Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments

Chapter 8, Part II

By Holice and Debbie

In May, 1838, the laws and ordinances relating to fires and the Fire Department were amended and modified so that the Department should consist of a chief engineer, nine assistant engineers, a water purveyor, and as many fire wardens, fir engine men, hosemen, and hook and ladder men as might from time to time be appointed by the Common Council. The chief engineer should be nominated by the engineers, foremen, and assistant foremen; and the assistant engineers by the foremen and assistant foremen of the fir companies, respectively, to the common Council for appointment and should hold their offices during the pleasure of the Common Council.

The salary of the chief engineer was fixed at twelve hundred dollars per year.

The water purveyor should be appointed by, and hold office during the pleasure of the Common council, at a salary of one thousand dollars per year, take charge of the public reservoirs and establishments of water for the extinguishment of fires.

The engineers, foremen, and assistant foremen, should meet on the first Tuesday in June annually for the purpose of nominating a suitable person for chief engineer.

So many of the freeholders or freemen as the Common Council deemed proper should from time to time be appointed in each of the wards of the city, denominated fire wardens, assigned and attached by the mayor to such company of firemen as he should think proper, the fire wardens o each ward forming a separate company.

The names and places of abode of the members of the Common council, engineers, fire wardens, and firemen of the respective companies, and bell ringers, were annually, in the month of June, printed and set up in the several watchhouses by the city inspector, and whenever any fire happened in the night, the watch gave notice to them within their respective watch districts.

Mayor Aaron Clark, in his annual message, referring tot he Fire Department, said that their importance was universally admitted. They were to be congratulated, he said, ipon their efficiency and usefulness, and the general harmony then prevailing mong the companies composing the department, consisting, as it did, of a numerous body of citizens engaged in various pursuits and businesses, and voluntarily associated for the preservation of property and life from the ravages of conflagration, it had become identified with the safety and the happiness of the citizens. For intrepidity, skill, and firmness of purpose "in the summer's heat and the winter's cold," their firemen were unsurpassed by those of any country.

In July, 1838, the insurance companies urged upon the authorities the passage of an ordinance for the appointment of commissioners to investigate the causes of fires. The Common Council responded with a law to appoint three persons at a salary of one thousand dollars each per annum, who should attend at all fires, and immediately thereafter investigate the cause thereof, and file a report of the evidence taken and the result of their investigation.

The ordinance was to go into effect on the first of August, 1838, provided that the sum of four thousand dollars had been previously paid into the city treasurer by one or more of the insurance companies, for the purpose of defraying the expense incurred by the commission, which latter should continue to force sop long as one or more of the companies should on or before June 1 in each year pay a similar amount.

The city in 1838 was divided into five districts, which were pointed out by the bell as follows:

First District--one stroke of the bell.
Second District--two strokes of the bell.
Third District--three strokes of the bell.
Fourth District--four strokes of the bell.
Fifth District--a continual ringing.

The First District was comprehended by a line from the foot of Murray Street to the City Hall, and in a line from the northwest corner of the City hall parallel with the North River, to Twenty-first Street.

The Second District was bounded by the latter line, and a straight line from the City hall to Third Avenue at Twenty-first Street.

The Third district was bounded by the latter, and a line from the City Hall to the East river, above the dry dock.

The Fourth District was bounded by the latter, and comprehended all the space between that and the East River, as far down as Frankfort Street.

The Fifth District was all that part of the city below Frankfort and Murray Streets.

The encouraging and well-deserved compliment paid the Fire Department by mayor Clark in 1838 was echoed in 1839 by mayor Isaac L. Varian, who said, in addressing the municipal legislature, that it deserved their fostering care. During the past year the amount of property destroyed by fire was small, compared with former years. The introduction of water for the purpose of extinguishing fires through pipes and hydrants had afforded additional facilities to the firemen, and on the plan the pipes were being laid, a farther extension of them was deemed advisable, and contracts were made for the supply of six thousand five hundred water pipes.

A proposition was submitted to the legislature in June, 1840, without any application on the part of the Common Council, in regard to the Fire Department of this city, which was adopted by one branch of that body, but in the other was not acted on, and did not become a law. This proposition was to deprive the Common council of all control over the Department, and place it in the hands of persons who were not in any way responsible to the public authorities, while it left the whole expense of the Department to be paid from the treasury. Such a measure was not acceptable to the Common Council; and instead of removing the difficulties which had informer years operated injuriously against the Department, would have added, the Council claimed, new ones of a more serious character.

Since 1836 the introduction of political feelings and views into the general management of the Fire Department had materially affected its usefulness and tended much to produce the evils which the law above referred to was designed to remedy.

It was directed by the Common council, march 11, 1840, that a cupola and alarm bell be placed on Center market, and that the expense thereof be paid out of the general appropriation for the Fire Department, and that the superintendent of buildings and repairs, under the direction of the joint committee on fire water, contract for the same.

It was decreed also that a watchman should, at all times, be stationed at the cupola of the City Hall, Reservoir, Center, Essex, and Jefferson markets, for the purpose of giving an alarm whenever a fire occurred. The fire and water committee, by and with the consent of the mayor, appointed a competent number of persons to perform such duty by day and night, who were severally removable by the committee. These men were paid for their services, at the rate of two dollars per day, on their bills being certified by the chairman of the fire and water committee.

In the winter of 1841, it was sought to still further amend and modify the laws respecting the Fire Department. The firemen were to be appointed by and under the control, supervision, etc., of five commissioners, elected and appointed by the representatives of the New York Fire Department, holding office for five years, at one thousand dollars each per annum, to be known as, "The Commissioners of the Fire Department of the City of New York," and no person should be appointed as a commissioner who had not served at least five years as a fireman. The commissioners should have the power to appoint a chief engineer and seven assistant engineers, subject to removal at any time by said commissioners. They should have power to appoint the firemen, and to purchase all apparatus' tp appoint on the recommendation of the alderman and assistant alderman of each ward, five persons to each ward, to be denominated "Fire Policemen;" to appoint two persons as cleaners,; and to regulate and fix the salaries of chief and assistant engineers, the fire policemen, and the cleaners.

The salary of the chief engineer, it may be observed here, varied considerably. In 1819 it was $800 a year; in 1820, $500; in 1834, $1,000; in 1838, $1,200; in 1839, $500; in 1841, $1,000; in 1844, $1,500; in 1848, $2,000; in 1855, $3,000; and from 1857 yo 1865, $5,000. Long before 1841 the chief engineer was the appointee of the Common Council, then he became the annual choice of the engineers, foreman and assistant foreman. In 1842 an ordinance was passed by which the chief engineer was nominated by the firemen, appointed by the Common Council and served until a majority of the firemen desired a new election. At various times there were heated arguments as to the best method of appointing or electing a chief engineer. The citizens showed their interest in the Department by joining in these discussions through the press. The opinion of the majority prevailed that that important officer should be the selection of the whole Department, who balloted for him every three tears.

The regular firemen continued to be much harassed by so-called volunteer associations, their good name tarnished, and their efforts often frustrated. The Common Council again (November 10, 1841) denounced this volunteer associations and the practice of permitting them to assume the garb of firemen, and to mingle in the duties there of. This, the ordinance declared, was not only in direct and open violation of the ordinances of the Common Council, but was calculated, in its results, to demoralize the character of youth, and bring reproach upon the Department, by the riotous and disorderly conduct in which these young men were so often engaged. Hence, the officers and members of each company were ordered forthwith to disband all associations of volunteers, and upon no occasion to suffer or permit them to have access to the public property; and all magistrates, watchmen, and police officers, were requested to prevent the congregating of all boys around or in the vicinity of the engine, hose, and hook and ladder houses, to the end that members of the Fire Department might be recognized as such, and be held responsible for all the deviation from the path of duty, and the requirements of the ordinances of the Common Council.

Fire companies were interdicted from removing their apparatus out of the district in which the same was located, below Fourteenth Street, in case of fire, or an alarm of fire, under the penalty of being subject to expulsion or suspension from the Fire Department, unless they should be permitted so to do by the chief or one both assistant engineers.

The fire districts were laid out as follows:

The First Fire District shall embrace all that part of the city lying north of a line from the foot of North Moore Street to the halls of Justice, and west of a line running from the Halls of Justice, through Lafayette and Irving Places.

The Second Fire District shall embrace all that part of the city lying east of the first district, and north of a line running from the halls of Justice to the foot of Roosevelt Street.

The Third Fire District shall embrace all that part of the city lying south of the first and second districts.

Engine Companies Nos. 22, 38, 42 (June 22, 1842), consisted of sixty men each, and all other engine companies of thirty men each; hose companies with four-wheeled hose carriages, of twenty-five men each; hose companies with two-wheeled carriages, of eighteen men each; and hydrant companies, of fifteen men each; and the chief engineer was directed not to allow the above-named companies to exceed the number of men specified.

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

You are the Visitor to this USGenNet Safe-Site´┐Ż Since March 9, 2001.

March 2001

[Firefighters Index][NY AHGP][NY ALHN]