A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE FIRE BELL CLUB
On the bitterly cold afternoon of February 3, 1939, a small group of men gathered outside the quarters of Ladder Co. 24, then located on West 33rd Street in Manhattan. These men were all fire buffs sharing mutual interests in the New York City Fire Department and they frequently met outside the firehouse. On this particular afternoon, they were approached by a police officer, who suggested they were likely to freeze unless they sought a warmer place to meet. He directed the men to 119 West 33rd Street, a loft building near the firehouse. It was here, a week later on February 10, 1939 that the Fire Bell Club was organized with 22 founding members including Frank Brannigan.
In October 1940, after visiting the club’s quarters, Fire Commissioner John J. McElligott authorized the Bureau of Fire Communications to install an official fire alarm telegraph circuit in the club’s meeting room. Five and a half years later, Commissioner Frank Quayle authorized the issuance of official Fire Department gold badges to all Bell Club members, to be displayed while at the scene of a fire.
After World War II, the Fire Bell Club moved its quarters to the Martinique Hotel on 32nd Street near Broadway. In the early 1960’s, it moved to the Hotel McAlpin at Broadway and 34th Street. As membership grew, it relocated in the early 1970’s to the Statler-Hilton Hotel on 7th Avenue across from Pennsylvania Station. In 1984, the club moved to 150 East 23rd Street in Manhattan. Current quarters since January 1999 are located at 204 East 23rd Street.
Over its 81 years, the Fire Bell Club has had 17 presidents. The duties of Louis Crane, the founding president, are carried out today by Sergio Nieto, president since May 2015. The club has 135 members governed by elected officers, a board of directors, and numerous committees. The fire commissioner and chief of department hold honorary membership during their tenure in these positions.
The Fire Bell Club Medal has been presented on Medal Day since 1984. Arnie Lasky is the editor of the club’s monthly newsletter, which has more than 20,000 readers and is mailed to every firehouse in New York City. This newsletter is considered by many, both in and out of the Department, to be one of the most current and accurate sources of information pertaining to the New York City Fire Department.
Members of the Fire Bell Club are regularly involved with public relations services for the FDNY, attend Department functions, and contribute a vast amount of time and effort to the Fire Museum and the FDNY Mand Library. The recipients of The James Gordon Bennett Medal, The Shelly Rothman Memorial Medal and the Fire Bell Club Medal are honored at our Annual Dinner every year in June.