Brooklyn Fire Department House on Norman Avenue – Brooklyn, New York - Atlas Obscura

Brooklyn Fire Department House on Norman Avenue

Home to first responders to Greenpoint's devastating oil fires. 


Work could be very unpredictable for the firefighters at 176 Norman.

By the 1890s the small Newtown Creek had boat traffic rivaling that of the Mississippi. Ships carrying goods to and from industries along the East River and Newtown Creek supplied fiber to rope companies like the Chelsea Fiber Mills (now the GMDC), wood to the Eberhard Faber pencil company and, most importantly, oil to the refineries along the creek, chief among these being Standard Oil. These industries, often barely regulated, could have disastrous failures. 

The first responders of these disasters came from the building found at 176 Norman Avenue, between Diamond and Jewel Streets. Still marked with BFD, this building once served as an outpost of the Brooklyn Fire Department,  specifically the home of Engine 38. Stationed near the petroleum refineries alongside the Newtown Creek, the firefighters of Engine 38 (later 238) never knew what they would be faced with when they showed up for work. 

In 1919, a tank at the Standard Oil Plant, which covered some 20 acres, caught fire. Before the firefighters could respond, the refining tanks exploded, breaking windows throughout the area and rupturing a pipe which began spewing oil throughout the plant.

The massive fire required 40 engines from three boroughs — a number of which were still horse drawn at the time — and multiple fireboats to put the fire out. One fireboat on Newtown Creek became surrounded by flames and had to be rescued. The fire burned for four days.

It is believed that it was started on purpose to receive a insurance settlement and clear the land. (Not dissimilar to the suspicious circumstances surrounding the Greenpoint Terminal Market fire.)

Before the consolidation of the City of Greater New York in 1898, the independent City of Brooklyn had its own fire department. When the consolidation into the FDNY occurred, the designations for fire companies in the outer boroughs were numerically shifted so as not to cause confusion with Manhattan units. Engine 38 became Engine 238. 238 is now housed in a modern firehouse on Greenpoint Avenue near McGuinness.

Today 176 Norman is home to the BFD Firehouse Studios which specializes in custom iron works.  

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