Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments

Chapter 7, Part II

By Holice and Debbie

In June 1824, the condition of the Fire Department called forth great praise from a special committee of the Common Council, who made a tour of inspection, and declared that it was not surpassed by any other in the United States. The volunteer boys, who assumed the dress and authority of firemen, attached to companies, were the source of much annoyance, by causing false alarms of fire, whereby the members were constantly harassed and fatigued, and the machines injured to a great degree.

At this time the city was increasing with unprecedented rapidity. From actual enumeration, it appeared that in the year 1824 more than sixteen hundred new houses were erected, nearly all of them brick or stone. The price of real estate was also greatly increased. The erection of churches and other public edifices had become so frequent an occurrence as to forbid notice of each particular case. On the west side of the island the city proper was verging nearly to Greenwich Village, which was also expanding into a large and well-built suburban ward. Eastward from the Bowery a settlement was springing up quite beyond the compact part of the city. In the middle portion, on both side of Broadway, were many half rural residences of retired merchants and men of wealth. The old Potter's Field was becoming an obstacle to the city's progress in that vicinity, and it was accordingly determined to level and grade it, to be kept as a public promenade--the present Washington Square.

Jameson Cox was elected chief engineer of the Department at the meeting of the Common Council held on December 6, 1824, and among the appointments made in January of the next year wre those of William P. Disosway, merchant, 45 Pearl Street, to Hook and Ladder No. 1, vice Hugh Aikman who joined the Supply Company; Richard Carman, carpenter, 60 Stone Street, to engine Company No. 3, vice Joseph Swaine resigned; Samuel B. Warner, sailmaker, 8 Garden Street, to engine company No. 3, vice Edward Ogden; Edmund Willetts, cartmen, 196 Eldridge Street, to Hook and Ladder No. 4, vice John Varick, resigned; George Bijotat, upholsterer, Bowery, to Engine company No. 19, vice Thomas Asten, term expired.

According to the report of Chief engineer Jameson Cox, the condition of the Department, in June, 1825, was:--Forty engines in good order, four indifferent, and two ordinary; four hook and ladder trucks and one hose wagon, ten thousand five hundred and seventy-four feet of hose, two hundred and twenty-eight fire buckets, eighteen ladders, and twenty-three hooks. With companies complete, the force would number one thousand three hundred and nineteen men, all told, but there were two hundred and thirty-one vacancies. During the year engine houses had been built for Companies Nos. 10, 19, and 33.

The committee on the Fire Department reported on the twentieth of June, on the subject of constructing public cisterns, and recommended a resolution, which was adopted, that the street commissioner be directed to prepare ordinances for the construction of ten public cisterns, the same to be used on the occasion of a fire by the Fire Department. Subsequently, on the nineteenth of December, 1825, ordinances were passed for the construction of five additional cisterns. On the twenty-third of the same month, the committee on the Fire Department were instructed to inquire into the expediency of filling all the public cisterns with water forthwith, and the fire companies were requested to volunteer their services to carry the above into effect.

A resolution was referred to the committee on the Fire Department, in conjunction with the chief engineer, to mature a report to the Board of some more energetic and efficient plan to protect the firemen when on duty at fires from the encroachments of the surrounding populace. On the Thirtieth of January, 1820, the committee reported the following resolution, which was adopted:

RESOLVED, That his honor, the mayor, be requested to address a circular to each of the foremen of the several companies of fire wardens, calling their attention to that section of the law pointed out their duties at fires, and that each of them would enforce the same on the members of their companies, and that the penalties which may hereafter be incurred by the constables and marshals of the city for not attending fire, be enforced. On the second of January, 1827, seven additional cisterns were ordered by the Common Council, and eighteen on the twenty-fifth of August, 1828.

The firemen of the city were an incorporated body, under the name and title of the Fire Department of the City of New York, and had certain emoluments allowed them, which the appropriated to charitable purposes, such as giving pensions to widows of deceased firemen, making donations to indigent disabled firemen, and furnishing necessary clothing to children of firemen, so as to enable them to attend the public schools. Each company appointed annually two of their number to represent them in the Fire Department,, and such representatives, when assembled, appointed out of the body of firemen in the city a Board of Trustees, who were intrusted with the funds, and at whose discretion widows were put on the pension list, and donations were made. In consequence of severe and heavy losses which the Department had sustained in 1826 by several moneyed institutions in the city, the Board of Trustees had come to the conclusion that they would be under the necessity of suspending the pensions and donations, unless they received assistance from their fellow-citizens. In January, 1827, the Common Council, recognizing the close connection between the interests of the firemen and the Corporation, decided that it was proper and judicious to extend a helping hand, and directed the comptroller to issue his warrant for one thousand dollars in favor of the treasurer of the Fire Department Fund. Two years after another one thousand dollars was donated, because the frequency of fires in the fall of 1829, and the consequent increasing demand on the treasury of the Fire Department fund from disabled and sick firemen, had left the treasury in December of that year almost exhausted. As many as eighty-eight widows, and a large number of orphan children, had to be provided for in that year.

At a fire at the Vauxhall Garden in august, 1828, one of the engine companies, and several members of other companies, refused to perform service, and a rumor prevailed throughout the city that the firemen as a body had refused to obey orders, which caused general alarm among the inhabitants. Upon investigation, it was found that the demoralization was very limited, and measures were taken to keep up the efficiency of the force.

Jameson Cox, chief engineer, presented his resignation on December 8, 1828, which was accepted. Philip W. Engs, Samuel J. Willis, and Uzziah Wenman were candidates for the position. Mr. Wenman was elected.

"Firemen's Hall," in Fulton Street, had accommodations for four engines. The placing of so many machines in one immediate vicinity had been found to be prejudicial to the services of the Department, and in some instances to be a nuisance to the neighborhood. These fact, superadded to the necessity of providing engines for the upper part of the city by taking them from the lower part those that could well be spared and were poorly supplied with men, had gradually caused the reduction of the number of engines there until, in February, 1829, only one was left, and the removal of that, too, had been decided on. the corporation concluded that the ground occupied for Firemen's Hall being no longer needed they would sell it by auction, which was done on April, 1.

In June, 1829, there were in the Department forty-eight engines, five hook and ladder trucks, with twenty-six ladders and twenty-nine hooks, and one thousand four hundred and thirty-two men with full companies, but only eight hundred and sixty-nine in actual service, there being five hundred and sixty-three vacancies.

Engine No. 28 was located on corporation ground on Mercer Street, and the council had directed that Hook and Ladder No. 6 should also be stationed there. It was therefore decided, On August, 1829, to erect a two-story brick building on the lot, in which, besides housing these companies, a ward court could be accommodated and the meetings of the Fire Department be held. Hence the origin of the present Firemen' s Hall.

Although the natural advantages of New York in other respects were not excelled, nor perhaps equalled, by any city in the world, yet it had to be admitted that the supply of water for household purposes and for the extinguishment of fires was, in 1829, very meager. Various schemes had been adopted for the purpose of bringing water into the city, but none had as yet complied with the main object of their charters, so far as the public was concerned, and it was found that similar incorporations of private individuals, whether they proposed at the commencement to furnish pure and wholesome water or pure and first quality gas, had an eye only to the profits of their incorporations, and the public suffered under their monopolies.

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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