Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments

Chapter 7, Part III

By Holice and Debbie

The water pipes of the Manhattan company extended to such parts of the city as they deemed advisable to put them in on the score of profit, and the upper part of the city, although no possessed of good water, had it, however, of a quality superior to that supplied by the Manhattan Company, and, therefore, the residents were unwilling generally to take the Manhattan water. The result was that all that part of the city lying above Grand Street, on Broadway, or Pearl Street on the east side of the city, did not have the use of the Manhattan water for the purposes of extinguishing fires. It became necessary, therefore, for the corporation to obtain a supply of water for that purpose to the upper part of the city.

The breadth of the island at Grand Street was then reckoned about two miles, but this did not materially differ as high up as Fourteenth Street. The extreme distance between those points was, consequently, on mile, and to bring water from either river at the extreme distance would require twenty-six engines, and thus the whole engine establishment could not form two lines. The furnishing water by engines from the rivers was not only too limited a mode to be at all relied on for that section of the city, but was also too laborious on the firemen.

Another mode of supply was by cistern, which was in operation at this period to a limited extent. The corporation had forty public cisterns, at a cost of twenty-four thousand dollars, which usually contained one hundred hogsheads. To provide for the section of the city between Fourteenth and Grand Streets on Broadway, and Fourteenth and pearl Streets on Chatham, by cisterns, would require the construction of at least sixth additional; cisterns, on the scale of a cistern for each one thousand square feet, which, at an expense of six hundred dollars each, would call for an expenditure of thirty-six thousand dollars.

In March, 1829, the corporation decided to lay down two lines of iron pipes for the security against fire of the section of the city before described, one line of tubes run from fourteenth Street through the Bowery, to its termination at Chatham Street, and a line of tubes from Fourteenth Street through Broadway to Cabal Street, connecting with a reservoirs containing two thousand hogsheads (or as much as twenty cisterns) on Fourteenth Street.

The Committee on the Fire Department reported on the sixteenth of November, 1829, that, although they had excavated only fifty feet in depth at Thirteenth Street, yet the quantity of water would be sufficient to fill the reservoir and pipes, as it was estimated that seventy hogsheads of water were issued in a day; that the cast-iron tank was received from Philadelphia, and that the same should be enclosed with a brick or wooden building--the cost of the former being estimated at three thousand five hundred dollars, and of the latter two thousand dollars. Which report was agreed to.

A fireman should have experienced five years' service before he was eligible for appointment as a warden. In consequence of the reduction of the term of service of firemen from ten to seven years, the wardens encountered no small difficulty in procuring the aid of such competent persons as were willing to do the duty of wardens for the short space of time--two years--during which they were eligible for office. The ordinance affecting this matter was therefore amended in November, 1830, reducing the term of service for eligibility from five to three years.

The legislature, on April 16, 1831m extended the charter of the firemen of the city of New York, passed March, 1798, to the year 1860. The corporation was likewise empowered to purchase, hold, and convey any estate, real or personal, for the use and objects for which the said corporation was instituted, "but such real or personal estate shall not exceed the sum of fifty thousand dollars."

This act was amended March 25, 1851, by which the said corporation could hold and convey any estate, real and personal, for the use already mentioned, but not to exceed the sum of one hundred thousand dollars.

An important state law, relative to the prevention of fires in the city of New York, was enacted on the twentieth of April 1830. This law was quite lengthy, containing forty-two sections. Reference can be made only to its general features. Party walls, the law declared, shall be constructed of stone or brick; outside party walls shall not be less than eight inches thick, except flues of chimneys; party or end walls shall rise and be extended to the roof, and so far through the same as to meet and be joined to the slate, tile, or other covering thereof, by a layer of mortar or cement; beams and other timbers in the party walls shall be separated from each other, at least four inches, by brick or mortar; all hearths shall be supported with arches of stone of brick. No timber shall be used in the front or rear of any building within such fire limits, where stone is now commonly used; every building with the fire limits, which may hereafter be damaged by fire, to an amount equal to the two-thirds of the whole value thereof, after the lapse of at least fifteen years from the time of its first erection, shall be repaired or built according to the provisions of this act; no wooden shed exceeding twelve feet in height at the peak shall be erected with the fire limits.

A large part of the act is devoted to the regulation of the keeping and storage of gunpowder.

A law, forming a hydrant company, was passed by the Common Council on July 16, 1831. This company consisted of a foreman, assistant, a clerk, and twenty men, who were firemen and hydrant men. It was their duty, on an alarm of fire, to proceed to the hydrants, and see to the water being properly let out, that the hydrants were not injured, that they were properly secured and put in order after the fire was extinguished; and also to see that the stopcocks were kept in order; and generally to attend to the engines being supplied with water from the reservoir; to report all injuries and defects which they might discover in any part of the works, to the chief engineer. The caps of said company were painted black, and had the words, "Hydrant Company" on the frontispiece thereof.

A Fire and Building Department was created and organized by a law passed and approved in October, 1831. It was composed of three "discreet and proper persons," known as the Commissioners of the Fire and Building Department, and the commissioners were respectively designated a superintendent of buildings, chief engineer, and commissioner of the Fire Department.

The duty of the superintendent of buildings required him to advertise for estimates for all public buildings which might thereafter be erected under the authority of the Common council, for all repairs to public buildings then in use, etc.

It was the duty of the chief engineer to report the names of persons who maybe designated by the engineers and foremen as suitable persons to be appointed by the common Council to fill vacancies in fire companies; in all cases of fire to have the sole and absolute command and control over all the engines and members of the Fire Department; to direct the other engineers to take proper measures that the fire engines were suitably arranged and duly worked; to examine, once in every moth, into the condition and number of fire engines, and the buckets, and other fire apparatus, and fire engines houses; and report the same to the Common council twice in every year; and whenever any of the engines and apparatus should require to be repaired or new ones built, the chief engineer should personally inspect the building of the same; to report in writing all accidents by fire, with the probable cause thereof, etc.

Further, the commissioners should give their personal attention and supervision to the laying down of all such water pipes as the Common Council may direct, take charge of the reservoir and water establishment in Thirteenth Street, see that the hydrants were in order, etc.

The commissioners were obliged to give bonds in the sum of five thousand dollars, besides being sworn, for the faithful performance of their duties.

Pursuant to the organizing of the new Department, the enlargement opf the house of Fire engine Company No. 10, the erection of a two-story brick house on the lot corner of Delancey and Attorney Streets for the accommodation of a fire engine, hook and ladder company, and hose truck, the building of a hose house in Wooster Street, near Houston Street, the procuring of four thousand feet of hose, and the construction of a new engine for Company No. 11, were undertaken immediately.

In March, 1832, the fire limits were extended so as to include all that part of the city beginning on West Street, one hundred feet northerly from Spring Street, and running thence northerly along West Street to Bank Street, thence easterly through Bank Street to Greenwich Lane, thence southerly through Greenwich Lane to the east side of Sixth Avenue at a point northerly one hundred feet from Eighth Street, thence westerly along Sixth Avenue to a line distant southerly one hundred feet from Amity Lane, thence easterly and parallel with Amity Street to a line distant westerly one hundred feet from Greene Street, thence southerly and parallel with Greene Street to a line distant one hundred feet northerly from Spring Street, and thence westerly and parallel with Spring to West Street, at the place of beginning.

Also beginning at the Bowery, one hundred feet northerly from Rivington Street, and running thence northerly along the Bowery to a line distant southerly one hundred feet from North Street, thence easterly and parallel with North Street to orchard Street, thence southerly along Orchard Street to a line distant one hundred feet northerly to Rivington Street, and thence westerly and parallel with Rivington Street, to the Bowery at the place of beginning.

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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