The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

FDNY Expands Water and Ice Rescue Training for Firefighters as Calls Rise

By Katie Honan | November 18, 2016 8:39am

NEW YORK CITY — It was more than 60 degrees in Lower Manhattan this week, but Firefighter Niko Negron zipped up into his dry suit as if he were about to dip into below-freezing waters. 

A dummy was bobbing in the East River near South Street, and Negron — who was toggled to his fellow firefighters on land — climbed into the water and swam for the rescue. 

Negron, who is with the FDNY's Engine 10 Ladder 10 on Liberty Street in Lower Manhattan, was part of a training initiative to expand the FDNY's ice and cold water rescue training to six new companies.

The new companies are in four of the five boroughs — Ladder 11, Ladder 3 and Ladder 2 in Manhattan, Ladder 58 in The Bronx, Ladder 86 on Staten Island and Engine 264 in Queens, according to the FDNY.

There are already more than 70 companies equipped for such rescues across the city.

As part of its expansion, the department focused specifically on firehouses located in coastal parts of the city. 

"Rescue companies, the fire department, are going into the water a lot more than they did before," said Lt. Mike Brenna, who works out of a firehouse in Rockaway Beach.

"There's a lot more activity now in the water, especially around Manhattan."

While the exact number of FDNY water rescues in the past year was not immediately available, Lt. Artie Fitzpatrick, a 26-year firefighter, said the calls have reached an all-time high for the past decade.

He attributes it to the "gentrification of New York City," which has rapidly developed along the coast.

"The west side of Manhattan used to be vacant warehouses, now there's places where you can rent kayaks. Williamsburg used to be all vacant warehouses, now there's beaches there with people actually swimming," he said. 

The specialty companies are separate from the department's scuba and rescue teams, FDNY officials said.

All probationary firefighters currently receive a week of water training, with in-classroom lessons and time in the pool.

The more than 70 ice and water rescue companies around the city also train throughout the year in pools — getting accustomed to wearing the heavy rescue suit — and in real-life water situations.

Firefighters face multiple hazards when going in for rescues, from debris to swift tides in the water. Water temperatures are often at or below freezing, which is a shock even when wearing a thick suit, Fitzpatrick said.

But as first responders, they do what needs to be done, he said. 

"As a firefighter in New York City, you could go to a fire at 9 in the morning, you can get somebody out of a stuck elevator at 11, and you can go into the water and rescue someone in cold water in the afternoon," he said.

"It's all part of what we do, we do whatever it takes."