05/06/07 1304 W - + 20 - 12 Heap Big Fire Department

Near the end of 1912, Raleigh Fire Chief Sherwood Brockwell attended a school of instruction with the New York City Fire Department. His adventures were chronicled in New York World Magazine. The News & Observer reprinted the article some time later. The headline read BROCKWELL AND HEAP BIG FIRE DEPARTMENT. The second headline read New York World Describes Raleigh Chief's Enthusiasm at Big Blaze-- Discipline and Fearlessness Are Characteristic-- Companies Scuffle to Get Hose in First-- They "Know How to Lick a Fire".

Now for the higher education of a sterner kind. New York has her Columbia and New York universities, her College of the City of New York and her Fordham. But in the College of Fire and Smoke her students brave peril and excitement in daily tasks and her campus is the vast city, where the flames are busier every hour than any other place in the world.

The Empire city saps the vitality of sister cities by absorbing their most talented men, but in this case New York gives out the fullness of her riches. The underwriters have declared that the post-graduate for firemen maintained by the metropolis yearly saves the cities and towns of the United State[s] untold wealth by teaching the chiefs the high stand and proficiency gained here through superior experience.

Strategy tells. They know tactics here. The battled brings out the greatest generals. So to get where actual service counts most, the out of town fire commanders have taken the exhausting course in our colleges, and that is why there are several today working as no other student must work.

Captain Biggers of [Engine] 20 on Lafayette Street doesn't look like a professor. He is not spectacled and grave and he does not have that air of being detached from the world so familiar in less strenuous halls of learning. But he is one of the expert tutors in our unique university.

"Break in firemen here? You mean break in chiefs of other cities, don't you?" cried Biggers. "Got one here. Sherwood Brockwell-- queer name for a fireman-- chief of the Raleigh, N.C., department, and he"--

The crash of the alarm rang out. The man never lived who has outgrown the emotion that surges through him when he hears the thrilling call. Nerves tingled as the men sprang into action. With ease and grace the tough-fibered firemen sped down the brass pole from three stories above. One was at the wheel of the big motor in an instant, another had whirled the crank, still another had dropped the chain at the doors. The crew swung to positions on the truck. Out it screeched and roared across Lafayette street, headed for West Broadway.

And there among the privates in the ranks was the eager Brockwell. Not chief now, but one to take orders and work, work, work.

The papers next day told of the dash of Sherwood Brockwell into the furnace. Nobody dared more than he. But all the time Brockwell's keen eyes were taking in the details of the methods used by the learned professions in quelling that stubborn blaze.

"That certainly was a stiff fire," said Brockwell-- he is twenty-six and the youngest chief in the United States-- when at 1 o'clock in the morning he rolled in with the crew. He was caked with black grime. Gleaming teeth sparkled against the ebony background and his eyes flashed with the joy of battle. The student had been hours at his lesson.

"That blaze would have been a monster in our town," continued Brockwell, speaking in the soft, slurring accent of his birthplace. "But these here boys just took that beast by the horns, yanked him out and hit him right in the face. These boys certainly do know how to lick a fire."

The practical lesson in the college curriculum had been a splendid one. The fire had been in a six-story factory at No. 495 West Broadway. The roaring flames had dodge and twisted, slyly breaking out suddenly here and pretending to be crushed there. Two alarms had been necessary; the firemen had to stretch their hose across the elevated tracks.

That's the kind of laboratory New York provides for the students. The apparatus is of the most varied and complete kind and these are some of the courses Sherwood Brockwell is taking:

General fire fighting.
Use of apparatus and tools.
Engines and boilers.
Use of high pressure systems.
Marine fires.
Care of horses.
Care of hose.
Sapping and mining.
High tension electric current.
Combustibles and explosives.
Gasoline motor engineering.
Fire alarm telegraphs, including auxiliary systems.
Auxiliary fire apparatus.
First aid to injured.
Discipline and administration.

This is why many cities have been sending their chiefs and captains here, where a helmet and a rubber coat are the cap and gown. Hartford and Springfield, Mass., and Patterson, N.J., have recently gained thereby, and Chief May, of Charleston, S.C., is now taking his course. Captain William J. Cunningham, of Troy recently finished.

"My opinion," said Chief Brockwell, as, after the big fire, he finished washing the grime away, "about the New York fire department? There can be but on opinion. It's the greatest in the world. I knew that before I came here, but still you don't think there was such as class of men on earth as you've got. This isn't enthusiasm, it's fact."

"I didn't think any human being could stand smoke the way they do. They rush into it and work in it. They follow their captain's lantern, and what's more, they fight among themselves to see who'll be in first."

"Same way with getting the hose in. I've seen companies scuffle to see which would get in first. Their rule is 'Save a life, even if you lose your own.' That, sir, is an unwritten law in your department."

"Take these boys here. When that alarm rings and they rush out, there isn't one of them certain that he'll return alive. But they follow orders and risk death or injury. Each does what he's ordered to do until he drops, and if you praise him he'll think you're kidding. That's the makeup of the New York fireman, and when we fellows see them in action we're just naturally swept off our feet."

"There's another thing I can't get over. That is, how the men get along with so little sleep. Why, some nights they're out at fires three and four times. No sleep at all, you might say, night after night. And of course there's little sleeping here in the day time. No, sire, all day long the houses are open for inspection. The department is on a strictly military basis. The men are always on duty except for their weekly leave of absence."

"Look at them now. Wouldn't you think they'd be in bed after fighting that fire for three hours? But they take their time about going upstairs."

"Another thing I want you to put in strong," said the young chief, "say that they treat us strangers with open hearts and willing hands-- that's the phrase, 'Open hearts and willing hands.'"

"And," he laughed, "I took the 'initiation' and seems to me they gave it to me good. I was put 'under the blanket' and joined in 'the long-distance butting contents' all right. I wish I could tell you about it, but that's a secret and I want the next fellow to get his. The boys in this company call the initiation 'Instructing in Fire' but it's all fun. There's no danger in it as there sometimes is in college initiations."

"And now," said the chief, "I'll try to get some sleep and when I get back to Raleigh I'll try to make its department just as much like New York's as I can."

HAHAHAHA!!!!!! I’ll keep my comments to myself for once…...
Silver - 05/06/07 - 20:03

And another chance for someone to show their discontent.
Porter - 05/09/07 - 10:52

Porter, thanks for reading and responding.

Please explain or expand upon your comment.
Legeros - 05/09/07 - 18:06

bq.“There’s another thing I can’t get over. That is, how the men get along with so little sleep. Why, some nights they’re out at fires three and four times. No sleep at all, you might say, night after night. And of course there’s little sleeping here in the day time. No, sire, all day long the houses are open for inspection. The department is on a strictly military basis.

bq.“And,” he laughed, “I took the ‘initiation’ and seems to me they gave it to me good. I was put ‘under the blanket’ and joined in ‘the long-distance butting contents’ all right. I wish I could tell you about it, but that’s a secret and I want the next fellow to get his. The boys in this company call the initiation ‘Instructing in Fire’ but it’s all fun. There’s no danger in it as there sometimes is in college initiations.”

It’s just a shame how much of a pushover this education thing has become because the way I see it the true, dedicated professionals it takes to be a dept. like this is becoming a thing of the past.
pal - 05/09/07 - 19:05

Sorry Mike i was refering to Silver and his as usual pride in the dept he works for.
Porter - 05/09/07 - 19:09

Thanks for the explanation. Play nice please.
Legeros - 05/09/07 - 19:11

I think the article is outstanding and shows how the fire profession began. It makes me proud to know where the roots of the Fire Dept I work for came from. I hope in some aspect we are the equal to any dept in the country. that is in no way a slight on other depts in the area just pride in the one I work for.
Porter - 05/09/07 - 19:12

Yes sir
Porter - 05/09/07 - 19:12

Here’s the rest of that article.

Over at Engine No. 88 in Great Jones Street, Chief May, of Charleston, S.C., had the same story to tell and with just as much enthusiasm.

“I’ve fought fires for twenty years in my town,” said he, “but after a week with the boys here I certainly take off my hat to New York. I’ve been lucky enough to get three good works— this chief calls a fire a ‘worker’— and how your men can fight in the smoke is something I can’t figure out yet. It must be because they’re used to it and because they’re all healthy and powerful.”

“I got into that Gansevoort market fire— that was a three-alarm boy— and we had ammonia tanks to look out for, but the boys didn’t seem to care much whether they exploded or not. There were four fire boats at work and every one was needed, for a half dozen buildings went down and the flames wiped up about $200,000. Oh, I learned something about licking a fire that night and I saw how this department handles a big worker.”

“Those fellows go at a fire from the front. They don’t attack it from the rear, as they do in most other cities, unless it’s necessary. They just surround it and keep hammering away until they lick it. It’s that fearless front attack that gave the New York department its reputation.”

“Did I learn anything? Say, firefighters from another city can’t be in No. 33 for an hour without learning. The discipline and administration you observe is the big thing in itself. And the actual experience in tenement and cellar fires is of course invaluable.”

“I’m here to get hold of the whole system and I’m going to put Charleston’s on the same basis, as soon as I can. Say for me that the boys of the department are the huskiest, manliest crowd you can meet and that they don’t know the meaning of danger.”

“That’s right,” broke in Chief Thomas Coyle, of Patterson, who had dropped in to No. 33 to pay his respects to Chief Kenlon. “I took a course here at old No. 33 and in thirty days went to sixty-four firs, so I ought to know something about the way these fellows eat smoke. They’re the greatest in the world, that’s all I can say.”
Legeros - 05/09/07 - 19:17

Alas, they also lost 778 firefighters between 1865 and September 11, 2001. Biggest, baddest, and perhaps most dangerous
Legeros - 05/09/07 - 19:20

Just to clarify what I was saying; I catch more flack for my ideas, input or whatever else you want to call it. The radio straps, the “NY Roof Hooks, aka Cinni Hook”, at first received negative comments to which some turned positive. Though not perfect and I know they have there issues like everywhere else, something is to be learned from FDNY. Tech. rescue, hi-rise gigs, hazmat; they do it EVERY DAY. Some things I’ve seen/learned are from there, so I try to share the love. Just like if someone learned something from LA, Houston, Atlanta or wherever else, I’d hope they’d contribute and share as well.

It’s been said before, why re-invent the wheel when some things have been done for many, many years? Porter, it’s awesome to see Captains like yourself who are, what I consider, “the new breed”. The ones’ with new ideas (new for RFD), who are bringing them to the RFD, and not just training with them but putting them to use. Example; there was a conversation during a shift change one morning regarding daily station uniforms. Though there was NEVER a reference made to FDNY, a Southern gentleman involved in the conversation automatically assumed that one side of the conversation was based on the FDNY, and he was 100% wrong. So, why such an ill taste towards them? Is it the North/South thing, and we can’t forget “The War”?

I want the RFD to stand high above the rest, and for other departments to come here to see how we “do things”. With the EMS program in this city/county like it is, you can bet on that happening. Did that last e-mail not say that we are 3rd in the nation for resuscitations??!! That is freakin’ awesome, and we as a department need to keep the progression going!!! Especially since, what, 70% of our calls are medicals?!

That’s all I have, stay safe.
Silver - 05/10/07 - 09:45

Silver, I catch it at work as well. But 99% of the time I just let it slide. Hell, if they didn’t like you they wouldn’t even talk to you. Besides I bet they use the hell out of that roof hook when they get the chance. Same with the Yankee straps. I had smack talked to me about those, but a lot more guys have them now and love them. If another dept anywhere in the nation is doing something that can help us do our job, why not give it a try and see it is works. There are so many depts out there that do this job so much more than we do day in and day out that there are always tricks of the trade that we can pick up from them.

People are starting to come around in this area, it is just slow and frustrating sometimes.

Mike - 05/10/07 - 10:19

Has RFD changed their responses to fire alarms? Chief Stanford on WRAL stating that 3 engines, 1 ladder and a batt. chief respond, anyone clarify?
Guest - 05/10/07 - 13:11

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