Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Fire Department

Georgi found several records about Grandpa William McNally's working life. He had delivery jobs as an iceman and a coalman before he joined the New York City Fire Department in March, 1909 when he was 27. She found his service record, which listed him with the following companies.

  • March 1909- Hook & Ladder Company 53
  • January 1913- Hook & Ladder Co. 103 (Number change rather than transfer)
  • July 1933- Hook & Ladder # 158
  • April 1938- Special Service Squad Division Licensed Places of Public Assembly
  • December 1945 - Retired

19th-century view of Grandpa's Ladder Company #3, later the 53 and 103.
The building may be the same one remodeled in the picture below.

Underneath the facade in this 1997 photograph
of the building at 183 Concord Street
 is supposed to be the old Hook and Ladder Station #3.

The record is confused by the companies' name changes, but after looking at online department histories here is what I've been able to figure out.

McNally joined the Hook and Ladder Company #53 (the old #3) when it was located at 183 Concord St. in downtown Brooklyn. In January 1913 several new companies were added and the old companies were renumbered so the 53 became the 103. It looks as if he spent most of his career (24 years) at the fire station on Concord St. This is the job he had during the years most of the children were born. The station wasn't far from the neighborhood on Adelphi Street.

Hook & Ladder Company 103 at 480 Sheffield in 1937.
William McNally worked at this new station for less than a year after the company moved here.
The truck is a Seagrave 85' ladder.
Hook & Ladder 103 on Sheffield. It was closed in 1974.

In 1932 Ladder #103 moved to 480 Sheffield in a Brooklyn neighborhood called East New York. McNally transferred to Hook and Ladder #158 in Queens the next year, probably because he wanted to be closer to home. Georgi figured they moved to Queens Village sometime between the birth of the youngest Tommy in 1929 and the 1930 census which found them in Queens.

I designed this quilted tribute to Grandpa and the Fire Department of New York after 9/11, based on some antique quilt blocks. I added Timmy the Dalmatian fire dog. (Jane is going to write more about Timmy.)

A 19th-century fire department badge

Now that I've read some Fire Department history I realize that William McNally worked in a Hook and Ladder Company, not an engine or pumping company.When he joined the department in 1909 they were making the transition from horse drawn equipment to motorized. In 1910 the company obtained a 65 foot motorized Seagrave Aerial truck.

Top: Seagrave employees showing off a new ladder truck about 1900. Bottom: A longer horse-drawn ladder apparatus in New York City (where you need long ladders.)

A motorized Seagrave ladder truck in Seattle, 1911.

Hook & Ladder Company #158 in Queens
Grandpa worked here about 5 years in the 1930s.

Having a brother-in-law who was Police Commissioner of New York City from 1934-1945 couldn't have hurt his career. In 1938, when he was about 57, he transferred to the Special Service Squad, Division of Licensed Places of Public Assembly, where he apparently was responsible for fire prevention rather than fire fighting. Their mission: "Enforcing all laws and Rules of the Board of Standards and Appeals in relation to the protection against fire and panic, obstruction of aisles, passageways and means of egress, standees, fire prevention and fire extinguishing appliances and fire prevention in all licensed places of public assembly."

This last job seems to have had a lasting effect on at least one of his children. My mother Cele never went into a "place of public assembly" without pointing out the fire exits to us. In 1945 Grandpa retired from the Fire Department at 64, about the same time Lewis Valentine retired as Police Commissioner.

My mother took pride in her father's job with the Fire Department of New York. She always implied they were the bravest men in the world. It may take courage and skill to fight fires in Dubuque but New York City with it's giant factories, office buildings, tenements and theaters was the ultimate challenge.

Read about Ladder Company #103 in The Pride of Sheffield Avenue by Mike Boucher



  1. Who's Timmy? Was he a firehouse dog Grandpa had before Teddy & his son, Smokey?

  2. Timmy was my first dog, a dalmatian just like a firehouse dog. I thought Grandpa had a dog named Timmy and that's why we named our dog the same. Were Teddy and Smokey dalmatians?

  3. Yes, Teddy and Smokey were both dalmations. Teddy was the dog at the firehouse where Grandpa worked and when Teddy was "retired" Grandpa took him home. As the firehouse dog Teddy would run before the fire truck to clear traffic. Mom said that when they all piled into the car to go to church, Teddy would run in front of the car. She said everyone knew them - first came the dog, then came McNally and his kids. Smokey was Teddy's son, and was more my Mom's dog. She trained him and took care of him. She even taught him to stand on his hind legs and shadowbox with her.

  4. Well, I guess that's Teddy the firehouse dog. Any one have any pictures? I found two in our album.