When we went to flushing airport, it was just a few days after the 9/11 attack on the world trade center.
The immediate days after 9/11 were a bit of a blur. Life in the city came to a halt. Instead of exploring, I found myself hosting a few friends over for drinks 2 or 3 days later – all of us trading stories of where we were, what happened that morning directly to us, and what comes next. Everything was uncertain. Was this just the first wave? Would there be more attacks? What did this mean for our ‘illegal’ but completely harmless (and not very well known at the time) hobby?
The one thing we all concluded was that there would be significantly less tolerance of exploring in the short term – which was at the time still rather off the public radar. The only other group doing any exploring in NYC (‘The Jinx Project’) immediately threw a message on their website that they were suspending any exploring operations. Their press release was full of talk about how exploring could distract first responders and lead to encounters with justifiably trigger itchy law enforcement officials.
Their statement helped get me out of the shock of those times and into the right state of mind – I penned a response that was posted online without any hesitation – here’s what it said:
“These concerns are noted, of course, but are obviously nowhere near enough to stop our activities. We’ve only drawn the attention of the police on one occasion, due to being a bit too bold and sloppy. Still, this incident resulted in no formal charges, or even a trip ‘downtown’. In fact, it was quite friendly and interesting. If your methods are sloppy enough to bring police attention, and you do not know how to communicate with such figures when encountered, you probably should stop. But the mayor of our good city has pressed it’s citizens to ‘get back to a normal life’, and that is what we are doing. This is part of our normal lives. We will not let fear of any variety overcome us. We enjoy the freedoms of living in this country to their fullest, and invite those like minded to also live each day as if it were to be their last. If there was a lesson to be learned 9.11.01, it was that life is too short to live paralyzed by fear.”
So what was the first thing we explored after 9/11? An abandoned airport. It just seemed fitting, and also had a very low chance of drawing any attention – a good ‘ice breaker’ to get back into the normal swing of things. Here’s the rest of my original write up from that trip –
“The airport has not been used in a good long while (15+ years), so ease of access was somewhat expected. The airport was closed simply due to its size: it’s a tiny location. Only the smallest of planes could land here, and most people who fly into NYC don’t fly in small 2 seater planes. Its location also proved problematic, being in the shadow of other larger airports dominated by big money jet flights. Flushing Airport was a victim of its small size, pure and simple.
In a side lot of the facility we uncovered an area of rusting, abandoned trucks, trailers, cars, and a boat named “big birtha”. It looked like an ex NYPD naval boat.
In the distance we could see the tops of hangars – where we ultimately wanted to be. The only problem was no direct path to them. Blocking our entry were tall reeds and swampy wetlands. The reeds were 5 to 6 feet above our heads and packed so densely there was no way to navigate through them with ease.
We redirected ourselves to a path which lead us to the main road alongside the west side of the airport. Parts of this 2 lane road are now completely swallowed up by the plant life, yet streetlamps and utility lines still hung overhead. Some of the polls apparently contain radio towers for other NYC area airports, which is startling in some respects since anyone might enter this area and tamper with them if they have the malicious desire to.
A driveway leads into the the front of one hangar. Here we find ourselves on a completely flooded runway. The hangar itself is about 1/2 flooded on this day.
Inside the there is an abandoned fire engine. One can only assume there is some FAA regulation that all airports have fire engines, and this one was abandoned here with the rest of the airport. On the side of it is recent graffiti which reads “kill palestine”. It’s somewhat fitting that one might find such graffiti on an abandoned fire rig, considering the shear number of FDNY men who were killed on that fateful September 11th morning, answering the worst of humanity with their best.
Flushing Airport opened in 1927 and closed in 1984. For a short while, it served as a landing space for Blimps. A local area man proposed that it be reopened for this purpose, though the idea never gained any traction. In 2004, ex-mayor Bloomberg announced a very ambitions plan to redevelop the site as warehousing. This never happened. In 2013 Bloomberg proposed that the airport be ‘redeveloped’ as a park in return for taking away park space at Flushing Meadows for a much hated soccer stadium that the city would likely pay to build. This plan also failed. Today, the city is attempting to rebuild Linden Place (the road that runs through it). The rest of the airport has accumulated significantly more water and has fully returned to nature. You can read quite a bit more about the airport’s history here, and some video footage here.
Perhaps the most interesting piece of history regarding the airport that hasn’t been covered elsewhere was the abandoned fire engine. We know what happened to it: Scrappers cut up and hauled the truck away in 2002 – but how did it get there?
The truck was originally bought by FDNY in 1969. It was a four door cab, engine forward Mack model R611F-10 1000gpm pumper truck. “1000gpm” is ‘gallons per minute – this thing was built to pump a lot of water, fast. FDNY only ordered 5 of these trucks – a very small number in a fleet of hundreds of vehicles. They were assigned to a variety of fire houses for a few years before they were all assigned to ‘Fire Salvage’ units. They were among the largest pumpers ever utilized by FDNY.
‘Fire Patrol, and ‘Fire Salvage’, what were they and what’s the difference?
The NYC Fire Patrol was the first organized fire department in NYC. Formed in 1839, the fire patrol was privately funded through money paid by the New York Board of Fire Underwriters. The fire patrol was finally shut down in 2006. The old quarters of Fire Patrol Unit 2 in the village became the home of CNN TV correspondent Anderson Cooper.
‘Fire Salvage’ operated similar to the Fire Patrol. They were specialized units that were funded by the federal government (basically as a jobs program) started in the 1970s. The last of these units were disbanded in 1991. The commanding officer and driver “chauffeur” were regular FDNY members, while the crews were civilian employees. A fire salvage crew would respond to a fire when requested by the fire chief on the scene. They were only sent to residential fires – anything commercial (office towers, stores, etc) was the domain of the Fire Patrol. According to one ex FDNY Member: “There was some animosity between the two because the Fire Patrol held a charter for the right to respond and perform salvage at all fires, commercial or residential. They resented salvage taking work away. The Fire Patrol members were in the IAFF (international association of fire fighters) when I was a member and the salvage core was non-union.”. (There’s not a whole lot of information online about NYC’s Fire Salvage squads – anyone that knows more should feel free to comment below)
After being used by Fire Salvage for a few years, the truck was turned over to (then) city owned airport – which kept it at Flushing Airport and abandoned it there when the airfield closed. This truck could have fetched many thousands of dollars on the used market – and the city was extremely cash strapped at the time. It’s frankly baffling that this truck was simply abandoned in place. But hey no one ever accused the NYC Government of being efficient or smart.
Thus ends the sad tale of this abandoned fire rig. So far as I know, it is the only city owned fire rig to ever be abandoned. Even the rigs destroyed on 9/11 were hauled away with dignity.