By Summer Brennan
On May 4th, members and former members of the FDNY and their families gathered to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Ladder 40 on 125th Street.
“Life begins at 40,” joked George Campbell, Captain of Ladder 40. “This company has served the Harlem community through good times and bad, always answering the call from those in need.”
Ladder 40 served the area through World War I, through the 1930s, and witnessed the Harlem Renaissance, when venues like the Cotton Club and the Apollo flourished. The following decades of severe economic downturn, Captain Campbell said, lasting from the late 1960s to the early 1990s, were known as the “war years” when Harlem was ravaged by fires. But Ladder 40 was there to help, earning its standing as one of the top companies in the FDNY.
“We are here today to celebrate a group who has worked incredibly hard,” said Uniformed Firefighters Association President Steve Cassidy. “The current members of Ladder 40 have both inherited and earned their reputation.”
Mr. Cassidy went on to say that younger guys, many of whom came to the job after 9/11, possessed a special kind of bravery, and that this new generation of firefighter had to place more emphasis on the possibility of terrorist attacks. “The word hero is overused,” he said. “We’re firefighters, not heroes. We’re good at what we do, and the 40 Truck Company is steeped in tradition and pride.” It was companies like this one, he pointed out, that made the FDNY at the forefront of firefighting in the country.
City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, whose grandfather joined the FDNY as a member of Ladder 40 in 1920, said that if the work of the fine firefighters present was not more talked about in the press, it was only because their job was to keep disasters from happening, and out of the papers. She also said that, through the years, Ladder 40 had always been a model company, accepting members of all races, and continued to dedicate its service to the community even through times when the area was blighted.
Al Hagen, President of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association, pointed to the significance of the number 40.
“Not only does life begin at 40,” he began,” but 40 is the atomic number of Zirconium. I know what you’re thinking – big deal, right? But Zirconium melts at 1,852 degrees Celsius. Like Ladder 40, it can take the heat.”
The Company and their guests then rose for the blessing of the centennial plaque, to the sound of bagpipes playing “America the Beautiful.”