Protecting the Belmont Stakes

"And down the stretch they come!" The most famous words in horse racing are never more exciting than during a home-stretch run at Belmont Park with a Triple Crown at stake. Belmont Park, host track for the third leg of thoroughbred racing's Triple...


"And down the stretch they come!" The most famous words in horse racing are never more exciting than during a home-stretch run at Belmont Park with a Triple Crown at stake. Belmont Park, host track for the third leg of thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown, is in Elmont, NY. The Long Island...


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"And down the stretch they come!" The most famous words in horse racing are never more exciting than during a home-stretch run at Belmont Park with a Triple Crown at stake.

Belmont Park, host track for the third leg of thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown, is in Elmont, NY. The Long Island attraction has been protected by the Elmont Fire Department since its opening day on May 4, 1905. In fact, the first fire company in Elmont can trace its roots to the generosity of August Belmont Jr., son of the German-born banker August Belmont Sr., for whom the track and race are named.

In 1902, August Jr. bought 650 acres of land on the Nassau County-Queens County border to build at the time the fanciest race track in the nation. Belmont Hook and Ladder Company 1 was organized in 1905 with the help and funding of August Jr. With his race track about to open, he saw a need to help with the funding of a fire company that was just starting out in the growing town, which before had been mostly farmland. His donation of $2,500 helped the company purchase a horse-drawn truck equipped with ladders and buckets. The company spent $1,300 on the land and construction of the firehouse on Elmont Road that members still call home to this day.

Today, the Elmont Fire Department is an all-volunteer organization made up of seven companies and one EMS squad of non-firefighting personnel, responding from seven stations in a 5.73-square-mile district with a population of 47,000. The front-line apparatus consist of four 2,000-gpm engines, one 100-foot ladder tower (Belmont Hook & Ladder Company 1), one 100-foot tiller-drawn aerial, one heavy rescue and two advanced life support (ALS) ambulances. The department is led by Chief of Department Pedro Vera and three assistant chiefs. Each company has a captain and two lieutenants. The fire district also employs a part-time inspector.

In 2008, the department responded to 817 ambulance requests and 1,131 fire calls, of which 16 were working fires. There were 68 calls to the Belmont Park property, including three all-hands fires. Responses to the track during the years have included the smell-of-smoke calls, water-flow alarms in the winter due to broken pipes, vehicle and hay truck fires, and many large-scale, multi-alarm fires. In 1917, fire destroyed the grandstand and clubhouse, and severely damaged the jockeys' quarters and Long Island Rail Road station. In 1944, a fire killed 14 horses, including the third-place finisher of that year's Kentucky Derby. More recently, on Jan. 19, 1986, a fire in Barn 48 made worldwide news when 45 horses were killed; on June 22, 1999, a fire in Barn 8 killed three horses.

Belmont Park Today

The present 430-acre complex consists of a four-story grandstand/clubhouse with an underground tunnel area containing many loading docks. This grandstand was opened in May 1968 after the old grandstand was deemed unsafe following the 1962 season. The seating capacity is 33,000 with the total occupancy of the grandstand over 100,000. It is a steel-frame/masonry structure with an automatic wet-sprinkler system throughout. Various locations also use halon and Ansul systems. The barn area consists of dozens of old wood-frame barns, some over 80 years old, with stall capacity for 2,100 horses, as well as cottages used as living quarters for grooms and exercise riders.

The track employs its own electricians, steamfitters and landscape personnel. For this reason, there are many maintenance and machine shop areas and a greenhouse. Special hazards at these locations include storage of automotive fluids, pesticides, industrial cleaning solutions, oxygen and acetylene cylinders, and the storage and dispensing of gasoline and diesel fuels. These structures all have wet-sprinkler systems and are fueled with natural gas. The Long Island Rail Road has a seasonal station in the northwest parking lot that runs off the main line. During the off season, various passenger, freight and maintenance rail cars are stored on these track spurs.

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