Just off the corner of Steinway is 38-13 Northern Boulevard. It stands opposite the Standard Motor Products building, and at the foot of a bridge which carries Steinway Street into 39th Street and over the Sunnyside Yards.
Currently, the structure houses part of the NYPD’s ESU units: the Emergency Medical Squad. The building was originally a firehouse — the Hook and Ladder 66.
The earliest volunteer fire company in Newtown, the Wadownock Fire, Hook & Ladder No. 1, was organized in 1843. By 1902, there were 66 distinct volunteer fire departments in Queens. Nineteenth century Long Island City was served by (amongst others) the Astoria Engine Co., the Hunter Engine Co., the Mohawk Hose Co., and the Tiger Hose Co. In 1890, the legislature of New York State abolished the volunteer departments, seeking to create a paid and professional force of firefighters. In Long Island City, as many as nine units were created, and then reorganized in 1894, as rampant political corruption had rendered the new units impotent against all but the smallest blazes. This corruption was centered around Long Island City’s mayor — Patrick “Battleax” Gleason — or was at least blamed on him by his enemies in the press.
The critical date for this structure is January 1, 1898, when Long Island City joined in the municipality of the City of Greater New York, and its firefighters joined the FDNY.
In 1900, FDNY Commissioner JJ Scannell proposed a sweeping expansion of fire service citywide, but especially in underserved Long Island City. The Board of Estimate and Apportionment was asked to make funds available for infrastructure — specifically fire houses. Built concurrently with the landmarked Engine 158 fire house at 10-40 47th Avenue, the building was budgeted to cost $18,000 to build and complete in 1901, but ended up costing $23,000 when it was dedicated in 1905. The architecture firm which built it was Paris & Schroeder, who designed the Bowery YMCA and many other Tammany projects. Along with the Engine 158 structure, this building was designed and overseen by Ernest Flagg and Bradford Lee Gilbert. Check this link out, for some local FDNY color from 1899. Also:
- Architect Ernest Flagg’s page at wikipedia
- Pictures of his other work & Flagg’s plan to extend Manhattan’s grid
- Architect Bradford Lee Gilbert is discussed at Bradford Lee Gilbert.com, and here’s one of the few structures attributed to him that wasn’t part of a railroad.
The original captain of Ladder 66 was John J. Slattery and the firehouse was originally located at 443 Buckley Street (modern day 36th Street) which extended through the Sunnyside Rail yards. Torn down around 1906 when the modern borders of the Sunnyside yards were established, the firehouse was located just south of Jackson Avenue (which is now Northern Boulevard).
Horses towed the fire truck until approximately 1922, or so I am informed. The original fire trucks were Gleason & Bailey 50 foot Combination Chemical aerial Ladders. The first was an 1895 model and later Hook and Ladder 66 received a 1905 model.
In January of 1913, as FDNY assumed operation of citywide fire service, all Brooklyn and Queens fire companies had their unit numbers moved forward by 100 — thus Engine 158 became 258. Hook and ladder 166′s history gets a little hazy in the intervening years, and a unit with the 166 designation seems to still be extant in Brooklyn — but the history of the FDNY is best discussed by experts.
At some indeterminate point in the late 20th century, the building passed into the hands of the Police department which assigned an NYPD ESU Emergency Medical Squad to the premises.
ESU are the Green Berets of the NYPD, assigned the most challenging and dangerous jobs. Most are former United States Special Forces or U.S. Marines who bring ingenious skills and hard won experience to work every day. If you are in real trouble in New York City, the ESU is your personal Batman. Two fully loaded paramedic ambulances and a variety of specialized response vehicles are based here. ESU medical is commanded by a 35 year NYPD veteran and former Marine, Chief of Special Operations Charles D. Kammerdener.
Note: Special thanks to FDNY’s James Rooney for filling in details on this post.
Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman blogs at Newtown Pentacle