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Daily Life

Engine 47 Quarters, Third Floor

Third floor of the Engine 47 quarters, with closets and seating area.  The top of the spiral staircase is visible on the right, illuminated by east windows.  Photo: George F. Mand Library. 

Company Journal, Engine Company No. 25

A company journal for the morning of April 26 1895, recording fire alarms, firemen leaving and returning to quarters, and deliveries of coal.   This journal, of Engine Company 25, is on display in the FDNY Training Center on Randall's Island.  Larger image

Tried for Brewery Visit General Orders No. 7, 1884

In 1884, General Orders No. 7 directed captains to forbid card-playing and other games after midnight.

Firemen and fire engine on 113th Street

Posing with a puppy and a kitten on 113th Street wtih Engine 47 in the background.  Photo: George F. Mand Library.

Fire house : men in a firehouse sitting around table reading, case for Traveling Library between them.

A photograph of firemen in 1910 with a library bookcase on the table.  It does not identify the company, and though it is not Engine 47 quarters, it is clearly taken on the third floor of LeBrun designed firehouse, with the windows, pressed tin ceiling and cabinets. Larger image.

On April 1st, 1891, Engine Company No. 47 moved north to occupy the new firehouse on 113th Street.   The payroll for that month lists these members of the company: Foreman Lawrence Murphy, Assistant Foremen Samuel Reeve and Henry Schuck, Engineers James H. Hood and James Young, and Firemen Washington Ryer, Charles Shordon, James K. P. Robinson, Michael Strout, Rossman Huested, William Donnelly, William Corcoran, and Edward J. Browne. [1]

Continuous Duty

From 1865 to 1920, firemen in New York City served continuous duty, which meant they served 24 hours a day, with three hours off for meals.  These three hours (sometimes only two and a half) were their only chance to leave the firehouse to see their families.   In 1891 firemen received one day of leave for every ten days worked and 14 days of vacation each year.  Many attempts were made to secure a two-platoon system to give fireman a more normal life with their families.  In 1903, Mayor Seth Low vetoed a two-platoon bill that had passed both houses of the legislature, though the Fire Department did increase the force to give firemen three leaves of 36 hours and three leaves of 24 hours each month. [2]

Continuous duty finally ended when the two platoon system was adopted in 1919 (General Orders 12, Oct 7) and was fully implemented by October 1920.  Under the two platoon system, firemen served either 9am to 6pm or 6pm to 9am [3] and received 24 hours leave after every 6 tours of duty. [4]  Engine Company No. 47 made the transition to the two-platoon system in January 1920.

Rules and Regulations

The Rules and Regulations, reissued in 1881 and frequently updated by General Orders, governed all aspects of life in the firehouse and at fires.  They included directions for officers and firemen, and detailed instructions on the care of apparatus and horses. [5]

House Watch

One fireman was always on watch duty.  He was required to sit at the watch desk and record everything that happened during his shift in the company journal.  The fireman on watch duty remained at the firehouse and did not leave to fight fires.  The Rules and Regulations gave precise instructions for the Housewatchman (General Orders 19), and for making reports in the company journal (General Orders 13). 

Each firemen had a tour of duty on house watch.  There were 5 tours of duty, 8am to 1pm, 1pm to 6pm, 6pm to midnight, midnight to 6am, and 6am to 8am.  Two firemen worked the night shift, and they were responsible for caring for the horses and keeping the equipment running.

Discipline

Firemen were subject to trial before the Fire Commissioner for violating regulations.  The City Record and city newspapers often listed the disposition of these trials.  Punishments usually included the loss of pay or leave time, and those found guilty were sometimes transferred to another fire station.

In this article from 1910, Battalion Chief Howe found firemen drinking at the Bernheimer & Schwartz Brewery at 126th and Amsterdam.  Thomas Bennett though not present at the brewery, had been on watch duty and was found guilty of neglect for failing to record that William Barron had left quarters, and was fined three days pay.  The firemen found in the brewery were charged with conduct prejudicial to good order.[6]  

Department Regulations specifically prohibited entering a "place where spiritous, malt, or intoxicating beverages of any kind are sold, for meals or for any purpose whatever, except in the strict discharge of public duty." [7]

Leisure

When not fighting fires, serving watch duty, caring for horses, equipment, or the firehouse; delivering messages, patrolling the neighborhood, or inspecting hydrants and alarm-boxes,  firemen gathered on the third floor of quarters.  Chairs, except for the housewatchman's chair, were not permitted on the apparatus floor or in front of the firehouse.

Cards and Games

The 1881 rules specifically forbade gambling in quarters, but made no other mention of card playing.  In 1884 the rules were amended to forbid card playing after midnight. [8]

Pets

The rules permitted a single pet (cat, dog, or bird) but not more than one, though this does not seem to have been widely enforced. 

 

Libraries

In 1898, The New York Free Circulating Library began lending books to fire stations through its Traveling Library Department.  Three years later it merged with the New York Public Library, which continued the work through its Travelling Library Office, publishing circulation statistics in its Annual Report.  In 1902, 142 books were circulated to Engine Company No. 47, by 1909 the number had grown to 254 books. [9]

In 1911, Rev. Edward Knapp, a Fire Department chaplain, successfully applied to Margaret Olivia (Mrs. Russell) Sage for a gift of $10,000 to purchase technical books “dealing with subjects the firemen meet in their civil service exams” and for bookcases in which to keep them.  These technical books would belong to each firehouse and supplement the popular literature circulated by the New York Public Library.  The new bookcases would be large enough to house both collections, [10] and New York Public Library was charged with selecting these technical titles for the new Sage Memorial Library cases. [11]

The three Fire Department chaplains presented Mrs. Sage with this resolution of thanks:

"This gift will prove of inestimable benefit to every member of the fire department; will do much to stimulate the mental development of the men; will go far toward relieving the monotony of their life in quarters; and in every way will influence them to a better conception of their work and duties." [12]

 

[1] City Record Supplement (1891) unpaginated.

[2] Schweppe, Emma.  The Fireman's and Patrolman's Unions in the City of New York.  (New York: King's Crown Press, 1948), p. 65;  The Annual Report (1903, p. 11) lists the new leave policy, which was only extended to firemen, not to officers.

[3] New York Fire Department Annual Report (1919): 32.

[4] Meek, Clarence.  A Random History of the Fire Department of the City of New York.  Typescript.  George F. Mand Library.  p. 112.

[5] New York Fire Department,  "Rules and Regulations."  Annual Report (1881): 7-147.

[6] "Tried for Brewery Visit." New York Times (August 9th 1910): 3.

[7] New York Fire Department.  Annual Report  (1881): 14.

[8] New York Fire Deparment.  Annual Report (1884): 35.

[9] New York Public Library Annual Report (1902): 26; New York Public Library Annual Report (1909): 102.

[10]   "Permanent Technical Library for New York Fire Department." Municipal Journal and Engineer 30 (March 1, 1911): 301.

[11] Hashagen, Paul.  Fire Department City of New York: The Bravest: An Illustrated History 1865-2002 (Paducah: Turner Pub Co., 2002) 245.

[12] I am grateful to Daniel Maye, librarian at the George F. Mand Library, for telling me about the Sage Memorial Library books and cases and for sending me copies of the bookplate, resolution of thanks, and circular 11, above.