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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