Engine Company 273 and Ladder 129 celebrated their centennial last Wednesday with a moving ceremony that brought together firefighters past and present, community leaders, and local residents.
When the firefighting units were first formed in 1908, the department, city, and community of Flushing were much different than they are today. The first gas-operated apparatus was added to the department that same year, and since then the technology has changed dramatically, noted FDNY commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta, but the dedication and bravery of the city’s firefighters is something that has remained constant.
“Almost always the people you are saving are complete strangers,” Scoppetta told the approximately 100 people who gathered to mark the occasion. “That was the essence of what it took to be a firefighter 100 years ago, and what it takes to be a firefighter today.”
The two units moved to their current home on Union Avenue in Flushing in 1938, and while the firehouse may be old, it’s not necessarily showing its age. Firefighters have spent the last 15 months sprucing up the house in preparation for the milestone, and support from the local community, including the Flushing Chinese Business Association, allowed them to make several necessary upgrades.
A number of retired firefighters returned to the house for the ceremony, and their presence was alluded to in remarks by Sal Cassano, chief of the department.
“As we celebrate this achievement, I can’t help but think of the retired firefighters who have passed on their knowledge to the newer members of the force,” he said.
But as was sadly remembered last week, not all members of the force get the chance to retire.
While doing research on the history of their firehouse, firefighters came across the names of two men from Ladder 129 who perished in the line of duty, Ernest Mattes, who died in 1935, and Richard Schultz, who died in 1959.
Last week, on an old copper door in the firehouse, plaques in their honor joined those of Barry Feeney and Garrett Dempsey, two other members of the units who lost their lives serving the city as firefighters in 1993 and 1997, respectively.