The Founding Of Firehouse®

Founding Editor Dennis Smith recalls the idea that launched Firehouse® Magazine and takes readers through the publication’s earliest days.


It’s hard to believe. Twenty-five summers with the length of 25 winters have passed since that spring day back in 1975 when I first came to the idea of creating a magazine especially for firefighters. Or, I should say, when the idea came to me, for it literally plopped into my lap. I was at...


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It’s hard to believe. Twenty-five summers with the length of 25 winters have passed since that spring day back in 1975 when I first came to the idea of creating a magazine especially for firefighters. Or, I should say, when the idea came to me, for it literally plopped into my lap.

I was at that time a working firefighter in the Bronx, a job I loved in the same way I loved my family and my friends. Firefighting was an integral part of my life, like a leg of a stool – it gave me balance and stability to be a part of a department and a tradition that I was proud of. I could not envision a life without running with 20 or 30 pounds of equipment, alongside people I admired and respected, into burning buildings.

Firefighting, firefighters and the fire department were my life, something that people outside of the firefighting force find difficult to understand. It was how I defined myself. I surrounded myself with firefighting memorabilia like Engine Co. 82 mugs, Emerald Society beer steins, prints (from the firefighters union) of old steam pumpers, a framed axe with my name burnt into the handle, an old brass 21ž2-inch nozzle I found in a flea market and my prized possession, a 19th century History of the New York Fire Department that weighs about 14 pounds. I kept that book on the bookshelf behind my desk in my house in Garrison, NY, 40 minutes’ drive north of my firehouse.

Also on that bookshelf were 12 copies of the book I had written three years before, Report from Engine Co. 82, each copy in a different language, and a few copies of my recently published first novel, The Final Fire.

I then subscribed to two firefighting magazines, and I remember sitting at my desk when one of my three sons brought the mail, including one of these magazines (I know you will forgive me for not mentioning the name) into my office. I took it in my hands, put my feet up on the desk, and plopped it into my lap. The table of contents was a disappointment, as it usually was, but I read these magazines every month because I was a firefighter, and I believed I should be an informed firefighter.

I don’t remember exactly the title of the article that startled me into thinking about a new magazine, but it was something like, “The PSI Distribution of Hydraulic Pressures in the New Fog Nozzles.” I don’t think, I said to myself, that I really need to read this article. All I want to know is how many departments are using the new nozzles, in what kind of fires, are they safer and more effective in a fire, and why?

It was at that moment, there with a firefighting magazine on my lap, that I began thinking about what firefighters need to know. And, I thought about the need to know in its broader sense. For instance, the technical application of mathematics on the country’s gross domestic product when I buy a loaf of bread is not important to me. But knowing the price of the bread, its healthfulness and its availability are vital to me.

Suddenly, all the possibilities of sharing information that I had studied when working for a master’s degree in communications began to form in my mind. There is a place and a need for highly technical information, but I knew that firefighters wanted more realistic on-the-scene information about fighting fires in the various parts of our great nation, information that related directly to their everyday firefighting lives. This information existed, but if they didn’t get it from their local newspapers, it did not exist for our firefighters.

Yes, I thought, we need a new magazine for today’s firemen. And, why not just call it Today’s Firemen, write it, put it together and print it up? But, wait, the International Association of Fire Fighters had just started a campaign that said, “Firemen stoke fires, but firefighters fight them,” and I certainly was not going to be insensitive to the largest fire service organization in the world. So I need another title, I thought. Thus, Firehouse® Magazine.

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