Volume 18 • Issue 19 | Sep. 30 - Oct 06, 2005

Downtown Express photos by Elisabeth Robert

Milo Penning, 3, left, and Kate Steifman, enjoyed the day’s activities outside the Duane St. firehouse Sept. 25. Ladder 1 and Engine 7 were celebrating 100 years on Duane St.

After 200 years, Ladder 1 celebrates a mere century on Duane St.

By Caitlin Eichelberger

Without the noise of the modern city, the red trimmed windows and arched granite entryways of the Tribeca Firehouse on Duane Street would suggest another time.

Friends and family of Engine 7 and Ladder 1 celebrated 100 years of their firehouse residence at 104 Duane St. in a Sunday afternoon street fair outside the firehouse on the block between Church St. and Broadway. The day, however, was about remembering more than the last century.
Longtime Ladder 1 member Steve Olsen, has taken a keen interest in the history of not only the Duane St. firehouse, but also the history that stretches back nearly another two centuries, the company He began his research eight years ago and he said 9/11 confirmed the importance of his inquiry.

“After 9/11, I was working that day, I barely survived with my life, so I know you can go out at any time, and the whole thing is that I’ve learned so many things in my life as a firefighter, and I wanted to pass them on and the way to do that is to pass on the history,” he said.

All of the firehouse’s men were able to escape the towers on 9/11.

Established in 1772, Ladder 1 was the city’s first ladder company, and since their inception, they have continued to be trailblazers in the field. In 1832, the company was the first to convert from a manpower hand drawn apparatus to a horse drawn apparatus. Over a century later, in 1964, Ladder 1 received the city’s only Mack tower ladder. For the next two years, Ladder 1 was special called to every major fire until another one was purchased in 1966.

Ladder 1 moved into the Duane St. firehouse in December of 1905. In the 150 years preceding the move, six other stations housed what is known today as Ladder 1, including 26 and 34 Chambers St., 28 Chambers St., one on Beaver St. near Broad St., Wall St., Whitehall St. opposite Bowling Green, and in the years before and after the Revolutionary War, on Fair St. (Fulton St.) near King St. (Nassau St.). The city of New York purchased the Duane St. lot in 1903 for $320,000. The firehouse’s facade was designed to mimic municipal buildings, commanding more authority, unlike earlier firehouses that more nearly resembled a barn.

Living and working in a barn, then, is what the firehouse members did while awaiting an alarm. Members were accustomed to odors and flies while working 24 hours a day, fifteen days in a row, in the mid 19th century. By the turn of the century, members of the company were working five days in a row with one off, and their pay surpassed $1,000 a year for the first time. It wasn’t until Ladder 1 replaced its horses in 1914 with a Christie front wheel tractor that living conditions began to improve, even in the new firehouse, less than 10 years old.

Though the working conditions at the station have changed, others remain constant. Like in the winter of 1904 when Ladder 1 traveled to Baltimore to assist in a widespread fire capable of destroying the entire city, firefighters are now in New Orleans assisting in the city’s recovery efforts.

Fire commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta said at the ceremony preceding the afternoon festivities that this firehouse is “one of the most honored, in the department.”

In the combined years since Ladder 1, Engine 7 and Battalion 1 have been in service, over 2,000 firemen have passed through. And although the faces of the firehouse have come and gone in the last 100 years since Ladder 1 and Engine 7 moved into Duane St., the character of the house continues.

“The house changes, all the guys change, but all the personalities are the same. I have the same comedian, it’s just a different face. It changes, but it’s all the same too,” Olsen said.

Gedeon and Jules Naudet, the French filmmakers shadowing Ladder 1 and Engine 7 on 9/11, received recognition Sunday by the firehouse. Deputy assistant chief Joseph Phiefer, whom Jules called his personal hero, presented the award.

“It is family to me,” Jules said of the firehouse, where he was married.


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