Posts Tagged New York City Fire Department

A historical look … from NYC The Super Pumper System

A reader thought this article would be of interest to others … so forgive the out of area nature of the article:

In the early 1960s the New York City Fire Department was facing a host of problems. The world around them was growing ever taller, ever more compact, and ever more dangerous with respect to fire. There were times when the very infrastructure that was supposed to be supplying them the water to extinguish a blaze simply stopped flowing, there were other times that the equipment they had proved to be woefully insufficient to stop a fire that should have been controlled, resulting in massive blazes that ate up homes, businesses, lives, and millions upon millions of dollars. In April of 1963, a massive fire on Staten Island taxed the city’s fire service to the absolute breaking point while destroying millions and millions in property.

The day is still referred to as Black Saturday by the people who lived through it. Due to the lack of suitable water supplies, the fire was far larger than it should have been. There was a drought that year and many of the sources that the firemen were used to pulling water from had literally run dry. This began a series of events that led to the construction of the most powerful land based fire fighting truck ever created, the Mack Super Pumper System. It was actually five trucks that worked as a brigade to battle the worst flaming disasters that the city could throw at it.

From 1965 through the early 1980s, the Mack Super Pumper System responded to more than 2,200 calls with more than 900 firefighters serving to operate it in some capacity. The five trucks that made up the super pumper system were a massive, locomotive-engined central pumping truck, a tender truck full of hoses, manifolds, and other gear, and three satellite trucks that looked like standard fire engines but were not equipped with their own pumps. It cost the city of New York $875,000 when it was new and we’ll wager to say that it was probably the best money ever spent to keep Gotham safe. There’s never been anything else like it.

The pumping unit –

The keystone of the whole operation was the massive central pumping unit that could draw water from eight hydrants at once, drop lines into bodies of water, supply a mind-boggling number of lines with water simultaneously, and flow over 10,000 gallons per minute at low pressures if the situation called for it. When the pressure was ramped up to to 350psi, it could move 8,800 GPM. This was enough to supply the other satellite trucks as well as feed a massive water cannon on the tender truck that could heave water over 600ft. That’s right, nearly and eight of a mile in whatever direction you wanted it to go. How was this possible? It was possible because of innovations in diesel engine technology during WWII. The grunt for the Super Pumper system came from a Napier-Deltic diesel engine. This was an engine designed by the British during WWII as a lightweight, high speed means to propel their ships. Making 2,400 horsepower and even more prodigious torque numbers, the engine was “light” enough to be mounted in a trailer behind a tractor and carted around. The Napier-Deltic was used to power locomotives and other massive land craft as well for a while. The engine’s design is interesting in the fact that it had three crankshafts and was an opposed piston style engine meaning that the pistons travel at each other. With turbochargers and a two stroke design, it was as mighty a compact piston powered engine the world had ever known to that point. It was thirsty and noisy as well. When working at full song, the engine would consume 137 gallons of diesel fuel per hour and the noise was so deafening that firemen near the truck had to wear strong ear protection to prevent hearing damage.

Mack was awarded the contract to build the truck in 1964 and by the end of the year, the unit was nearly ready to hit the streets of NYC. The tractor employed to drag the pumping unit around was a F715FSTP cab over that used a 255hp Mack END864 engine. The top speed of the whole rig was 42mph but since it was intended for responding to calls in the city, high mph was not as much a concern as maneuverability, and the ability to zip around at lower speeds happily. There were custom built PTOs to power the priming pump for the water pump and to to run an air compressor that needed 450psi to light off the pump engine.

The custom built trailer housed the engine and all of the stuff needed to keep it alive like the cooling system, fuel tanks, etc. At the rear of the trailer was the enormous six stage pump which was built by a company called DeLaval and that’s where the real magic happened. When the big Deltic was put to work turning that bad boy, fire, at least any on the first 60 stories of a building, didn’t stand a chance. The whole rig weighed in at 68,000lbs and for as much reading and research as we have done, there are no accounts of it ever faltering, failing, or leaving firefighters without the resources they needed to battle a fire. Often times we read about awesome machines like this and discover that they were unreliable or prone to fail but not this big guy.

Some pretty stunning facts about the truck and the pumper:

At 8,800 GPM it was throwing nearly 70,000lbs of water on a fire per minute.

During a fire in the Bronx, firemen laid 7,000ft of hose to get to a suitable water supply and the truck pumped as though it was dipping its feet into the ocean.

In 1967 the Super Pumper responded to a fire at a postal annex in NYC and managed to supply water to the massive gun on the tender truck, its three satellite units, two tower ladder trucks, and a portable manifold with multiple hand lines all by itself.

The hoses on the truck were pressure tested to 1,000psi of pressure but typically operated anywhere in the 350-800psi  range depending on the situation. This is way higher (by several times!) what modern trucks use by our understanding. The hoses were a derivative of hoses developed by the Navy in WWII for high pressure applications and while incredibly heavy when compared to modern hoses, they were cutting edge at the time.

The truck still exists, living at a museum in Michigan and standing as a great reminder that human beings are amazingly inventive and creative beings when forced to find solutions to problems that endanger lots of lives or lots of valuable property!

thanks Dan

The article at includes several photos.

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Who was the first fire department?

In response to a recent thread about the first fire department … Drew Smith submitted the following:

Who is really the first? The first ever? The first paid? The first to be known by the name they use today? Here is some information that may help in this discussion.

Chicago: The city of Chicago was incorporated in 1833. At that time it had a volunteer FD. In 1858 the first paid FD was organized. Around 1993 there was a display in the main hallway of the Quinn Fire Academy that described the transition in the 1800s from volunteers to paid men.

Cincinnati: It is stated in several sources that in 1853 Cincinnati hired its first paid men and became an all-paid department.

Boston: The Boston Fire Department describes themselves as “first in the nation” stating is was formed in 1678 as a paid FD. According to these paid men were call men. In the book The History of the Boston Fire Department and Boston Fire Alarm System 1859-1973 brought to you by the Boston Sparks Association it appears that “permanent” men were added to various companies beginning around 1873 and that “call” members were used in whole or part for certain companies. It was not until 1909 that all of the call member were replaced with permanent members (pg. 34). Several sources describe 1859 as the beginning of the “modern” area of the BFD.

FDNY: The Fire Department of New York was formed following the revolutionary war and was all volunteer. It operated this way until 1865 when the Metropolitan Fire Department was formed and all paid men were hired. The MFD consisted of only Manhattan and Brooklyn as the other three boroughs had not yet been annexed into NYC. As they were volunteers in these boroughs, they were slowly replaced with paid men. In 1870 the MFD was abolished and the FDNY was reestablished. There are many more details to this contained in these two links.

Here is another interesting site:  What I find interesting is that many of these websites have the same exact verbiage so it is not clear who was the first to state certain “facts” and what reference can substantiate each fact.

The Civil War played a huge role in the development of the fire service as many firemen served in militias for their state and fought for the Union or Confederacy. The paramilitary concepts inherit to our modern-day practices take their roots from these men and their war experience.  If you are ever at the Gettysburg battle field, off of Sickles Avenue north of Wheatfield Road in the middle of a big field is a statue of a fireman and a soldier erected by the NYC volunteer firemen in tribute to those brothers who fought in the battle and gave their life.

 statue of a fireman and a soldier erected by the NYC volunteer firemen in tribute to those brothers who fought in the battle and gave their life.

A statue of a fireman and a soldier erected by the NYC volunteer firemen in tribute to those brothers who fought in the battle and gave their life. Drew Smith photo

 statue of a fireman and a soldier erected by the NYC volunteer firemen in tribute to those brothers who fought in the battle and gave their life.

The plaque below the statue. Drew Smith photo


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