Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments

Chapter 6, Part IV

By Holice and Debbie

The ordinance also provided that the names and places of abode of the members of the Common Council, engineers, fire wardens, and foremen of their respective companies, and bell ringers, annually, in the month of December, should be printed and set up in several watch houses in the city, by the city inspector; and whenever fire should happen in the night, the watchmen should give notice to each of the members of the Common Council, engineers, fire wardens, foremen, and bell rings within their respective watch districts. Moreover, it was the duty of every watchman "upon the breaking out of any fire to alarm the citizens by crying 'Fire' and mentioning the street where it may be, so that the firemen and citizens may thereby be generally directed where to repaid. In case, however, that a chimney only should be on fire--either by day or night--the fire bell at the City Hall, and the bells of several church shall not be rung; but only on occasions where a building shall be proclaimed to be on fire. And it is enjoined on the occupants to place a lighted candle at the windows of their respective buildings, when fire may happen at night, in order that citizens may pass along the streets with the greater safety.

Constables and marshals were also, on an alarm of fire, to repair to the place of such fire, with their staves of office, and to attend and obey such orders as might be given them by the mayor, recorder, or any of the aldermen or assistant aldermen.

Owners or occupants of every dwelling house, having less then three fir places shall provide one leathern bucket; and having three fireplaces and less than six, two leathern buckets, and having six fireplaces and less than nine, four leathern buckets; and having nine fireplaces and upwards, six leathern bucket, to be marked with at least the initial letters of the owner's name, with the number of the house to which it belongs, and the name of the street in which such house is situate. Every brewhouse, distillery, surgarhouse, soap and candle manufactory and ship chandlery store, to provide nine leathern buckets, every bakehouse and air furnace to provide sic, over and above the buckets provided for their respective dwelling houses. Each of these buckets to contain two gallons and a half of water, and to be suspended in some convenient place, ready to be delivered and used for extinguishing fires, when any should occur. Suck buckets, moreover, to be furnished and provided at the expense of the inhabitant or occupant of said premises.

And if such inhabitant or occupant be a tenant, the price of such leathern bucket shall be allowed and deducted out of the rent, unless there be a special agreement between the parties to the contrary." "It shall nevertheless be optional," the ordinance declares furthermore, "with any owner of a dwelling house, as aforesaid, to surrender and deliver over to the mayor, aldermen and commonalty such number of leathern buckets not exceeding one half of the whole number such dwelling house is required to have; which buckets, when surrendered and delivered over to whomsoever the Common council shall direct, shall become public buckets; and shall be deposited in such suitable place or places, in was ward, as they shall direct, and for which the owner of every such dwelling house, thereafter, so many leathern buckets as shall be so surrendered and delivered over, and the same shall also be registered in a book, to be kept for the purpose, by the city inspector.

With some of the church congregations, it was made the express duty for the sextons to ring the bells at an alarm of fire, and with others it was an implied duty. At the fire on December 19, 1818, only a few of the bells were rung, and in consequence a large proportion of the firemen were not alarmed.

This fact was taken cognizance of by the Common Council, who convened a meeting of church officers, and, to facilitate matters, it was made the duty of the watchmen at the cry of fire immediately to alarm the sextons.

The propriety of taxing the fire insurance companies of the city for the whole or a proportion of the expense annually incurred for the Department was discussed in the Common Council in December, 1818, and the Committee on Applications to the Legislature were directed to inquire into its expediency.

On the twenty-seventh of December, 1819, the committee on the Fire Department reported that the fire buckets were rapidly being superseded by the use of hose, and, on their recommendation, the use of fire buckets at fires were dispensed with.

Very soon every new engine was furnished with suctions, and the old machines were altered so as to use them. There was also an active and increasing demand for an additional supply of hose, and hose carriages. The latter, at this time, consisted of a reel placed on the axle of two cartwheels, and was the invention of foreman David J. Hubbs. It was either attached to the engine by tail hooks, or drawn by two members of the company, "Hubb's Baby," as the simple contrivance was called, was the origin of the hose companies.

According to the Comptroller's report for the year 1819 the amount expended for building engine houses in Fayette and Rose Streets, and at Greenwich, for ground and Buildings, and building a house on Beaver Street, was twenty-one thousand and ninety-six dollars, and on account of engines to A. W. Hardenbrook, five thousand and ninety-six dollars and seventeen cents.

The floating engine had practically been in disuse during the year 1818, lying aground most of time in her slip at the foot of Roosevelt Street. In the summer of 1819 it was taken to the Corporation Yard on Leonard Street, and there set up as a supply engine for extinguishing fires in that part of the city. A company was formed to manage it, called Supply Engine Company No. 1, and consisting of Jacob P. Roome, foreman; Jacob Smith, Jr., assistant; William Roome, Isaac Skaats, William M. Wilson, and John Bowman. This company was stationed over a large well of water in the Public Yard, from which she never moved, and consequently, never used only when the fire happened in the immediate neighborhood. The duties of the company, therefore, were much less arduous than those of other firemen, except the fire wardens. The Common Council, in view of these facts, decided in January, 1829, that no person should be eligible for membership in that company who had not borne the burden of the day of doing more active duty a few years previous, and, accordingly, fixed the necessary qualification for membership therein at five years' service in the Department. But this action was repealed in February, 1830, for various reasons, among which were, that the term of service of firemen had been reduced from ten to seven years, and that during the existence of the restriction there had not been a single application for membership.

In conformity with an act passed in April, 1820. The fire wardens of the city were clothed with authority, in June of that year, to discharge the duties of health wardens, and were placed under the control of the Board of Health.

The value of the estate vested in the Fire Department as public property in 1820 was seventy-two thousand seven hundred and eighty-nine dollars.

The Common Council, on December 26, 1820, reduced the salary of the chief engineer, which had been eight hundred dollars, to five hundred dollars per annum. This ordinance also adopted the main features of the ordinance of May 5, 1817, and ordained that "no person shall be elected a firemen until he shall have attained the age of twenty-one years."

On the tenth of June, 1822, the Common Council ordained that whenever the office of any of the engineers of the Fire Department shall become vacant, it shall be the duty of the engineers of that Department to nominate five persons from among the foremen as suitable to supply such vacancy, and to give notice thereof to the foremen of the fire companies, and to require them to meet at such time and place as the said engineers shall appoint; and that the said engineers and firemen shall then and there, or at such other time and place as they may appoint by joint ballot, designate from the persons so nominated the person whom they may wish to fill such vacancy; and that no person shall be considered as so designated who shall not receive a majority of all the votes which shall be give.

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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