History of the Fire Department of the City of New York

Chapter 9, Part I

By Holice and Debbie



1842-1853. -- Much Rioting Among the companies. -- Condition of the Department. -- The City divided into Three Fire Districts. -- The Morse Magnetic Telegraph. -- Erection of a Water Tower. -- Hague Street Disaster. -- Chief Carson's Charges.

The introduction of the Croton Water into the city called for a thorough reorganization of the Department. That worthy and patriotic class of citizens would no longer be required to perform the laborious duty of dragging their engines for miles; and the services of the boys who congregated about the engine houses for the purpose of assisting to convey the engines to the fires would no longer be required. The period had now arrived--the summer of 1842--when the city authorities could with perfect ease, and with proper regard for the laborious exertions of the Fire Department, prevent boys and young men, not members of the Department, interfering in any manner with, or performing the duties of, firemen. When these excrescences should be lopped off from the Department, the high character and worth of the members proper would be at once appreciated, and the people would bear witness to their services and usefulness.

Serious and disgraceful fights and riots had occurred in the autumn of 1843 between different fire companies, principally originating with low and violent characters whose respective companies had been disbanded and broken up by the corporation, and who attached themselves to others on occasions of fires, to create fights and disorder, thus degrading the character and impairing the usefulness and discipline of the Fire Department. In order to prevent the repetition of such outrages, and effectually protect the respectable and well-disposed, the chief engineer, C. V. Anderson, solicited the Common Council for the establishment of a fire police, consisting of not less then twenty men, who should assemble at each fire to protect property and suppress tumult.

The Common Council had no power to create such a body, and therefore, a memorial to the legislature was prepared for authority to do so.

The condition of the Fire Department in august, 1843, was: thirty-seven engines in good order, two in indifferent order, and two rebuilding; thirty-eight hose carriages in good order, and one rebuilding; eight hook and ladder trucks with forty-seven ladders and fifty-one hooks, and forty-eight thousand nine hundred feet of hose. There were then in the Department thirty-nine engine companies, forty hose companies, eight hook and ladder companies, and three hydrant companies, and one thousand six hundred and sixty-one men.

In March, 1843, in consequence of certain serious disturbances in the Department, the disbandment of certain companies, and among others of Engine Company No. 34, was recommended. The evidence concerning fights between Engine companies No. 34 and 27 substantiated the allegations of frequent and violent attacks, while not a solitary complaint had been made to the competent authorities, both companies having, "preferred to fight it out, to calling on the Common Council for protection." Engine Company No. 34 was disbanded, their apparatus returned to the public yard, and their house given to Hose Company No. 40. In May of that year No. 34 was reinstated.

In August, 1844, there were in the Department thirty-nine engines in good order, and one in indifferent order; thirty-eight hose carriages in good order, one indifferent and two building; eight hook and ladder trucks, with forty-six ladders and forty-nine hooks; thirty-one thousand eight hundred and fifty feet of good hose, and sic thousand two hundred and fifty feet of hose in ordinary, making in the whole thirty eight thousand one hundred feet of hose; forty-one engine companies (one of which performed duty with a hose carriage), forty-one hose companies, eight hook and ladder companies, and one hydrant company; one thousand five hundred and eighty-one men.

In May, 1845, there were thirty-nine engines, thirty-eight hose companies, seven hook and ladder companies and two hydrant companies. Thirty-three of the engines were located below Twenty-eighth Street, and of those thirty were six and one-half inch cylinder engines, one ten inch, and two nine inch cylinder engines.

The introduction of the Croton water, while it had added vastly to the ability of the Department to answer the ends of its organization, had likewise suggested various improvements. Hose carts had been multiplied, and had proved to be in many cases advantageous substitutes for the fire engine. From the lightness of their construction, they could be run with much greater facility to points where they were suddenly required, and being able from the hydrants to throw water to the elevation of ordinary buildings, they were found to be equal in efficiency for the extinguishment of fires the class of engines principally used before the introduction of the water, and then constituting in numbers the bulk of the engine force.

During the year ending august 1, 1845, there were three hundred and fifty alarms of fires, two hundred and sixty of which called for the employment of the Department and its apparatus, and ninety arose from trivial causes. The amount of property destroyed during this same period (excluding the fire on July 19 in New and Broad Streets) was four hundred and seventy-four thousand eight hundred and thirty dollars. In the month of May and June alone there was sixty-seven actual fires.

The following is a return of the engine, hose, hook and ladder, and hydrant companies; their apparatus, places of deposit, condition, etc., together with the names of the engineers and foremen, on September 22, 1845:

Cornelius V. Anderson, chief engineer; W. Wells Wilson, George Kerr, Alfred Carson, Charles Forrester, Philip B. White, Owen W. Brennan, James L. Miller, Henry J. Ockershausen, Aaron Hosford, assistant engineers.

See Tables for Ch. 9, Part III (they were originally located here in the original book.

From the foregoing report it will be seen that the Department was possessed of thirty-five engines in good order, and two condemned; thirty-six hose carriages in good order, and two rebuilding; eight hook and ladder trucks, with forty-four ladders and forty-eight hooks; thirty-seven thousand two hundred feet of hose in good order, and two thousand five hundred feet of hose in ordinary, making in the whole thirty-nine thousand seven hundred feet of hose; thirty-seven engine companies, thirty-eight hose companies, seven hook and ladder companies, and two hydrant companies; one thousand five hundred and sixty-seven men.

About 1852 the Common Council adopted an ordinance dividing the city into three fire districts, and confining the apparatus and labors of the firemen to the district in which their apparatus were located. The object of the ordinance was to lessen the duties of the firemen, and to prevent the great destruction of the apparatus which was caused by their being uselessly dragged over the city at every alarm of fire. In consequence, however, of the imperfect alarms of fire, it was considered unsafe to enforce strictly the ordinance.

It was generally conceded that ten thousand dollars per annum was a low estimate of the expense of repairs to the fire apparatus.

During the year ending august 1, 1846, there had been two hundred and fifty-eight fires and one hundred and thirty-nine false alarms of fire. Many of the fires had no doubt been extinguished before the alarm had reached the nearest bell station, yet, in consequence of there being no means afforded of notifying the bell-ringers of the extinguishment of the fire, or that the alarm was a false one, the bells were rung, and the firemen called unnecessarily from their business or their rest, thereby causing a loss of time and money to them and the apparatus dragged for miles over the city, creating a useless expense to the city. The common Council, in November, 1846, in view of these facts authorized the introduction of Morse's magnetic telegraph into the Department.

Action was also taken in the matter at a meeting of the engineers and foremen held December 1, 1846, at which Mr. James L. Miller, of the engineers, offered the following:

Resolved, That a committee of five be appointed from this body to urge upon the members of the Common Council the propriety of adopting the plan recommended by the chief engineer, in relation to the magnetic telegraph for the use of the Fire Department.

The resolution was unanimously adopted, and the following committee appointed: James L. Miller, of the engineers, Lawrence Turnure, Hose No. 36; Abraham B. Purdy, Engine 11; James W. Barker, Hydrant 2; John A. Croger, Hose 40.

The number of fires was increasing every succeeding year, and occurring, as many of them did, under very suspicious circumstances, it appeared necessary that their origin should be investigated. During the night of the second of May, 1846, within about six hours, ten fires occurred, all of which, except one (the True Sun building), commenced in stables, and were no doubt the work of design. Nothing but the extraordinary exertions of the firemen prevented several serious conflagrations.

Successive acts of the legislature had reduced the term of service of firemen until, on November 16, 1847, a law went into effect making the period of servitude five years.

The various engine, hose, and hook and ladder companies, were granted the use of the Croton water, on paying the expenses of the introduction.

During the years 1847-'8, the fire districts were laid out as follows:

First District.--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.

Second District.--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.

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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