The Bronx is Burning August 18 2013, 2 Comments

It was game two of the 1977 World Series, a chilly, blustery October night in the South Bronx. The Yanks were already down 2-0 in the bottom of the first inning when ABC’s aerial camera panned a few blocks over from Yankee Stadium to give the world its first live glimpse of a real Bronx Cookout. "There it is, ladies and gentlemen," Howard Cosell intoned. "The Bronx is burning."

                                                                                                                                              -Joe Flood

That phrase, 'The Bronx is Burning' has come to signify that whole decade in New York City's history.  In sports, the volatile Yankees were winning, fighting and capturing headlines all the way to a tremendous World Series victory that was later immortalized in a book and a mini-series.  In the city however, New York was suffering through terrible crime, political corruption and near bankruptcy.  Finally, FDNY battled an unprecedented number of fires that can only be compared to the current woes occurring in Detroit. 

The South Bronx (along with Brooklyn’s Brownsville, Bushwick, and Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhoods, and Manhattan’s Harlem and Lower East Side) were definitely burning. Seven different census tracts in The Bronx lost more than 97% of their buildings to fire and abandonment between 1970 and 1980.  Members of FDNY call this period in their history, "The War Years." And rightly so, the companies that worked the Bronx and Brooklyn were the busiest in the world.  At the time FDNY extinguished more fires annually then Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit and Los Angeles combined.  Add to these staggering numbers the fact that over the course of the decade 50 units were shuttered or moved.  Many of which came from the busiest neighborhoods.

The crisis peaked in 1975 when the city almost went bankrupt.  It is estimated that up to a 1/3 of the hydrants were dead or broken, the budget for inspections was cut by 70%, and old rigs with outdated equipment were pushed into service as there was no money to fix the newer ones.

Certainly, the firemen who lived and worked through this period have probably forgotten more fire than you and I will ever see.  "The smell is one thing I remember," says retired Bronx firefighter Tom Henderson. "That smell of burning — it was always there, through the whole borough almost."

As tragic as it was, this was also one of the most fruitful times for innovation in the fire service.  Many of the methods, tactics and tools that we use today were invented and perfected during 'The War Years' and we, in the fire service now, owe a great debt to all the men who passed on the knowledge gained from those fires.

Below is Part 1 of a BBC documentary that chronicles this tumultuous time in FDNY's history.

The Shirt Design

A few months ago, we reached out to Ryan Brown, a graphic artist and owner of the indie label Pursuit of NY.  Pursuit of NY is a brand that celebrates the history and the unique vibe that is New York.  In our opinion, Ryan is doing some of the most creative designs we've seen, so we asked him if he'd like to collaborate and create some shirts that are all New York and fire related.  This shirt is the first in the series and we are extremely happy with the collaboration.  

As the boys of Summer head into October we thought it a great time to release this shirt.  We hope you guys like it.

-Statistics and quotes for this article were taken from:  The Fires: How a Computer Formula, Big Ideas, and the Best of Intentions Burned Down New York City — and Determined the Future of Cities, by Joe Flood