Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments

Chapter 4, Part V

By Holice and Debbie


This ordinance also provides that when a fire occurs the watchman shall give notice to the fire wardens, whose names and addresses are required to be hung up in the watchhouse. "And it is enjoined on the inhabitants to place a lighted candle at the front window of their respective houses, in order that the people shall pass through the streets with greater safety." The men are also required at least once a month to exercise with their engines, etc., and to wash, clean, and examine them, under a penalty of six shillings, and for every failure to attend at the fire. And for leaving his engine while at a fire, and for failure to do his duty at a fire, a fine of twelve shillings is imposed, and to be removed from office as a fireman. The chief engineer is required to see that all buckets are collect after fires, and carried to the City hall, "and placed upon the pavement there under the hall, so that the citizens may know where to find them."

The fire wardens are required to examine the houses and buildings in their respective wards, and to see that they are properly furnished with buckets;" and also to examine fireplaces, chimneys, outhouses, and buildings, stoves and pipes thereof, and give notice of any danger or deficiency to the mayor or recorder, who can impose a fine of ten shillings, if he feels so disposed. Stoves could be erected without the approval of the fire wardens, but subject to fine of twenty shillings.

The need of street numbers had been for some time rendered apparent by the increasing growth of the city, and, in 1793, the corporation appointed a committee to prepare and report a feasible system. This was done, and the proposed method, beginning at the next house in every street terminating at either the rivers, at the intersection of the main street next the river, and numbering all houses below these intersecting streets, beginning with No. 1, looking upward in all the main streets and downward in all the slips, and so on to the end of the street or slip, was adopted by the corporation.

In 1793 the Fire Department consisted of twenty engines, two hook and ladder companies, twenty-two foremen, thirteen assistants, and three hundred and eighteen men.

About the year 1794 the fire engines wre of very inferior quality; and no water was to be had except from wooden-handle pumps. By a law of the corporation, every owner of a dwelling was obliged to procure a fire-bucket for every fireplace in the house or back kitchen. These buckets held three gallons, and were made of sole leather. They were hung in the passage, near the front door, and when the bell rang for fire the watchmen, firemen, and boys, while running to the fire, sang out, "Throw out your buckets." These were picked up by the first to come along. Two lines were formed, from the fire to the nearest pump; when the pump gave out the lines were carried to the nearest river; one line passed down the empty, the other passed up the full buckets. It was seldom that any person attempted to break through these lines. As we have said elsewhere he would be roughly handled if he tried it. The firemen expected every good citizen to give them aid.

Up to 1795 private citizens had furnished the fire-buckets. This plan did not prove satisfactory. As an improvement, each engine house was furnished with two poles, of sufficient length to carry twenty buckets each. These poles were carried on the shoulders of firemen when going to the fires, as may be seen represented in engravings on old firemen's certificates. The general rule that prevailed was, that the first fireman to reach the engine house after an alarm of fire should have a right to the pipe, and take it with him to the fire; that the next four firemen to arrive should bear away the bucket-poles; and that the rest of the company should run off with the engine, "Bawling out and demanding the aid of citizens as they proceeded on."

The small engine and house in Gold Street were removed in may, 1795, to the neighborhood of the hospital; and it was ordered that a new house be erected in Gold Street for an engine about to be purchased. Orders were also given for the erection of an engine house in the vicinity of that existing in Maiden Lane, which had become unfit for use, and had to be removed from Mr. Rutgers lot, on which it stood.

An amendment to the building laws was recommended in February, 1795, that no building, excepting those of stone or brick, and covered with slate or tile, should be of any greater height from the level of the ground to the lower part of the roof than twenty-eight feet, and that the pitch of the roof should not exceed ten inches per foot.

A fire engine was located adjacent top the Methodist church, in the Seventh Ward, in June of this year. In October, an ordinance was passed compelling the Tea Water men to supply the engines with water in case of fire.

The Fresh Pond, or, as the Dutch designated it, Kolch, which name had been corrupted into the "Collect," was the scene of one of the most interesting events that the world ever saw. That was nothing less than the original experiment in steam navigation. Here, in 1795, was exhibited by John Stevens, of Hoboken, a boat with a screw propeller driven by a stream engine. The next year another experiment was made in the same place by John Fitch, the real inventor of steam navigation, with a ship's yawl, into which he had placed a rude steam engine of his own construction, with paddle-wheels at the sides of the boat. These experiments, with Fitch's invention, were made in the presence and under the inspection of chancellor Livingston, and Stevens, and Roosevelt, and doubtless afforded many of the facts and suggestion through which Fulton made the art available for useful purposes. Five men were added to each Hook and Ladder Company in November, 1796.

John Bogart, a member of Engine Company No. 14, was appointed a fire warden in December, and on the third of the following month, Abraham Coddington was appointed to take his place in the company.

On December 9, about one o'clock, a destructive fire broke out near the center of Murray's Wharf, Coffee House slip, which, notwithstanding the exertions of all the engines, and a vast concourse of the citizens, could not be got under until it terminated at the fly market, and having consumed nearly fifty buildings, the property of a number of citizens, some of whom, in consequence, were reduced from affluence to indigence.

The location of engine houses in 1796 was as follows:

No. 1 Engine House, opposite Groshan's brewhouse, Barley Street.
No. 2 Engine House, near the new Methodist church.No. 3 Engine House, Nassau Street, opposite City hall.
No. 4 Engine House, fronting the Playhouse, John Street.
No. 5 Engine house
No. 6 Engine House, at the College Wall, Murray Street.
No. 7 Engine House, Cliff Street, by the Church Wall.No. 8 Engine House, adjoining the Goal yard.
No. 9 Engine House, Whitehall Street, near the Government House.
No. 10 Engine House, top of Catharine Street, in Chatham Street.
No. 11 Engine House, Hanover Square.No.12 Engine House, at the junction of Pearl and Cherry Streets.
No.13 Engine House, near Ferry Stairs, Fish Market.
No.14 Engine House
No.15 Engine House, in Nassau Street, opposite the Federal hall.
No.16 Engine House, in Liberty Street, near the New Dutch Church.
No.17 Engine House, near the New Slip.
No.18 Engine House, on the Hill, John Street near Pearl Street.
No.19 Engine House, Hester Street, near Bowery Lane.
No.20 Engine House, Greenwich Street, at the new Albany Pier.
No.21 Engine House, adjoining the burial ground of the Baptist Church, Gold Street.No.22 Engine House, George Street.

A new engine was purchased in January, 1797, for Engine Company No. 1, and the membership raised to twenty. At the same time the petition of Peter Curtenius and others for a fire engine in Greenwich Street, between Reade and Lispenard Streets, was granted.

John Halsey represented to the Common Council in February, 1797, that he would undertake to import from Hamburg two fire engines, with long hoses, to convey water from the river into the interior of the city, of superior quality, and on cheaper terms than similar machines could be manufactured in this country. The Council gave Mr. Halsey encouragement, and appointed a committee to communicate with him.

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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