“New York’s Bravest” is a moniker that FDNY earned through its years of service to the city. From responding to large fires and rescuing people from burning buildings to providing emergency medical services and assisting in natural disasters, these first responders are always ready to help out when needed.

New York City firefighters have a proud and long history of serving the city. Learn more about why they are called New York’s Bravest.

The New York City Fire Department (FDNY)

New York City is home to the largest municipal fire department in the United States. The FDNY employs more than 11,000 firefighters and responds to more than 1.5 million emergency calls each year. 

FDNY forms a magnificent metropolitan fire district that has been protecting the city’s citizens since 1865. In the early days, the fire department consisted of 18 volunteer units, with no paid staff and only fundamental equipment. These heroes have come a long way fighting fires.

The entire fire department is an impressive feat of city services. Its organizational structure has different units, which all work together to provide fire and rescue services to keep the city safe. Each unit has its own specialized skill set and team, whether it be emergency medical services, special operations, training, or hazardous materials response.

FDNY’s motto is “New York’s Bravest,” a nod to the brave men and women who put their lives on the line each day to protect the city and its residents.

FDNY New York's Bravest fire truck, red fire engine

Rising to the occasion: The powerful 1997 Seagrave/Aerialscope 75′ Tower Ladder in action with the Fire Department of New York City. CC by Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.

A closer look into the history of FDNY

FDNY firefighters have been called “New York’s Bravest” since the mid-19th century. The nickname originated during the Civil War when soldiers praised the bravery of the city’s firefighters.

The phrase “the bravest of the brave” first appeared in print in 1862, in a toast to Union Captain John Downey. Downey was a prisoner of war in Richmond, Virginia, known for his bravery and courage. The nickname stuck and has been used ever since to describe firefighters. 

The nickname was cemented in the early 20th century when the New York Fire Department responded to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. The department’s courageous response to the fire saved hundreds of lives and cemented its reputation as one of the bravest fire departments in the country.

The 9/11 Terrorist Attack

One of the most famous acts of bravery by FDNY firefighters occurred on September 11th, 2001. Two planes crashed into the World Trade Center towers in NYC. The towers collapsed, resulting in the deaths of nearly 3,000 people.

a fire inspector near a damaged fire truck of FDNY New York's Bravest

  The devastating aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attack on the World Trade Center via WIkimedia Commons

On that fateful day, 343 firefighters perished while working to rescue people from the World Trade Center towers. It was the deadliest day in the history of the FDNY fire companies.

In the aftermath of 9/11, many people wondered how the department could recover from such a devastating loss. But they did recover. In the years since, the dedicated firefighters of the FDNY have consistently risked their lives to safeguard the citizens of New York.

Popular Documentaries and Books About FDNY

In recognition of their heroism, several documentaries and books have been dedicated to the firefighters of FDNY. These works not only provide a glimpse into the lives of FDNY firefighters, but also serve as a testament to their courage and dedication, earning them the fitting title of New York’s Bravest.

New York’s Bravest Documentaries

Brotherhood: Life in the FDNY

Brotherhood: Life in the FDNY” is a heart-wrenching yet inspiring documentary that was filmed 15 months after 9/11. It captures the emotional aftermath of the terrorist attacks from the firefighters’ perspectives. Seeing how these brave men and women continue to serve their city even after such a traumatizing event is incredibly moving. The film also does a great job of highlighting the fundamental changes that occurred within FDNY after 9/11.

9/11 Firehouse

The 9/11 Firehouse documentary film is a powerful reminder of the resilience of the human spirit. The film tells the story of what happened that fateful day and how the citizens of New York and the United States responded in the face of adversity. Through interviews with survivors, first responders, and family members of those who perished, the film gives a human look at an event that shook the world.

FDNY Battalion 9 9/11 Memorial, New York's Bravest

FDNY Battalion 9 Memorial by Elwood licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A Good Job

In “A Good Job,” Steve Buscemi takes an inside look at life as New York City firefighter. The film captures many of the unique challenges faced by these first responders. This film shows the rewards of helping others and encourages audiences to reflect on their career choices.


William Feehan, First Deputy Fire Commissioner of the FDNY and a hero who saved countless at the cost of his own life on September 11th, 2001, is remembered fondly in the 24-minute documentary “Chief.” The film chronicles Feehan’s remarkable 41 years of service to the fire department, including fighting some of New York City’s largest fires and courageously rescuing hundreds from burning buildings.

Through interviews with colleagues and acquaintances, Chief also paints a vivid picture of how much the people loved Commissioner Feehan. Chief serves as an inspirational reminder to us all about how much the FDNY serves for us every day by selflessly risking their lives for others.

New York’s Bravest Books

Ordinary Heroes

Ordinary Heroes” by Chief Pfeifer paints an unforgettable and intimate picture of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. Through his eyes, we experience the terrible moments of the catastrophe but also gain insight into the heroism of firefighters who ran into the burning towers to rescue hundreds of victims.

Chief Pfeifer served as a 33-year veteran of New York City’s metropolitan district, which made him especially qualified to provide such an insightful and powerful account of an event that lives in many people’s memories as one of tragedy and courage.

So Others Might Live

The Metropolitan Fire Department of New York City has inspired many throughout its heroic tale, perhaps none more so than during the fateful events of September 11, 2001. But as Terry Golway’s book, So Others Might Live, details, this heroism is not something new; it has been part of the FDNY from its beginnings as a volunteer fire department in the 18th century.

The courage demonstrated by these firefighters not only on that terrible day but throughout the years has undoubtedly influenced generations worldwide, proving the power of hope in even our darkest hours. 


FDNY New York's Bravest Ambulance

FDNY Ambulance 317 stands ready in Chelsea, Manhattan by Kidfly182, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Looking back at the history of the FDNY, it’s easy to see how far the fire department has come. What started as a small group of men fighting fires in New Amsterdam has grown into one of the world’s most respected and well-equipped fire departments. While the fire department has certainly seen its share of tragedies, they have always risen to the occasion and come out stronger than ever before.