By Mike Boucher S.I. CO

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 chemical engine.

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 corner.

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.

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