Firefighters Quarterly Magazine
Winter 2006 Issue >> Contents >> Riding with The Gun Hill Gang
RIDING WITH THE GUN HILL GANG - IN SERVICE TO WILLIAMSBRIDGE
By Michael Heller
At the farthest northern reaches of New York City, firefighters from FDNY Engine 62 (along with Ladder 32) protect a wholly unique area of the Bronx. Despite its location- on the fringes of the city, and only three blocks from the green serenity of Bronx Park-it remains one of the city's busier protection districts. Located directly beneath the el on White Plains Road, the quarters of "The Gun Hill Gang" (as they are known on the job, due to their proximity to East Gun Hill Road) in many ways still represents a good example of the city's history still alive today, from a time during the turn of the 20th century, when the city was still growing and the FDNY was doing its best to keep pace.
The area of the Bronx where Engine 62 is located, known as Williamsbridge (named after John Williams, who in the early 1800s built a bridge there across the Bronx River), was originally not even part of New York City. Instead, it was part of neighboring Westchester County. Williamsbridge, then a village, was only sparsely populated at the time, with the area's fire protection supplied by two volunteer fire companies: Williamsburg Engine 1 and Pioneer Ladder 1. Very little is known about these two companies, as their records have since been lost.
MOVIN' TO THE CITY
In 1894, the Village of Williamsburg attempted to secede from Westchester County and annex itself to New York City, but it failed to gain a majority vote until the following year. Then, in 1895, the vote finally passed and the area east of the Bronx River became known as the Annexed District of New York City. Very shortly thereafter (in 1896), FDNY Engine 62 was placed into service. Coincidentally, this occurred on the exact same day as the first day of service for Engine 61 in Westchester Square and Engine 63 in Wakefield.
Members of FDNY Engine 62 attend to a young boy sitting on
the interior stairs of his apartment building.
At the time, 61 and 62 were organized as combination companies, consisting of an engine, a ladder and a hose wagon. When Engine 64 was later organized they all became the 14th Battalion, which had its offices in 62's quarters, located at 61 White Plains Road, on the east side of the street between Randall Street and Avenue A (now known as East 213th and East 214th Streets). The first firehouse was a modest affair: a two-story, wood-frame structure with a single-story extension in the rear for the horses and feed room. Rent, at the time, was a whopping $75 a month.
Shortly after the annexation to New York City, however, plans were made to widen White Plains Road. This included razing all of the structures on the east side of the street, so the city began looking for a new location for 62's quarters. On March 22, 1901, a 50-ft.-by-100-ft. lot was located at 3431 White Plains Road, and construction began. In those days, it cost less than $35,000 to build a firehouse.
> During the construction, Engine 62 was relocated to a rented facility on what was then 5th Street (now Bronxwood Avenue), and the Battalion-which had now been changed to Battalion 15 in 1898-moved in with Engine 75. Construction of the new building was finished on December 10, 1903, when 62 Engine and the 15th moved back in together into what was again called Battalion Headquarters. The Engine still uses these same quarters today, although the Battalion made short use of the quarters and ended up moving out only several months later.
As might be expected, Engine 62 has seen a number of changes in its apparatus over the years. The first apparatus assigned to the company were an 1881 Clapp & Jones 4th Size (300-500-gpm) steamer, a brand new Geason & Bailey hose wagon, and an 1896 Rumsey 40-ft. roller frame ladder truck.
Members of FDNY Engine 62 take up hose in the interior
hallway of an apartment building in the Bronx, after
assisting at a working fire there.
>On May 21, 1919, motorization came to the company with the delivery of a 1905/1917 American LaFrance Christi front-wheel-drive tractor rig with a 4th-size steamer that had been used by Engine 73, replacing a 3rd-size steamer that the company had been using since 1913. 1919 also saw the replacement of the hose wagon with a 1918 Republic hose wagon. Around that time (July 22, 1921, to be exact), the old 1896 Rumsey ladder truck was replaced with a new Seagrave 65-foot tiller aerial ladder truck.
The 1920s saw more changes-not only concerning apparatus, but also involving unit staffing and locations-the FDNY shell game that's always keeping everyone guessing. Engine 62 again received a new truck-a new LaFrance 700-gpm pumper-on December 3, 1925. Later, in 1927, Engine 62's hose wagon was removed from service, only to be returned to service there in 1929 (with a new rig). On December 20, 1928, the ladder truck was taken from 62's quarters and placed into service as Ladder 51, along with a newly reorganized Engine 38 in a new firehouse located at Eastchester and Boston Roads.
At the time, 62's ladder (now Ladder 51) was the only ladder in service east of the Bronx River and north of the Pelham Parkway. Also at that time, Ladder 32, which had been placed into service on May 15, 1907, was located with Engine 50 in its quarters on 166th Street. To help cover the response area, it was decided to move Ladder 32 into 62's quarters until a new fire station-that of Engine 97, at 1454 Astor Avenue-could be completed, at which time 32 would move in with 97. The new quarters were completed in 1931 and Ladder 32 made the switch, which at the time was to be a permanent assignment. Not two years later, however, on April 17, 1933, Ladder 32 was moved back to White Plains Road…where it has remained ever since.
Since those days, Engine 62 has seen eight more pieces of apparatus come and go: two Ward LaFrances (model years 1946 and 1951), five Macks (model years 1958, 1970, 1972, 1979 and 1984), and a 1994 1000-gpm Seagrave, which was replaced by a brand new model on June 23, 2004.
Today, it's primarily a "young" firehouse, with enough senior guys still around to show the new guys the way and still keep things safe. It's a firehouse with plenty of enthusiasm toward the job: a check of the station's website at www.gunhillgang.com shows off not only the members pride toward their company, but also lets us in on a little good-natured horsing-around with a fire extinguisher-something that demonstrates a sincerity in themselves and a confidence in the job they perform. And that ability to appreciate those special lighter moments that occur within a firehouse is another of the many FDNY traditions observed by the proud members of Engine 62's Gun Hill Gang. FQ
Station: FDNY Engine 62/Ladder 32
Address: 3431 White Plains Road, Bronx, NY 10467-5704
Web Site: www.gunhillgang.com
Author Bio: Michael Heller is a photographer, writer and volunteer firefighter with the East Hampton (N.Y.) Fire Department (Hook & Ladder Co. No. 1). Heller is also president of 911 Pictures, a stock photography agency specializing in fire/rescue/EMS images. Heller is also an active member of the Long Island Fire Photographers Association and the International Fire Photographers Association. He contributes to a number of publications, both as a photographer and an author. Contact Michael Heller through his Web site, at www.911pictures.com. Thanks also to FDNY Dispatcher Mike Boucher for providing historical information for this story.