New York Fire Patrol: A new future ahead
Some say that the New York Fire Patrol is the oldest paid fire service in the United States
By Doug Wyllie
Before we get into where the New York Fire Patrol — an organization with a rich history dating back to 1803 — is going in 2011, let's first look back at where they're been. The group was originally organized as the Mutual Assistance Bag Company when merchants and residents in the downtown got together to find a way to prevent financial losses on insured properties as a result of fire.
The Mutual Assistance Bag Company was a voluntary organization just as the fire department was at the time. According to information obtained from the FDNY, the volunteer members of the Mutual Assistance Bag Company would respond to fires and remove the building's contents in bags to a safer location (thus the name) with at least one member remaining at the scene to prevent looting.
In 1835, the Association of Fire Insurance Companies took over the operation and employed four men at an annual salary of $250 each, making it the first paid fire service organization in New York City. In fact, some say with that the New York Fire Patrol the oldest paid fire service in the United States.
In 1839, the New York Board of Fire Underwriters reorganized the group as the New York Fire Patrol, with the mission of patrolling lower Manhattan, discovering fires, and preventing losses. When New York Fire Patrol was shut down by the New York Board of Fire Underwriters in 2006, its roughly 100 patrolmen were responding to more than 10,000 alarms each year, working alongside the firefighters of Fire Department of New York.
In my article on the approaching 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, I mentioned that Keith Roma, a 27-year-old patrolman with the New York Fire Patrol, was saving lives and made the ultimate sacrifice when the North Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed upon him.
Keith's Father Arnie — himself a former NYFP patrolman and a retired NYPD cop — had narrowly escaped death when the South Tower collapsed. If you missed the story about Keith and Arnie Roma, I strongly encourage you to stop for a moment to check that out, and then resume here. In his "retirement" Arnie Roma has been working to create a new incarnation of the storied institution known as the New York Fire Patrol.
So, what's next?
The New York Fire Patrol reincorporated in the Spring of 2010 as a 501c3 nonprofit organization. Although the mission of the new incarnation of the organization closely mirrors that of its now-defunct namesake — to prevent and discover fires, while providing property damage mitigation services — there are some significant differences. For instance, the Board of Directors is not populated by insurance industry executives or their lobbyists.
There are two WTC survivors, a former FDNY Battalion Chief, two former fire alarm dispatchers, and a former New York State Superintendent of Insurance.
Another notable difference is that funding for the new NYFP will come neither from insurance fees nor from taxpayer dollars. Roma and his team intend to rely solely on public contributions and both corporate and governmental grants. The New York Fire Patrol is already the recipient of a grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in an amount exceeding $120,000. Working with Jerry Brant of FireGrantsHelp, the Patrol has applications for other grants and awards pending at all levels of government and with several civic minded corporations and organizations.
"My idea all along," Roma told me when we spoke a couple of weeks ago, "was to start it again like they started volunteer fire companies 200 years ago. So I got a great board together — retired commissioners and people in the field — and we reincorporated as a nonprofit. In order for us to operate and to be an emergency services provider with the Fire Department's blessing, we have to have a state legislative charter. So we're in the process of passing a law to have a charter. As you can imagine it hasn't been easy," Roma lamented.
Despite the difficulty, Roma remains optimistic — pressing forward in his effort to bring back the New York Fire Patrol. Keith's memory, Arnie Roma told me, "is what keeps me going — it's what gives me strength."
Already, Roma has been instrumental in getting Senate Bill S5573 passed in the New York State Senate, and is working now toward passage of a corresponding Assembly Bill (A-8117) passed.
In terms of troops, Roma said he plans to start off small, hiring retired police officers and firefighters into union jobs, ensuring that every member of the new company has the proper certifications. "We have letters of support from every union," Roma said.
If you're interested in learning more about NYFP, they'd almost certainly like to hear from you. According to their website, they're looking for "appropriately talented and experienced individuals to apply to become members of the organization and help out in most every conceivable area…from web design to fundraising, from field operations to accountancy, from office help to mending covers."
Contact the New York Fire Patrol at email@example.com.
About the author
Doug Wyllie is senior editor of Police1 and a 2011 Western Publishing Association "Maggie Award" Finalist in the category of Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. Doug is also a member of the California Peace Officers' Association and is active in his support for the law enforcement community, contributing his time and talents toward police-related charitable events as well as participating in force-on-force training, search-and-rescue training, and other scenario-based training designed to prepare cops for the fight they face every day on the street.