, five in Queens and two in Staten Island are still in operation, including Broad Channel VFD which has 102 years in service.
On January 1, 1898 the different areas of New York were consolidated, which ushered the Fire Department into a new era. All the fire forces in the various sections were brought under the unified command of the first Commissioner in the history of the Fire Department. This same year Richmond (now Staten Island) became a part of the City of New York, but the volunteer units there remained in place until they were gradually replaced by paid units in 1915, 1928, 1932 and 1937 when only two volunteer units remained.
The unification of the Fire Department, which took place in 1898, would pave the way for many changes. In 1909 the Fire Department received its first piece of motorized fire engine. On March 25, 1911 a fire in the Triangle Shirtwaist Company killed 146 workers, most of whom where young female immigrants. Later the same year the fire college was formed to train new fire fighters, and in 1912 the Bureau of Fire Prevention was created.
In 1919 the Uniformed Firefighters Association was formed. Tower ladders and the Superpumper System were introduced in 1965. Major apparatus of the Superpumper System (the Superpumper and the Supertender) was phased out in 1982, in favor of the Maxi-Water Unit. But the 5 Satellite Units of the system, together with the Maxi-Water Unit (known as Satellite 6 since 1999) are still actively used as of 2007 for multiple alarm fires and certain other incidents. These are now called the Satellite Water System. Other technical advances included the introduction of high pressure water systems, the creation of a Marine fleet, adoption of vastly improved working conditions and the utilization of improved radio communications.
On November 23, 1965, incoming Mayor Lindsay announced the appointment of Lowery as Fire Commissioner of the New York City Fire Department. His was the first commissioner level appointment announced by the Mayor-elect. Lowery, who was the first African American to serve as a Fire Commissioner of a major U.S. city, served in that position for more than 7 years until his resignation on September 29, 1973 in order to campaign for then-Controller Abraham D. Beame, the Democratic candidate for Mayor. In 1982 the first female firefighters joined the ranks of the Fire Department, and on March 17, 1996 Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani merged the emergency medical services of the NYC Health and Hospitals Corporation into the FDNY.
On September 11, 2001 terrorists associated with al-Qaeda hijacked four commercial passenger aircraft and used these as weapons in order to attack targets in New York and Washington, DC during the September 11, 2001 attacks. Two aircraft, American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 were flown by the terrorists into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, causing massive damage both during impact, when the jet fuel was consumed by fire, and finally when the two 110-story skyscrapers collapsed.
New York City fire companies and EMS crews were deployed to the World Trade Center minutes after the first aircraft struck the north tower. Chief officers set up a command center in the lobby as first-arriving units entered the building and firefighters began climbing the stairs. A mobile command center was also set-up outside on Vesey Street, but was destroyed when the buildings collapsed. A command post was then set-up at a firehouse in Greenwich Village. The FDNY deployed 200 units to the site, with more than 400 firefighters, EMTs and paramedics on the scene when the buildings collapsed.
Many firefighters arrived at the World Trade Center without meeting at the command centers. Problems with radio communication caused commanders to lose contact with many of the firefighters who went into the buildings; those firefighters were unable to hear evacuation orders. There was practically no communication with the police, who had helicopters at the scene. When the towers collapsed, hundreds were killed or trapped within. Three hundred forty-three FDNY firefighters and paramedics who responded to the attacks on September 11, 2001 lost their lives, and countless others were injured. The casualties included First Deputy Commissioner William M. Feehan, Chief of Department Peter Ganci and Department Chaplain Mychal Judge.
Meanwhile, average response times to fires elsewhere in the city that day only rose by one minute, to 5.5 minutes. Many of the surviving firefighters continued to work alternating 24-hour shifts as part of the Rescue and recovery effort after the September 11, 2001 attacks. Firefighters and EMS personnel came from hundreds of miles around New York City, including numerous career and volunteer units in Upstate New York, Long Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.
In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks the Fire Department has rebuilt itself and continues to serve the people of New York. During the 2003 North American blackout, FDNY was called on to rescue hundreds of people from stranded elevators in approximately 800 Manhattan high-rise office and apartment buildings. The entire fire department was called in to handle the many fires which resulted, reportedly from people using candles for light.
At the beginning of the 21st century, there are 11,400 uniformed fire officers and firefighters under the command of the Chief of Department. The New York City Fire Department also includes 2800 Emergency Medical Technicians, Paramedics and Supervisors assigned to Department's EMS Command, and 1200 civilian employees.
Nicholas Scoppetta is the current commissioner of the FDNY. He received this job from Mayor Michael Bloomberg (January, 1, 2002). Nicholas Scoppetta is the 33rd FDNY Commissioner
The FDNY derives its name from the Tweed Charter which created the Fire Department of the City of New York. This is in contrast to most other fire departments in the U.S. where the name of the city precedes the word fire department.
For the period 1 January 2006, to 31 December 2006 the FDNY dealt with the following number of calls:
There were 2,971 serious fires in 2006, defined as those declared 'all hands' or above in severity. Response times to incidents were roughly between two and a half, to six minutes from the time of call, depending on total activity and boro, with the quickest responses being in the Bronx, Manhattan and Brooklyn, and the slowest in Queens and Staten Island.
For the period 1 January 2007, to 31 December 2007 the FDNY dealt with the following number of calls:
There were 3,143 serious fires in 2007, defined as those declared 'all hands' or above in severity.
Presently there are five Bureau of Fire Communications alarm offices, one for each of the five boroughs that make up New York City.
The initial call to an FDNY communications office is taken by the Alarm Receipt Dispatcher (ARD) who speaks with the caller in order to determine the nature of the emergency. The ARD enters the information by keyboard into the Starfire computer system, which gives a recommended response based on the information provided. This information is automatically sent to the Decision Dispatcher (DD)and the "Tour Supervising Dispatcher".
When the Decision Dispatcher has made a decision as to what units will actually be assigned to the incident, unless the supervisor intervenes, he or she pushes the "release" button and the alarm is routed to the assigned companies, either in their firehouses or to the mobile data terminals (MDT) if their apparatus is in the field, depending on where the Starfire computer shows them to be situated. If a unit in a fire station does not acknowledge the run within 30 seconds, the computer will notify the voice alarm dispatcher who will call that unit in the station by the dedicated intercom system. One minute after the alarm is released, it will appear on the computer screen of the radio dispatcher, who will announce the alarm and the response two times and ask for acknowledgment from any units assigned who have not done so by radio, voice alarm or MDT. The radio dispatcher has a special keyboard called the Status Entry Panel "SEP" which he uses to update the status of units based on information he receives by radio.
The entire process from initial notification until a unit is dispatched can take up to two (2) minutes, depending on the complexity of the call, the information provided by the caller(s) and the degree of other alarm activity in the office. If a borough alarm office is so busy that its incoming telephone alarm lines are all busy or not answered within 30 seconds, the call is automatic transferred to another borough fire alarm office. If an ERS box is not answered with 60 seconds, usually because all of the Alarm receipt Consoles are in use, the computer automatically dispatches an engine company to the box location.
Any fire alarm office in NYC can take a fire or emergency call by telephone for any borough and upon completion of information taking, the incident will automatically be routed by the Starfire computer to the Decision Dispatcher (DD) for the borough in which the incident is reported.
There are five ways in which fires can be reported in New York City:
When a member of the public dials "911" they speak with an NYPD 911 operator who assigns the call to where it needs to go based on the information provided.
Each address in the city is assigned a box number, based on the closest street, special building or highway box. This gives the companies en route cross streets for the alarm. Box numbers can be duplicated in different boroughs, which is why they are always identified by borough name or numerical prefix on the computer (66 for Bronx and Manhattan, 77 for Brooklyn, 88 for Staten Island and 99 for Queens). If there is also a street address given to the dispatchers, the responding apparatus will get this information in the firehouse, over the air, and via their mobile data terminals in the rigs. At present there are about 16,000 physical street boxes in New York City, with many additional special building boxes and highway boxes, as well as "dummy boxes" used for special response assignments. In addition there are two airport crash boxes, one in the LaGuardia Tower (Queens Box 37) and one in the JFK Tower (Queens Box 269), which can only be activated by the personnel in these towers. When either box is sounded it brings an automatic second alarm (2-2) response of equipment, along with various special units.
CIDS stands for Critical Information Dispatch System, and is pronounced by the dispatcher as "Sids". CIDS information which is transmitted to units in the firehouse and en route is information that is collected on a building during inspections and by public input, which would have an impact on fire-fighting operations. Such things as:
This information is printed on the fire ticket and can be read by the dispatcher if requested. This information is also read automatically when a signal 10-75 (working fire) or higher signal is given or when the supervising dispatcher deems it is important for the units to have it before arrival at an incident.
A Signal 10-75 is transmitted by the first arriving fire company for a working fire or other incident where it appears that the assigned companies will likely all be put to work at a fire or other emergency. Contrary to belief a 10-75 can be transmitted where the emergency is non-fire related but appears to require a full first alarm assignment. When a 10-75 is given a Rescue Company and a Squad Company are automatically assigned, unless they went on the box. In addition a third and fourth engine company as well as a second truck company and a F.A.S.T. truck (ladder company) are assigned, along with an additional battalion chief. Notification is made to the deputy (division) chief for the district, and he almost always asks for a fire ticket and starts his response.
When All Companies are put to work, the Signal 7-5 is transmitted over the Starfire computer system, but on the radio the listener will simply hear the terms "All Hands" or "All Companies at Work (or Working)". If the All Hands is in a subway or railroad facility, or any other location where communications might be difficult, a Field Communications Units is sent. A Deputy Chief is mandatorily assigned on transmission of the Signal 7-5, but he almost always has responded on the 10-75 signal.
Special calls for additional units above a Signal 7-5 are by number and type of unit. A Dispatcher's greater alarm, formerly used to fill out special call requests during busy periods of fire activity, has been eliminated from dispatch procedures.
Higher alarms bring additional ladders, engines and special equipment, depending on location and type of incident. Greater alarms are a Second (Signal 2-2), a Third (3-3) and Fourth (4-4) and a Fifth (5-5). Technically there are no alarms greater than a Fifth Alarm and no computer signals exists for them. If a chief asks for a sixth or higher alarm, it has to be written out as such in the computer and companies are assigned by the Supervising Dispatcher of the Tour. Borough calls and simultaneous calls, previously used for incidents that required more than a five alarm assignment, have been eliminated from dispatch procedures.
There are also certain special signals given for unique incidents. Several of them include:
|10-60||Declared as a major incident, it brings a major response of equipment to the scene and mandates transmission of next highest alarm|
|10-66||The newest signal, this is used for missing firefighters at an incident. It was first used at the August 2007 fatal fire in the Deutsche Bank Building, where a number of firefighters got lost in an illegal maze of demolition and asbestos removal structures, and where two veteran firemen were killed.|
|10-80||Hazardous Materials incident|
|10-76||Working fire in a high-rise (more than 7 stories) commercial building or hotel.|
|10-77||Working fire in a high-rise (more than 7 stories) residential building.|
Any or all of these signals (10-76, 10-77, 10-60, 10-66 and 10-80) can be used in conjunction with a 10-75, and All Hands or a greater alarm, depending on circumstances. For example, at the aforementioned Deutsche Bank Building Fatal Fire in 2007, Seven Alarms were struck in addition to the use of the 10-76, 10-66 and 10-80 signals. The 2007 Manhattan Steampipe explosion utilized Six alarms, plus the 10-60 and 10-80 signals.
Calls to 911 for emergency medical services (EMS) in New York City are dispatched by the New York City Fire Department's Emergency Medical Dispatch under its Communications Bureau.
Ambulances are staffed by uniformed service EMTs and paramedics of the FDNY or civilian EMTs and paramedics working for non-profit, 'voluntary' hospitals. It is the largest public, non-profit ambulance partnership in the world.
Prior to March 17, 1996, municipal ambulances were operated by NYC EMS under the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation a public benefit corporation, which dispatched both its own ambulances and hospital ambulances. After that date, NYC EMS was merged with the FDNY and became the Bureau of EMS. Presently it is referred to as the FDNY-EMS Command and is an operational unit of the FDNY which operates under the Chief of EMS, who in turn reports to the Chief of Department.
FDNY-EMS respond to more than 1.2 million medical emergencies per year, or 3300 per day. Although EMS in New York City is controlled and dispatched by the Fire Department, approximately 40% of the ambulances in the system are operated by the non-profit hospitals in New York City, the majority of these being in Manhattan and Queens. These hospitals have historically provided emergency ambulances for over 125 years, with some now subcontracting actual ambulance operations to private ambulance providers. New York City also has a number of neighborhood volunteer ambulance corps that respond to emergency calls, primarily in the outer boroughs.
The New York City prehospital care system consists of three distinct levels: First responder engine companies, staffed by firefighters trained as Certified First Responders (CFRs) providing first aid, CPR, and defibrillation; basic life support (BLS) ambulances, whose two EMTs provide first aid, defibrillation, and limited medication administration; and advanced life support (ALS) ambulances, whose two paramedics provide prehospital critical care, including patient assessment, 12-lead electrocardiography, pulse oximetry, defibrillation, cardioversion, cardiac pacing, endotracheal intubation and other advanced airway procedures; intravenous (IV), interosseous (IO), intramuscular (IM), oral (PO) and respiratory therapy, with over 40 medications both under standing medical orders and in consultation with a medical control physician. Each area of response is divided into overlapping grids, with the closest FDNY first responder engine company dispatched to life-threatening emergencies, along with both a BLS and ALS level ambulance as necessary.
Some EMTs and paramedics have been trained as Hazardous Materials Technicians and function to provide patient care while wearing Chemical Protective Clothing in the 'Hot Zone' at HazMat incidents. Recently, all of FDNY-EMS's EMTs and paramedics have been trained to the Hazardous Materials Operations level in order to operate in the 'Warm Zone' of HazMat incidents. Some of the HazMat trained paramedics have been trained at the FDNY Fire Academy as 'Rescue Medics' in order to be able to provide patient care in both high-rise rescue and confined space situations.
While EMTs and paramedics work well professionally with the firefighters of New York City, there have been occasional "culture clashes" between EMS and Fire, for instance, a plan in 2006 to move ambulances into a firehouse in Queens drew an outcry from both the unions of the firefighters and EMS workers and was ultimately scrapped by the city. This is due to several factors, the relative little attention paid to the sacrifices and achievements of EMS workers by the public in relation to that paid to firefighters, as well as the separate mindset that each respective job entails; firefighters must operate as a team and strictly and swiftly execute the orders they are given by their officers to achieve their goals, while EMT and paramedic crews are expected to act independently and usually without direct supervision by their EMT and paramedic officers or medical control physicians, in most cases, due to the nature of the job.
In recent years, FDNY has used several fire apparatus manufacturers nearly exclusively. Beginning in the late 1970s, Mack and American LaFrance made most of the pumpers and ladder trucks in the FDNY fleet. In the late 1980s, Mack made only chassis and not apparatus bodies, so Ward was used for truck bodies. Often Mack would work with Baker Aerialscope to create its tower ladders. Mack left the fire apparatus business in the early 1990s and FDNY turned to Seagrave to develop its next generation of fire truck. FDNY's very specific specifications meant that few apparatus manufacturers could compete with Seagrave for the contract.
Most of the engines in FDNY's fleet are Seagrave Commander II's and include 500 gallon water tanks and either 1000 or 2000 gallon per minute pumps. The 2000gpm pumps are primarily located in the high-rise districts and are considered high pressure pumpers. With the loss of apparatuses which occurred as a result of the September 11 attacks, FDNY began to use engines made by other companies including Ferrara and E-One. The FDNY is making the move from a fixed cab to a "Split-Tilt" cab, so the Seagrave Marauder II Pumper will fill the FDNY's new order for 69 new pumpers.
Truck companies are generally equipped with Seagrave aerials. Ladder length varies and often depends on the geographic area to which the unit is assigned. Those in the older sections of the city often use tiller trucks to allow for greater maneuverability. Before Seagrave was the predominant builder, Mack CF's built with Baker tower ladders were popular. Most FDNY aerials are built with 75’, 95' or 100' ladders. Tiller ladders, rear mount ladders and tower ladders are the types of trucks used.
For specialty units, FDNY uses a variety of manufacturers. Its current heavy rescues, often called a 'toolbox on wheels' are made by Pierce (Rescue 1) and E-One/Saulsbury (Rescues 2-5). Other specialty units, including hazardous material units, collapse trucks, and reserve rescues are made by American LaFrance, Pierce, E-One and Freightliner. Various body types include standard heavy rescue bodies, step vans, busses and smaller units built on GMC and Ford pick up truck bodies.
FDNY chiefs generally operate with Chevrolet Suburbans and Ford Excursions at the Battalion level and Ford Crown Victorias at the Division level. As they come up for replacement, the Crown Victorias are being changed to Excursions at the Division level as well. This provides greater command options for the Deputy Chiefs who command the Divisions.
The ambulances used by FDNY EMS are usually manufactured by Horton Ambulance, and the modules are generally mounted on Ford F-350 light duty truck chassis. When NYC EMS merged with the FDNY in 1996, the ambulances had their orange stripe replaced with a red, and they were manufactured by Wheeled Coach, again on Ford F-350 chassis. Some of the older ambulances were mounted on Chevrolet 3500 chassis.
In addition to its engine, truck, and rescue companies, FDNY operates three fireboats as Marine Companies:
A former FDNY Marine Unit, the John J. Harvey, is notable as having returned to active service as Marine 2 on September 11, 2001 and providing firefighting services for 80 hours following the attack.
The Department's fire officers are represented by the Uniformed Fire Officers Association while firefighters and Fire Marshals are represented by the Uniformed Firefighters Association, both of which are locals of the International Association of Fire Fighters. Fire Alarm Dispatchers are represented by the Fire Alarm Dispatchers Benevolent Association. EMTs, paramedics and fire protection inspectors are represented by the Uniformed EMTs & Paramedics and EMS officers are represented by the Uniform EMS Officers Union, both of which are locals of District Council 37.
The documentary focused heavily on firefighter Dennis Smith who served in the South Bronx area and went on to write Report from Engine Co. 82 and a number of other books. He has become a prominent speaker on firefighting policy.
In 1991, brothers Brian Hickey, a New York City firefighter and his brother Raymond produced a documentary entitled Firefighters: Brothers in Battle. The film features footage of fires and rescues throughout the five boroughs of New York City, including the infamous Happy Land Social Club fire which killed 87 persons, dramatic rescues from a crashed airplane off of La Guardia Airport, and footage and interviews at Medal Day 1991. Unfortunately, Raymond died of cancer in 1993 and Brian was killed on September 11, 2001 while operating at the World Trade Center. Brian last served as Captain of Rescue Company 4 in Queens.
The 2002 documentary film 9/11 features the September 11, 2001 attacks from the perspective of the FDNY. Two other documentaries include the 2005 film Brotherhood: Life in the FDNY, which focuses on Squad 252 in Brooklyn, Rescue 1 in Manhattan and Rescue 4 in Queens. A 2007 short film titled 343 was made by director Stephen Philip Donnelly in remembrance of the 343 firefighters killed on the 9/11 attacks.
Television series about FDNY have included Rescue Me, which began airing in 2004 and depicts the fictional life of firefighters in an FDNY firehouse. The NBC drama Third Watch ran from 1999 to 2005 and provided a fictionalized and highly dramatized depiction of the firefighters and paramedics of the FDNY and police officers of the New York City Police Department. While presented as a procedural drama, it had many glaring inaccuracies. Errors in geography, operational procedure, member duties, radio protocol, human pathology and appropriate treatment, unit designations, physics, tactics, and city and state laws and ordinances were common owing to dramatic license. However, due to the popularity of the TV show, it had great influence on the general public's perception of how the FDNY operates.