Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments

Chapter 4, Part IV

By Holice and Debbie


ART. IV. The Trustees shall class themselves in three classes, viz: Nos. 1,2, and 3. No. 1 shall go out the first year, No. 2 the second, and No. 3 the third year, and the representatives shall choose three new Trustees annually, at a meeting which shall be called by the President, or in his absence, by the Vice-president, on the first Monday of July in every year, and as much oftener as any five representatives may require it.

ART. V. the Trustees shall have the sole disposal of the moneys in the funds, which shall be for the relief of such disabled Firemen, or their families, as may be interested in this fund, and who may, in the opinion of a majority of the Trustees, be worthy of assistance.

ART. VI. At a meeting of the representatives, they shall have a right to inquire into the application of the funds, and, in case of misapplication, or malconduct of any member, they shall have a right to call them to account, and, if found guilty of a breach of trust, shall be displaced, and a new Trustee or Treasurer elected.

In the month of December of this year, Nathaniel Hawkhurst, and some others in the vicinity of Burling Slip and Queen Street, proposed to the Corporation to purchase at their own expense a fire engine, and a proper place for its reception, if the Board would appoint them firemen. The proposal was accepted. In the same month, upon the representation of Foreman Kerley and the firemen of the engine located in cherry Street, that it was too small for the service required of it, steps were taken to procure one of proper size, the Cherry Street engine to be removed to the almshouse. On the eighteenth of April, 1792, a fire engine, lately imported from London, was purchased from John W. Thompson for ninety pounds sterling.

The organization of the fire Department up to January, 1792, consisted exclusively of engineers and foremen. The firemen, who were excluded, felt that they had a right to be represented, and they succeeded in carrying their point. By this change each company consisting of eighteen men were entitled to send two representatives, and each company consisting of less the this number was entitled to send one representative. Instead of all the engineers being members of the organization, only one of them was admitted to membership. The following were elected officers: John Stagg, president; Ahasuerus Turk, vice-president; William J. Elsworth, treasurer; Abraham Franklin, secretary.

The old Kennedy House (the Washington Hotel of later times) was located at No. 1 Broadway. This building was an object of great historic interest. It was, during the Revolution, occupied successively by Cornwallis, Clinton, Howe, and Washington, and here Andr� commenced his correspondence with Arnold. The house was erected in 1760, by Hon, Captain Kennedy, afterwards Earl of Cassilis. The great fires in 1776 and 1778 occurred while the British held possession of the city. This building was pulled down by Cyrus W. Field, who built a more pretentious structure on its site.

The authorities went into the business of manufacturing their own engines--or, rather, experimenting therein--in 1792, and had the satisfaction of receiving a report in June of that year from Engineer Ellsworth, to the effect that the engine had been successfully finished. It was deposited "in the rear of Mr. Mesier's lot, south of Cortlandt Street," under the directions of the aldermen and assistant aldermen of the Fourth Ward.

About the same time the small engine at the almshouse was removed to the Seventh Ward, to be located as the aldermen of that ward and the assistant aldermen of the Sixth Ward should determine. This was the origination of Engine Company No. 19.

The matter of obtaining water at fires was principally by raising it in hand buckets from the slips, which the inhabitants considered a most disagreeable duty. The experiment of a copper pump for drawing water out of the river was suggested in the Council in July, 1792, and provoked a heated debate on the utility of the measure, etc. It was agreed to, and the engineer was ordered to superintend its construction.

The pump was completed by January, 1793, and deposited in the engine house at the read of the City Hall, and Richard Kip, and his father, James Kip, were charged with the management of it.

In January, 1793, upon the representation of Engineer Ellsworth, that, on account of the increase in the number of engines and firemen, an additional engineer had become necessary, the Common Council appointed Ahasuerus Turk an engineer.

The fire engine house in Greenwich Street was removed in July, to the Hay Scales, in front of the basin at Thames and Little Queen Streets.

Owing to the heavy fall of snow during the month of December, sleds were build for conveying Engines No. 17, 18, and 19, to fires, and two additional men were added to Engine company No. 19, who, because of their "remote situation from the body of the city, found it difficult to transport their engine."

In 1793, the Common Council embodied all its rules for the conduct of the Fire Department in a single ordinance. This ordinance is too valuable and too quaint a document not to be given nearly verbatim:

"That the inhabitant and owner of every house in this city having less than three fireplaces shall provide on Leather Bucket; and having three fireplaces and under six, two; and having six fireplaces and under nine, four, and having nine fireplaces and upwards, six; and every Brew-House, Distilling and Sugar House, nine buckets; and every Bake House four Buckets, each of which Buckets * * * shall be sufficient to contain at least two gallons and a half of Water, and shall be marked with at least the initial letters of the Landlord's name, and shall be hung in the entry or near the Front Door, * * * ready to be used for extinguishing fires, when there shall be occasion.  The buckets to be got at the expense of the owner of the house, the tenant having the right to deduct the cost of the same from his rent. Penalty, six shillings for each bucket not provided.

So many firemen shall from time to time be appointed in each of the Wards of this city as the Common Council shall deem propre, and shall be called Fire Wardens, whose Duty it shall be, immediately on the cry of fire, to repaid to the place where it shall be, and to direct the inhabitants in forming themselves into Ranks for handling the Buckets to supply the Fire engines with Water, in such places and in such manner as they may think will best answer the purpose, under the direction of the Mayor, Recorder, and Aldermen, if present.

This ordinance further provides that the mayor, recorder, aldermen and assistants shall carry at fires "a white wand, at least five feet in length, with a gilded flame at the top; and each of the fire wardens shall wear upon those occasions a cap with the city arms painted on the front, and the crown painted white, and carry in his hand * * * a speaking trumpet painted white."

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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