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Fire Chief Warren Abriel Jr. On The History Of The Albany Fire Department

Chief Warren Abriel Jr. takes a look back at the History of the AFD
Composite Image by Dave Lucas
Chief Warren Abriel Jr. takes a look back at the History of the AFD

The Albany Fire Department is one of the nation's oldest professional departments. This year, it celebrates its 150th anniversary.  Chief Warren Abriel Jr., a 45-year veteran of the Albany Fire Department, addressed a crowd Wednesday night at City Hall.

His great-grandfather, Ruben Abriel, joined the department as a volunteer and became one of the first paid members in 1867, the year A.F.D. was founded.    "I am a fourth generation firefighter. I have three nephews that are fifth generation firefighters. My grandfather, great-grandfather, father, my brother Henry was a captain. My brother Ted was a firefighter on the rescue squad. He died in the line of duty in 2007. I joined the fire department June 5th, 1972 right after I was discharged from the Navy."

Before Abriel took a look back at history, Mayor Kathy Sheehan said she's looking ahead.  "We've made a commitment to ensure that this department reflects the city and our residents. And that has resulted in a change in the way that we recruit, a change in the way that we seek to look at 'who are the firefighters of the future?’''

Abriel, who was appointed chief in 2014, captivated the audience as he spoke at length about the culture of firefighting.    "When we started in the volunteer situation, apparatus was pulled by hand and the volunteers ran behind it. OK, that was called 'the run,' because we ran to the fire.

These handcarts had some very decorative paintings on the side. If they pumped fast enough, the pumper at the hydrant could pump fast enough to the pumper at the scene, and if they didn't pump fast enough to keep the water movin', the tank overflowed and washed down the side of those paintings, and that was extremely embarrassing. It was something that you didn't want to have the water overflow and ruin these, I mean some of these were museum-quality paintings. And that's really where you got the term 'washout.' If you see somebody 'washed out' of an event or a competition, that's where that came from.

In the early part of our history, the water mains were wood. If they weren't above ground they were buried. When they had a fire they knew where the spots were roughly, they dug up the cobblestones. They drilled a hole in the wooden main and got water for the fire. After the fire was over, they put a wooden plug into it, tamped it down, and then the next time they came down that street they could go and get that plug. And that's basically now why even today they'll say 'grab that plug on the corner,' because that was the fireplug."

The Albany Department of Fire and Emergency Services consists of 260 career Firefighters staffing 8 Engine Companies (including 1 Paramedic Engine Company), 4 Ladder Companies, 3 Paramedic Rescue Companies, 1 Heavy Rescue Company, 2 Battalions and Administrative Staff.

Chief Abriel says the fire department makes some 23,000 runs a year.

The Albany Firefighters Museum presents the Albany Department of Fire and and Emergency Services 150th Anniversary Gala celebration Sunday October 22 at the Albany Capital Center from 6 - 10 p.m. All proceeds benefit the Albany Firefighters Museum. For more information and to RSVP to the event, click here.

Full audio Albany Fire Chief Warren Abriel Jr. at City Hall 9/27/17

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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