This article was written by FASNY Secretary Michael Whelan to educate the FASNY membership and the entire fire service on the history of the FASNY Firemen’s Home, its governance – both past and present – and the steps that FASNY takes to assure that our Home will be there for future generations of firefighters who may need it.
The Firemen’s Association of the State of New York started out as a statewide organization of delegates from volunteer fire departments. In 1872 FASNY was concerned with legislation, fire prevention and life safety, equipment, training, camaraderie - much the same as today.
The Firemen’s Home came a bit later. As you will see, it started as a refuge for indigent firefighters with no safe place to live, and has become a thirty-five million dollar fully licensed nursing facility that costs about ten million dollars every year to operate. There are unfounded fears and unending rumors that FASNY wants to “close the Home.” What the leadership of FASNY wants to do is secure the future of the FASNY Firemen’s Home - and that requires a knowledge of the facts and open discussion on the best way forward. Ignoring reality - pretending nothing has changed, nothing is changing and nothing will change - assures only our demise.
Let’s start from the beginning.
The history of the FASNY Firemen’s Home begins with the story of George W. Anderson, a self-made business man, a member of the Brooklyn Bridge Trustees and, most importantly, a dedicated volunteer firefighter.
George Washington Anderson was born in New York City January 24, 1834. He joined the Phoenix Hose Company # 22 located at 77 Canal Street in Manhattan’s lower East Side on March 20, 1854. Firefighter Anderson was the company secretary, then treasurer and was serving as company foreman when the volunteers were disbanded in 1865.
Anderson then went on to help organize the Volunteer Firemen’s Association of the City of New York in 1884. This new organization did not limit membership to veteran firefighters with five or more years of service - anyone who was ever a volunteer firefighter in New York City was eligible to join this new group. George W. Anderson was most concerned about the welfare of the sick, disabled and indigent firefighter
At the 1888 FASNY Convention held in Cortland, George W. Anderson presented a resolution to the membership.
Whereas, the services rendered by the volunteer firemen of the State of New York are at all times hazardous and involve risk of life, but are given freely in the protection of life and property of their fellow citizens without compensation or reward.
Resolved, that the New York State Firemen’s Association take such action to provide a home for those who by reason of adversity or force of circumstances, may become so situated that they are not able to provide for themselves.
The resolution went on to direct the President of FASNY to appoint a committee of five to find a suitable location for a Firemen’s Home and to report their findings at the 1889 Convention. The committee recommended that FASNY make application to charter a Home and issue capital stock at a cost of ten dollars a share to fund the construction. Volunteer fire departments across the state would be asked to buy shares.
FASNY was ready to move forward when Judge Lewis E. Griffith of Troy expressed the opinion that the charter of the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York would not allow it to receive funds or act as an agent for the construction of a Home. Judge Griffith then prepared the documents to form a separate corporation, the Volunteer Firemen’s Home Association of the State of New York. During this process, the membership of FASNY was insistent that the chartering problem be resolved so that the Firemen’s Home could be owned by the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York.
In 1900, five years after the first member was admitted to the Firemen’s Home, a law was enacted that transferred the property of the Volunteer Firemen’s Home Association to the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York.
Chapter 26 of Laws of 1900 says:
The Volunteer Firemen's Home Association, a corporation now incorporated under the general laws of the State of New York, by a unanimous vote of its board of trustees deeded to the Firemen's Association of the State of New York all its property, real and personal; such grant is hereby confirmed and all the rights, duties and obligations owned or possessed by said Volunteer Firemen's Home Association under any of the laws of this State are hereby transferred to and vested in the Firemen's Association of the State of New York.
For the past one hundred and twelve years, the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York has owned the FASNY Firemen’s Home; controlled all of the real property, including the Home campus in Hudson; and FASNY has funded the Home’s operation.
The Act of Incorporation of the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York states that any Home owned by the Association [FASNY] will be under the management and control of fifteen trustees and the President of FASNY. However, it is the Association that has the power to “make such rules and regulations as it deems proper for their control of such Home and for the election of said trustees, and shall prescribe their powers and duties.”
The FASNY by-laws further state that the Membership and the FASNY Board of Directors will have oversight of the management of the Firemen’s Home.
Since the old corporation was dissolved more than a century ago, there is only one governing body, the FASNY Board of Directors. FASNY has the sole responsibility for the governance of the entire Firemen’s Association of the State of New York corporation, including the Firemen’s Home.
This unusual structure has been confusing to the FASNY membership since the Firemen’s Home was organized. It is the Firemen’s Home that exists because of FASNY and not the other way around!
The FASNY Board of Directors has a fiduciary duty to preserve the assets of the corporation and to act at all times in the best interests of the entire Firemen’s Association of the State of New York. Because FASNY is a 501[c] public not for profit organization, the Board of Directors are also responsible to the general public for its corporate management.
Over the past one hundred and twenty years, the Firemen’s Home has evolved from a working farm “poor house” with fifteen initial “inmates”, as Home Members were called until 1914, to a fully licensed ninety-two bed skilled nursing home. These changes have presented challenges to FASNY in the past and will continue to do so well into the future.
In 1931 construction began on the Memorial Hospital. The hospital building was paid for by a generous gift from Exempt Firemen’s Association of the City of New York. This would be one of the last acts of this venerable organization as the few surviving New York City volunteer firefighters were getting well along in years. The addition of the hospital now made it possible to accept disabled, as well as indigent, volunteers.
By 1934 there were one hundred sixty-eight Home members. Going into 1940, as the effects of the Great Depression were being felt across the world, there were one hundred ninety-two Home members.
In 1941 FASNY purchased an adjacent one hundred twenty acre farm. The Firemen’s Home now had over three hundred acres under cultivation with Home members doing much of the agricultural labor. The farming operations ended in 1967 with the sale of all of the equipment and livestock.
Beginning in the late 1960s there were changes in federal and state laws as well as Department of Health regulations, that went mostly unnoticed by the FASNY membership. These changes would dramatically affect the way we did business. The transition from “Hospital side, Home side” to a totally skilled nursing facility had begun.
The transformation was slow, but thorough. We will probably never again see the twenty, thirty and even forty men in relative good health going as guests to a FASNY Convention. Sectional and county organizations will not be sending hundreds of firefighters by special trains to visit the Home. We have a new paradigm and we must deal with the reality of what has already changed and what will continue to evolve as the future norms in the geriatric health care field.
George W. Anderson could never have imagined what the Firemen’s Home would become. It is a truly beautiful, first class skilled nursing home staffed by some of the best nursing, ancillary health care, dietary, maintenance and other dedicated care givers that can be found in any nursing home, anywhere, bar none! The Firemen’s Home is a top of the line nursing home.
You, the forty-five thousand members of FASNY, must be always aware of changing times, changing economic conditions, rising costs, and - very frankly - a weak demand for skilled nursing beds outside of the immediate geographic area, no matter how good the facility may be.
It is my opinion that as long as FASNY receives two percent revenue, the Association will do whatever possible to make up the million and a half ADDITIONAL dollars needed to run the Firemen’s Home each year. But my opinion can not dictate economic and changing social realities.
Our sixty-two Home members are safe and secure. It is our future that we must plan for.