The following article appeared in the December 1, 1936 New York American.
Gerritsen Beach Volunteers Still Boast of Putting Out That Manhattan Fire
There's Still Plenty for Payless Blaze-Hunters to Do
Believe or not, there are still volunteer fire companies in little old New York.
The regular uniformed force of five boroughs consists of 360 companies, including the ten fire boats, with a total personnel of 6706 officers and men. Last year they answered 31,223 alarms. But there's still plenty of work for the volunteers.
There are seven companies in Staten Island that serve without pay and two in Queens, but the honors go to the boys of Gerritsen Beach, Brooklyn, for putting out the only fire in Manhattan fought by a volunteer company since 1865.
That Fateful June 22nd
It was June 22 last, after the convention of the Firemen's Association of the State of New York in Yonkers. The Gerritsen Beach Company was homeward bound with its shiny red engine that carries everything from pike poles to chemicals.
In front of 199 Allen Street, "Brownie," the airdale mascot, smelled smoke and barked an alarm. Gerritsen Beach Company moved into action and saved a blazing automobile from destruction. They then with reported the event to Engine Company 25 in East 5th Street. In their big record book once more went the notation "Fire out before the city apparatus arrived."
The Gerritsen Company was organized as a bucket brigade 1921, the year before the fire turned Averne, Queens, to ashes. Later they bought a second-hand reel cart, and today they have a big motor truck with 1000 feet of hose, extension and roof ladders, and a 250-gallon chemical tank.
Those Were the Days
In the old days before city mains were laid on the spit of land bordered on three sides by Jamaica Bay, the volunteers rolled to fires at least three times a week year round. Oil stoves and kerosene lamps accounted for most of the fires and water to fight them had to be pumped from wells. But Gerritsen Beach never lost a house. Today there are approximately 2500 homes housing 10,000 people in the region. Most of the buildings are wood.
With the exception of the volunteers, Gerritsen Beach had no nearby fire protection until October, 1930, when the city built the fire house which is the home of Engine Co. 321, at Gerritsen Avenue and Avenue U.
Dean of Company
The dean of the company is Charles Woods, 57, who still visits a physician every week for injuries received election night, five years ago. He was hit by an automobile while going to a fire.
The assistant chief of the volunteers is Henry J. Mulvehill, first cousin of Alfred E. Smith. His father, Peter H. Mulvehill, a fireman for 40 years, drove the first piece of three-horse apparatus in the city. It belonged to old Truck Co. 10 at 191 Fulton Street.
One of the proud memories of the company is the time Commissioner John J. Dorman visited the fire house October 3, 1928, and took his turn doing watch duty.
(Courtesy Andrea Eldred)
Last changed: July 27, 2003