Wearing their Fire Helmets backwards…

Why are these Dogs wearing their helmets backwards…
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 Jacobus Turck of New York City is credited with inventing the first fire cap around 1740. It was round with a high crown and narrow rim and was made of leather. A man named Mathew DuBois improved the design by sewing iron wire into the edge of the brim to give the helmet shape and strength, and provide resistance to heat, moisture, and warping.

The more familiar “modern” helmet was developed between 1821 and 1836, by a gentleman named Henry T. Gratacap, a luggage maker by trade, and a volunteer firefighter by choice. He brought his professional skills to his volunteer duty, creating a helmet made of leather that was specially treated to provide unequalled durability and withstand wetness without rotting – many of the same qualities he’d built into his successful luggage designed for ocean travel.

Moreover, Gratacap designed the first “eight comb” (a design composed of eight segments) fire helmet. It was named the “New Yorker” and officially adopted by the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) in the late 1800s. Made of Western cowhide a quarter-inch thick, the peaked shape was reinforced with leather strips which rise like Gothic arches inside the crown.

The Gratacap design also introduced the long duckbill, or beavertail, which sticks out at the rear. While the original purpose was to keep water from running down the firefighter’s neck, these helmets were sometimes worn backwards so the beavertail would protect its wearer from the searing heat encountered while fighting fire. Some early Tillermen would also wear them backwards to protect their faces from rain and snow, since they were exposed to the elements in their seat at the back of the aerial ladder trucks.

Later, the Cairns Brothers, who operated a metal badge, button and insignia company in New York City, offered a useful modification – mounting an identification badge to the front of Gratacap’s helmets. Sometime around 1825, a more ornamental touch was added, an eagle was mounted atop the crest. The idea for the eagle derived from a cemetery monument for a firefighter that had been created by a sculptor; there was no history or significance to it, but it captured the imagination and fancy of firefighters and so became part of the Leather Helmet story.

Gratacap and the Cairns Brothers worked together until Gratacap’s retirement in 1850, at which time a renamed Cairns & Brother took over the legacy and continued to lead the development of firefighter helmet technology.



Five-story loft building collapse-Feb. 18, 1963

Feb. 18, 1963. At 2:43 in the afternoon, a water tank on the roof of a five-story loft building collapsed and fell six stories into the basement. The plunging tank pulled the flooring and equipment on each floor with it into the basement. Box 308 was transmitted and Brooklyn companies raced to 61 Clymer St. With reports of a man pinned in the wreckage Fireman Bethel of Ladder 119 entered the dangerous collapse area. Bethel worked his way through the fallen timbers and debris. He found the imprisoned man, then sawed through a beam freeing him. He carefully lifted the man to safety.
For his heroic actions Fireman Bethel was awarded an FDNY medal of valor.10906310_624725727632185_8561194004835804313_n

Chief Edward F. Croker

It is difficult to sum up the career of Edward Franklin Croker in this limited amount of space. Appointed to the FDNY on June 22, 1884 at the age of twenty-one, he shocked everyone with his promotion to Assistant Foreman (now called Lieutenant) just forty-seven days later and with equal speed to Foreman (today’s Captain) on February 25, 1885. This rapid advancement was said to have been for one reason only; that he was the nephew of the most powerful political figure in New York City at the time, Richard Croker, head of Tammany Hall (who served as a fire commissioner 1883-1887.) And while this might be true, the fact was that over the next twenty-seven years, Chief Croker proved himself, time and time again, to be an outstanding firefighter and leader.

On January 22, 1892 Foreman Croker became Battalion Chief Croker. Being named Chief of Department on May 1, 1899, the specter of nepotism was cast upon him but he went on to fulfill his role with extreme diligence. He was the first Chief of Department who did not serve during the volunteer period. He was also the first Chief to use an automobile to respond to alarms.

In 1902, Chief Croker returned to work only several days into a two-month vacation. A vacation of such length was unusual but deemed justified for the hard-working Chief. In granting it, Commissioner Thomas Sturgis re-assigned other chiefs within the Department to cover Croker’s absence. But when Croker returned to work less than two weeks later and sent the chiefs back to the original assignments, the Commissioner saw it as an overstepping of bounds and a rescinding of the orders of a higher authority. Sturgis relieved Croker of command and preferred formal charges. A two-year court battle ensued with a final decision in Croker’s favor resulting in his re-instatement.

Croker epitomized the dichotomy of the fire service; that is to put their expertise to use in fire prevention. He was an outspoken advocate of improving fire safety throughout the City’s commercial and residential buildings. As early as 1894 he testified before the Tenement House Committee that a fatal fire was due, in part, to “the combustible nature of the building and its open construction.” The culmination of this was when he used the fatal sweatshop fire in Newark, New Jersey to once again call attention to the threat of such a catastrophe being repeated in New York. Just four months later it did at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company. As a result, he retired and turned over command of the Department on May 1 to Chief John Kenlon. Croker spent the next forty years in the fire prevention business. His company was a leader in the field and exists to today. In 1912 he authored the seminal book, “Fire Prevention.”

His life was both colorful and tumultuous. Family history not withstanding, he was the frequent subject of news coverage as much for his personal life as for his position in the fire department. He went through a contentious separation from his wife in 1908, though they never divorced. In 1914 he built a “completely fire-proof” house in Long Beach, Long Island, said to be the first of its kind in the country. The house warming party he held there was covered in the New York Times.

Chief Croker was a resident of Amityville, Long Island when he died on February 7, 1951 of chronic myocarditis at Tenderling Nursing Home in Lindenhurst. His body was cremated and his remains were turned over to his estranged wife. Their final disposition of are unknown.

Chief Croker’s maternal grandfather was Thomas Franklin who was a member of the NYFD beginning in 1783, serving as Chief from 1811 through 1824.

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Manhattan subway fire January 6 1915

One Hundred Years Ago- Today:
It was 8 in the morning on January 6, 1915, when Manhattan fire alarm Box 570 was transmitted for a fire in the subway. Units rushed to Broadway and 53rd Street where they encountered a major fire and emergency.
A relatively small fire originated in a splicing chamber where numerous electric cables were collected. These cables were covered with inflammable insulating materials including combinations of cotton and tars. The fire was limited to these cables, but a thick, noxious and deadly smoke filled the subway tube for blocks. Arriving FDNY units, without the benefit of breathing protection, entered the smoke filled subway to locate the fire and remove the thousands of people stuck within the dark smoky subterranean tunnel.
As the fire burned, clouds of thick smoke laced with phosgene and chlorine gas filled the tracks and station. Thousands of rush hour passengers were choking and gasping for breath. Two trains were stalled in the tunnel between stations and firemen pressed into the deadly mixture in search of those trapped. Above, every effort was made to ventilate the tracks below. Gratings were removed along the sidewalks to help elevate the noxious smoke. A second alarm was transmitted and then 200 additional firemen, without apparatus were called to the scene.
Despite the best efforts of the firemen, a panic swept through many passengers only making matters worse. In all more than 200 people were rescued and hospitalized. One person died and dozens of firemen were overcome by the smoke.
Tomorrow: The FDNY’s answer to this new and deadly problem.10868095_626227187482039_2010415101360450188_n 10924384_626227184148706_6221901532479358604_o 10915302_626227357482022_6806716771833514396_n