The FDNY, the largest municipal fire department in the United States, has approximately 11,600 uniformed officers and firefighters and over 3,200 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 one of the largest subway systems in the world. 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.
The origins of the New York City Fire Department trace back to 1648 when the first fire ordinance was adopted in what then was the Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam. Hooks, ladders and buckets were financed through the collection of fines for dirty chimneys and a fire watch was established consisting of eight wardens which were drawn from the male population. An organization known as the prowlers but given the nickname the rattle watch patrolled the streets with buckets, ladders and hooks from nine in the evening until dawn looking for fires. Leather shoe buckets, 250 in all, were manufactured by local Dutch shoemakers in 1658, and these bucket brigades are regarded as the beginning of the New York Fire Department.
September 11, 2001 attacks
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. 343 FDNY firefighters and paramedics who responded to the attacks lost their lives.