Why it’s “48’s job” and not “A job for Engine 48″

In a recent post where I bragged that the Mrs can speak Fireman, BGMiller posted the following comment:

Okay HM, time for a question that’s been floating around my noggin for a while and this seems like as good a time as any to ask…
It’ll be a little convoluted but such is the nature of my brain.
Is it just a California thing to refer to a station’s companies by the possessive of the station number? (ie; 48′s caught a run for a structure fire…)
Does this come from it being more common in the West for multiple company stations to share numbers while departments in the MidWest and on the East coast tend to mix numbers in a station? (ie: LA County Station 51 was home to Squad 51 and Engine 51 or 127′s was Engine and Ladder 127 while here in Iowa my first due is Station 4 and houses Engine 4 and Truck 2.)
Just a little detail that’s been kicking around in my head.

Well BGM, I haven’t the foggiest.  I only know that where I’m working it has been like that since, oh, the late 1840s.

Tradition is an easy answer, but most of the nomenclature stems from when the Companies were Volunteer.  The wagon, engine etc actually belonged to the Company, as did the response area.  When asking about who was at a fire, you could say, “Oh that was at 4th and Brannan” or “It was in district 5, Battalion 3, Division 1″ similar to Companies in the military.

However, everyone knew where the engine companies were.  Before they were rolled into the municipal fire service and numbered in the order they joined they had names like Liberty Hose, Knickerbocker and Valiant.  It’s was Valiant’s fire, it was Knickerbocker’s fire.

When Knickerbocker joined the municipal and took on the number 5, it became Knickerbocker 5’s fire.  Then 5’s fire.  And here we are.

SFFD Gorter Tower

Ladders and Trucks came later when they were also rolled into the municipal service, joining in different order than the engines they would be housed with.  That’s why in some places Engine 4 is housed with Truck 1 etc.  In the early and mid 70’s when computers were added some Departments (including mine) changed the truck numbers to match the engine number to avoid confusion.

But when I was growing up in a suburban Department that was roughly the same age as me I heard my father and his buddies refer to other stations by their numbers as well.

“Are we drilling with 19’s this afternoon?”  It referred to the crew being a part of the company, part of the house.  The men and women assigned there belonged to it, not the other way around.

Does that answer your question?

Oh and BTW a tanker has wings.  😉

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10 thoughts on “Why it’s “48’s job” and not “A job for Engine 48″”

  1. In Illinois we have a couple of departments that number their rigs like they do out there (Station 1 = E1, T1, Amb 1, Station 9 = E9, T9, Amb 9) and they refer to it the same way. 9s had a full arrest, 6s caught a fire.

  2. Pretty good answer I think. And a whole post no less. Makes me feel all important and stuff.

    As for tankers…
    Yeah, yeah… A tanker has wings…
    So explain to me then why when all the volunteer departments here get together and use their Macks and Peterbuilts with the modified dairy tank on the back to move some farmer’s pond two miles down the road as training they call it a Tanker Strike?

    Thanks Happy,


  3. Having lived in LA36’s first due, I’ll throw in a nice monkey wrench. 36 is home to 3 engines and 2 squads. E-36 and S-36 are obvious, but then there’s also E-236, E-536, and S-536

    Another item related to a previous post, and clarification to the uninitiated… TV’s LA51 was portrayed by LA127, then home to Truck and Engine 127 but never a Squad. The same station now houses Engine, Foam, and Light Force (yep, an articulated Quint, apologies to Happy). Adding insult to Happy’s injury (see his explanation on the diff between trucks and engines), LF-127 responds to about 1400 calls annually, compared to E-127’s 70 calls, and F-127 is lucky to get out of the barn for some excercise even though there’s a refinery right across the street.

    During the life of TV’s LA51, there was no real-life LA51, it having been closed when the area was annexed by Lynwood, however there is a new LA51 on the Universal lot with an Engine, a Squad, and a Patrol.

    Oh, and TV’s Rampart was really Harbor General, and never seemed to get their EKG strips to match the supposed diagnosis. It’s still fun to watch.

  4. Aw shucks BG, it’s not something I wanted to hide in the comments!
    Jonathan brings up some good points and great history from Emergency!, thanks! The double housing of companies is not too uncommon in semi-rural turned suburban, turned urban spaces. If the Department doesn’t build more stations, they have to double up. The Angry Captain was an Engineer at 22’s for the then OCFD. It house Engine 22, Engine 222 Truck 22 Medic 22 and Battalion 4. A full house by any definition. When the station was built it was next to nowhere. Now it’s smack dab next to a sprawling retirement neighborhood.
    The stacking numbers is common. And is used by many rural departments by using a dash. Engine 3-1 and Engine 3-2 are both from Station 3 etc.

    The modified milk truck is still a tanker I guess. :)

  5. Thinking of the stacking numbers in a house I’ve got one for you.

    Stacking numbers across departments.

    Grab your map and cast your eyes toward the upper Mississippi River. Look for that little bendy bit by Iowa. Specifically look at the area immediately around the Rock Island Arsenal.

    On the Illinois side of the river you’ll see the cities of Moline, Rock Island, East Moline, and a few smaller communities. Now all of those department have mutual aid agreements. And to make things a bit clearer on the radio and for dispatchers they’ve gotten clever about numbering companies. The first digit in a company’s number denotes which department it belongs to.
    Moline gets 1 so they will respond E11, E12, T11, etc..
    East Moline has 2, E21, T21…
    City of Rock Island is 3’s So E31, E32…
    Rock Island Arsenal Fire sports the 4’s, E41, T41, yada, yada…

    Screwed with my head just a bit until one of my team mates (beer league ice hockey*) that spent his days with Arsenal Fire explained it all to me.

    And regarding the modified milk tanker….
    Those farm boys do love their rigs.
    You have never seen so much chrome with so much shine and so many lights on an apparatus. Pretty sure the lights pull more horsepower out of the engine than the pump does.

    *And that btw is my connection to the fire service and why my questions may be a bit odder than some of your readers. The local FDs decided to put together a hockey team but none of the lads or lasses were goalies. So I got drafted for about a year as their ‘keeper. Great bunch of team mates and a nice taste of the brotherhood.


    1. Same thing in Yolo County, CA (Winters is 2 (E26, B26, etc)), West Plainfield/Davis/UCD are all 3 (West Plainfield 30s, Davis 31s, 32s, and 33s, and UCD 34s – but all three are different departments), West Sac is 4, Woodland is 1, and so on.

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