History of the Troy, NY Fire Department

‘Philadelphia’ style hand engine On January 5, 1789 a group of freeholders met at Ashley’s Tavern and changed the name of ‘Ashley’s Ferry’, their recently settled community on the banks of the Hudson River, to Troy. By 1791 Troy became a town, and in the same year the larger Village of Lansingburgh to Troy’s north purchased a ‘Philadelphia’ style hand engine. All was generally well in the small town called Troy until the afternoon of October 6, 1793 when fire destroyed 14 houses and stores. This loss stirred the citizens of Troy into action, Subael Gorham was appointed Superintendent of the settlement’s fire hooks, axes and ladders, and an act of the New York State Legislature compelled the citizens to purchase buckets and firefighting tools.

A second fire at the NW corner of State and River Streets in Asa Anthony’s Store, during the early hours of December 12, 1797, spread and destroyed the hardware store of Benjamin Heart. Early the next year Troy incorporated into a Village and purchased a Newsham style hand engine from a New York dealer. It arrived on a Hudson River sloop and was housed in a small wooden building to the south of the courthouse. In 1799 a narrow shed to house the village hooks and ladders was erected in the center of State Street.

A second engine company, Neptune Engine No. 2 was organized in 1803 and housed on the NW corner of State and Third Streets. A large fire which started at midnight March 18, 1810 destroyed an entire block of business buildings on the east side of River St. from Congress St. to State St. Mutual aid was utilized for the first time with help from the villages of Lansingburgh and Waterford. In 1812 a third engine company, the Washington Volunteers, purchased an engine capable of taking ‘suction’ from a cistern or other standing water source through a hose, a great improvement on the earlier engines which had to be supplied by a bucket brigade in order to pump water through their deck mounted nozzle. Rapid growth of the Village resulted in Troy’s incorporation as a city on April 12, 1816, population at this time was 4,254.

By 1820 Troy had grown to 5,623 and was the 35th largest city in the U.S. The same year, on June 20, a devastating fire destroyed 69 stores and dwellings and 21 outbuildings along River and First Streets. This small conflagration caused a new flurry of fire control effort resulting in the purchase of two new engines and the formation of Hook and Ladder Company No. 1. During the 1820’s the new city suffered few fires but the 11 or 12 fires occurring during the decade did cause great loss.

By 1830 Troy had grown to 11,556 residents, and was the 19th largest city in the U.S. Fast becoming an industrial city due to it’s iron production, Troy lost its first rolling mill, that of the Troy Iron and Nail Co., located on the Wynantskill to fire on January 10, 1831 when a fire being used to thaw out the company’s water wheel spread. The night of January 25, 1834 saw the first use of a fire hydrant on the City’s new system when the Franklin House Hotel at Fulton and Third Streets suffered heavy damage in a 2 AM fire. The City lost it’s first firefighter in the line of duty on January 10, 1835 when simultaneous fires destroyed the Read, Armstrong and Co. Brewery at Ferry and Fifth Sts. and Brittnell’s Soap and Candle Factory, 411- 421 River St. Clark W. Segmann and possibly some other firefighters died from cold exposure on this –18 degree night. The decade saw the formation of a number of engine companies, hose companies and two additional hook and ladder companies.

Having long rung the church bells for alarms of fire, on December 7, 1843, an ordinance was enacted dividing the City into three fire districts with the number of the district with the fire to be rung. No. 1 was south of Congress St., No. 2 between Congress and Elbow (now Fulton) St. and No. 3 north of Elbow St. This was supposed to indicate an approximate location of the alarm for the firefighters, but in practice the policeman or sexton at the bell rope was not often able to ring a distinct 1, 2, or 3 possibly due to overexcitement.

On August 25, 1854 at 1 PM Troy suffered its greatest fire to date when over 100 buildings in 8 city blocks south of Division St. along the riverfront burned. The destruction of a number of industries and lumberyards raised the loss from this fire to a total of $ 1,000,000, a great deal of money at that time. With the city averaging between 50 and 75 fires per year, and suffering a great deal of drunkenness and fighting among the volunteer companies, several influential citizens began to promote the adoption of steam power to pump water and paid firefighters to operate the equipment.

Arba Read Steam Fire Engine Co. No. 1 In 1860 the Arba Read Steam Fire Engine Co. No. 1 was formed. A steam pumper was purchased from the Amoskeag Co. of Manchester, N.H. A fully paid engineer was hired to operate this highly technical piece of equipment, but volunteers were still heavily relied upon. The engine proved practical and soon two more Amoskeags were purchased, one later that year and a third in 1862. On May 10th 1862 Troy suffered its greatest loss by fire. A spark from a locomotive ignited a covered wood railroad bridge to Center Island, and a strong west wind drove the fire into Troy and by evening 508 buildings had been destroyed and at least 8 persons lost their lives. The financial loss was $3.9 million dollars.

Troy installed a new Gamewell Fire Alarm system in late 1868 and placed the system in service on March 25, 1869. Alarms were rung on fire station gongs and the bells of several city churches.

Troy’s last hand engine was replaced with a steamer in April 1882 when Hope Steam Fire Engine Co. No. 7 was formed.

River St. grocery Warehouse Fire The Village of Lansingburgh was annexed by Troy on January 1, 1901. By 1906 the city had 1119 volunteers and 61 career firefighters. On May 7, 1908 Truck 2 was formed as the city’s first fully paid company. Engine 14 became the first fully paid engine company on February 2, 1912. The following year a Knox Chemical-Hose Wagon stationed with E-8 became the City’s first piece of motorized fire apparatus. By 1917 the downtown truck (3) and Engine 8 were motorized Seagraves. 1917 also saw the loss of two firefighters and a battalion chief as the result of an ammonia explosion during a River St. grocery warehouse fire. Chief of Department Patrick Byron died 53 weeks later as a result of injuries suffered in the same explosion. A squad company was organized on July 8, 1919 and outfitted with a new motorized Seagrave chemical wagon.

A motorized apparatus On January 23, 1922, by act of the City Council, all remaining volunteer companies were disbanded, the TFD was now a fully paid department. On November 1, 1923 a second platoon was formed, firefighters worked a 10 and 14 hour schedule for a short time.
In the summer of 1924 the last of the horse drawn engines and trucks were replaced by motorized apparatus. A third platoon was formed on January 1, 1959 allowing Troy’s firefighters a 56 hour workweek. Also in 1959 the fire alarm telegraph system was removed and replaced with telephone boxes. On February 4, 1973 a fourth platoon was formed, reducing the firefighters workweek to 40 hours. The telephone boxes were removed from the street corners on February 15, 1982. April 1st 1981 saw the TFD take over emergency medical response in the city and on October 9, 1995 emergency medical transport was taken over by the TFD.