CANARSIE 100 YEARS OF SERVICE ENGINE 257
Engine 57 was organized on December 15, 1897, along with Engine 51, 55
and Ladder 25. Engine 51 was placed in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Engine 55
and Ladder 25 were located in the Vanderveer Park Section, and Engine 57
in Canarsie. On the eve of consolidation, Brooklyn placed four fire
companies in service. These four companies would serve the shortest span
of any Brooklyn company, 17 days before becoming part of New York City..
Canarsie was named after the Indians who inhabited the land until it was
sold in the early 1680's. Then the early settlers and Indians lived
together for many years before the area stared to grow and Canarsie
remained a fishing village. It was considered part of the town of
Flatlands, which was the last town to be annexed by Brooklyn in 1895,
along with New Utrecht, Flatbush and Gravesend Neck. The law gave the
City of Brooklyn time to build firehouses, buy equipment and hire men.
Until such time the volunteer companies would continue to operate and
would be paid $1000 a year for their services.
Canarsie had three volunteer companies in service when they were replaced
by the paid system. Flatlands Engine 1 was placed in service in 1859;
located in a house on Rockaway Parkway with a Rosewood hand pumper (now
on display at the Fire Academy). Flatlands Hook & Ladder 1 was organized
on May 14, 1890, on East 95th Street near Conklin Avenue, now the site of
the Public Health Station. The last company organized was Canarsie Hose
Company 1 on October 14, 1891. The location for Hose 1 was on the south
side of Avenue "L" between East 94 and 95th Streets. Today the Canarsie
Hardware Store sits on this site. The three companies combined to create
the Flatlands Fire Department on June 24, 1892.
Brooklyn replaced all three volunteer companies with Engine 57. At the
time the City was not in a position to build a new house and wanted to
lease one of the Flatlands firehouses. Deputy Fire Commissioner Clarence
A. Barrow met with the President of the Volunteers. They went looking
for quarters to rent for Engine 57. They picked out Engine 1's house at
1400 Rockaway Parkway as the best suited for the paid men. The Flatlands
Volunteers voted not to lease the building to the City because they would
not have a place to meet and socialize once they were disbanded.
A building was picked just outside town, on Rockaway Parkway just north
of Battle Lane (now Trucklemans Lane). The building at 1517 Rockaway
Parkway had been the home of the Moore Funeral Home from around 1890
until 1897. For a time it was used as the town morgue for Canarsie. The
building was a two story framed building with a single apparatus door for
the rigs to exit. A unique feature of this house was a large rounded bay
picture window next to the apparatus door. Engine 57 went in service on
December 15 with ten men. Eight of these men came from the 130-member
Flatlands Volunteer Department, allowed by the annexation law.
One hundred years ago the life of a fireman was a hard one. He would work
24 hours a day for six days and have the seventh day off. He could go
home for meals twice a day. During his hours at the firehouse the time
was taken up with housewatch duty, hydrant inspection, messenger service,
detail to other company for meals, house cleaning chores, taking care of
the horses, and occasionally, a fire run. The salary for a first grade
fireman was $900 a year or $17.28 a week for the 144 hour work week
Because of the remoteness of the area, Engine 57 did not at first receive
a steam fire engine. In the beginning the company responded with an 1897
Gleason and Bailey 50-foot combination chemical tank and hook & ladder
truck along with an 1871 Amoskeag two wheel hose reel.
On January 1, 1898, New York City, which included the Bronx, and the
Cities of Brooklyn, Long Island City, parts of western Queens county and
Staten Island would merge into the Greater City of New York. Engine 57
along with the rest of the Brooklyn Fire Department, would merge with the
F.D.N.Y. on January 28, 1898. On October 1, 1899, Engine 57 became Engine 157 to avoid confusion with Engine 57 in Manhattan. Engine 157 would be renumbered
again on January 1, 1913, to Engine 257.
Some time after the merger of the Cities, FDNY placed an 1898 American
4th size steamer in service with Engine 57. The annual report for 1898
does not show Engine 57 having a steam engine or a ladder truck assigned
to the company. The report does have an unknown type of chemical engine
assigned and a hose wagon. Reports from 1899 through 1907 show the
company having a steam engine, hose wagon and a ladder truck but no
Engine 57 had a very large area to respond and protect. They ran in with Engine 31 (now 231) to the north, to the east was Engine 25 (now 225), then on Liberty Avenue & Cleveland Street, southwest was Engine 46 (now 246) and to the west was Engine 55 (now 255). Today they respond with Engines 283, 290, 309, 310, and 323; all put in service between 1913 and 1932
The firemen of Canarsie had been requesting new quarters to replace the
temporary one they were occupying for some time. They had the help of the
Brooklyn Eagle newspaper, which reported on the current condition of the
house in the October 26, 1906 edition. The building was in such a
dilapidated condition that it was ready to collapse. The outside left
wall was bulging out, and the stalls for the horses were rotting and
decaying away. The hayloft was broken on one end and, at any time, it
could fall into the stalls. The second floor sleeping rooms were poorly
ventilated, with four of the six rooms having no windows. The apparatus
floor was cramped for the three pieces of apparatus. The house was unfit
for man or beast.
The City of New York, knowing the poor conditions of some of the Brooklyn
houses, went on a building program. They started building new brick
houses to replace the many wood frame houses that Brooklyn had been
leasing as fire stations. The Fire Department bought a lot measuring 80
feet by 100 feet deep on October 9, 1903, for the future home of Engine
157. New York paid the estate of Leonard Eppig $1,500 for the corner lot
at Rockaway Parkway and Avenue "F" (now Farragut Road).
Because of the large building program the Department had undertaken it
would take time to get funds to build all the houses that were being
needed. The busier companies had their station built first, and with the
slower ones to be built later. Engine 157 responded to only nine alarms
during the year 1898 and only 35 runs in 1903. By the time they would
move into the new building the company would be responding to 62 runs a
year. Today, Engine 257 responds to over 4,000 runs a year.
The new fire station has three bays for the exit of the apparatus onto
Rockaway Parkway, and is two stories in height. Peter Guthy was the
contractor, and it cost $49,668 to build. The firehouse opened on
February 1, 1908 with the three pieces of apparatus. Sometime during the
year an 1898 Holloway Chemical Engine was added from Ladder 23.
The apparatus floor had room for a ladder truck on the south side of the
building. The center bay housed the engine and hose wagon, and the north
bay had room for the chemical engine and another hose wagon. Between each
apparatus were the stalls for twelve horses, with the feed room for the
horses in the center rear of the building. The house watch was located on
a platform between the engine and ladder truck. The second floor was
divided into three rooms The first room on the left as you walked up the
stairs was the recreation room, with six wall lockers, bathrooms and the
door for the hose tower. The middle room was the dormitory and eighteen
lockers. The officers occupied the smaller third room in the front
The big house on Rockaway Parkway has been home for several other
companies over the years. One of the first was the chemical engine. Not a
separate company, it was assigned to Engine 157 in 1908 and probably was
used by them until receiving the first motorized hose wagon in 1916. On
October 18, 1929, Engine 257 was disbanded as a Combination company and
reorganized as a single engine company. The members assigned to the 1921
White Pirsch ladder truck, then in use by Engine 257, were organized into
Ladder 170. With the area still being rural, Ladder 170 would not have
received an aerial ladder truck until May 4, 1932.
Due to the size of the building, it was always used for storage of
apparatus. On June 9, 1956, a brush fire unit was added to the house.
Brush Fire 56 would respond with men detailed during the brush season.
The unit proved its usefulness during the brush season. Ten more such
units were requested in the next budget. The rigs were not purchased and
Brush Fire 56 was disbanded on April 12, 1963. Ambulance 2 moved in next
on September 2, 1967, from Engine 247's quarters on 60th Street and 13th
Avenue. The Ambulance would be relocated to Engine 280's house on
December 14, 1968.
Division 15 responded from here from August 5, 1968 to September 5, 1975.
They had been located at Engine 233 and returned back to 233. Today
Battalion 58 has been responding from here since December 14, 1995. They
had been located at Engine 310.
In one hundred years Engine 257 has responded to thousands of runs during
its career. Most of them would be forgotten by the end of the month, but
a few would be remembered for years. Two of the most memorable are!
On January 29, 1934, around 7:30 in the morning with reported winds
gusting to 56 miles per hour which fanned a fire that had started in the
Wissmeier's Hotel at Schenck Avenue and Rockaway Parkway. By the time the
five-alarm fire was out it would spread to the Manno Hotel, the Shore Inn
and to the Golden City Amusement Park and continue to the waters of
Jamaica Bay. A total of fifteen-frame buildings were destroyed along a
half-mile stretch. The dollar loss was around $60,000. Nineteen firemen
were injured; seven when a wall fell on them, the others receiving
frostbite as the temperature had dropped 52 degrees in seventeen hours to
a cool five degrees.
The largest oil fire in the City since the Standard Oil fire in 1919
started on May 10, 1962. The Sinclair Oil Terminal in Mill Basin caught
fire while workmen were working on a leaking pipe. Gasoline fumes were
ignited and spread very rapidly through out the plant. Two storage
tanks, each holding 50,000 gallons of gasoline, were ignited along with a
store house holding petroleum products and the loading docks. The
companies worked hard for three hours protecting ten other gasoline
storage tanks holding over 1 million gallons. Fire companies from all
over Brooklyn and Queens responded along with foam fire trucks both from
the Navy's Floyd Bennett field and the Brooklyn Army Base. The fifth
alarm fire and a Simultaneous Call (3rd alarm for Queens Box 1749) would
be required before the fire was brought under control.
Three members of Engine 257 have paid the supreme sacrifice, and giving
their lives while in the performance of their duty. The three were;
Captain James L. Haviland, died on January 15, 1905, Fireman Fred Fempel,
was killed on January 25, 1919, while serving his country after World War
1 and Fireman Frank Fiederlein died on August 31, 1945.
Three members of the Rockaway Parkway house have been honored for
bravery, one from Engine 257 and two from Ladder 170. Fireman 2nd Grade
Alfred J. Lees of Ladder 170 received the Brooklyn Citizens Medal for
rescuing a man from drowning at the foot of Rockaway Parkway on March 28,
1940. Fireman 1st Grade Peter J. Bacenet of Engine 257 while off duty
rescued an aged amputee in a wheelchair from the third floor of the fire
building. He received the Thomas Crimmins Medal. Firefighter 1st Grade
Mark G. Boyd received a medal for rescuing of a lady from the third floor
window and was awarded the Steuben Association Medal
The house is proud of its medal recipients and the pride also extends to
its softball team which won the Brooklyn Championships and to Firefighter
Matthew James who is currently the Brooklyn Trustee for the UFA
For the past one hundred years, Engine 257 has seen many changes, from horse-pulled apparatus to motorized apparatus, from two-tone green rigs of the Brooklyn Fire Department to red & white rigs of today, a 144 hour work week to a 40 hour week. The one thing that has remained the same all these years has been the dedication of the members of Engine 257 to the people of Canarsie. No matter what the need, a broken bone, or the putting air in a child's bike tire, the firehouse on Rockaway Parkway is ready. Congratulations on the first one hundred years of service to the people of Canarsie and New York City.
Go to page two
Return to Mike Boucher's F.D.N.Y. History Page