Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments
Chapter 9, Part V
By Holice and Debbie
During the year ending august 1, 1850, there had been two hundred and eighty-nine fires, by which the loss or damage to buildings amounted to two hundred and seventy-eight thousand seven hundred and twenty-five dollars, including fourteen thousand dollars by the explosion in Hague Street, and in stock, furniture, etc., to one million sixteen thousand three hundred and sixty-eight dollars, including seventy thousand dollars by the explosion in the Hague Street fire. There had been one hundred and ninety-two alarms.
By ordinance of November 25, 1850, the city was divided into eight fire districts. The First District comprised all that part of the city lying north of Twenty-second Street and east of Sixth Avenue.
The Second district comprised all that part of the city lying north of Twenty-second Street and west of Sixth Avenue.
The Third District comprised all that part of the city bounded and contained as follows: Beginning at the foot of North Moore Street on the North river, and extending easterly in a straight line to the corner of Leonard and church Streets, thence northerly in a straight line to the corner of Eighth Avenue and Twenty-second Street, thence westerly along Twenty-second Street to the north river, thence southerly along the North River to the place of beginning.
The Fourth District was bounded as follows: Beginning at the corner of Leonard and Church Streets, running thence northerly in a straight line to the corner of Eighth Avenue and Twenty-second Street, thence easterly along Twenty-second Street to Lexington Avenue, thence southerly in a straight line to the corner of Elm and Leonard Street, and thence westerly in a straight line to the corner of Church and Leonard Streets.
The Fifth District was bounded as follows: Commencing at the corner of Elm and Leonard Streets, and running thence northerly in a straight line to the corner of Lexington Avenue and Twenty-second Street, thence easterly along Twenty-second Street to the East river, thence southerly and along the East river to Fourteenth Street, thence southwesterly in a straight line to the corner of Leonard and Orange Streets, thence westerly in a straight line to the place of beginning.
The Sixth District: Beginning at the corner of Leonard and Orange Streets, and running thence easterly in a straight line to the foot of Market Street, on the East river, thence along the East river to Fourteenth Street, thence southwesterly in a straight line tot he place of beginning.
The Seventh District: Beginning at the foot of Market Street on the East river, and running thence westerly in a straight line to the corner of Leonard and elm Streets, thence southerly along a straight line, intersecting Wall Street at the junction of Nassau, Wall, and Broad Streets, and continuing through the Battery to the North River.
The Eighth District: Beginning at the foot of North Moore Street, on the North river, and running thence easterly in a straight line to the corner of Leonard and elm Streets, thence southerly along a straight line, intersecting Wall Street at the junction of Nassau, Wall, and Broad Streets, and continuing through the Battery to the North River.
In case of fire in the First District, the signal shall be one stroke from the alarm bells; in the Second District, two strokes; in the Third District, three strokes; in the Fourth district, four strokes; Fifth District, five strokes; sixth District, six strokes, Seventh District, seven strokes; Eighth District, eight strokes.
On the twenty-fifth of January 1851, a resolution was approved by the mayor, directing the commissioner of repairs and supplies to contract with Richard H. Bull for the immediate completion of the telegraph wire and apparatus to all the fire alarm stations in the city, and the sum of six hundred dollars was appropriated to pay for the same.
By the act of July 11, 1851, the heads of departments, except the Croton Aqueduct Board, were elected every three years. The heads of departments nominated, and by and with the consent of the Board of Aldermen, appointed the heads of bureaus in their several departments, except the chamberlain, the receiver of taxes, and the chief engineer of the Fire Department. The chief of the Fire Department "shall be elected in the same manner as is now or may hereafter be prescribed by law."
The strength of the Department on august 1, 1851, was twenty-six engines in good order, three ordinary, four building and one rebuilding; forty-one hose carriages in good order, two ordinary, and six buildings; six hook and ladders trucks in good order, and two ordinary; forty ladders, and eighty-five hooks; forty-three thousand three hundred feet of hose in good order, fifteen thousand two hundred feet ordinary; thirty-four engine companies, forty-nine hose companies, eight hook and ladder companies, and three hydrant companies. There were two thousand two hundred and eleven men in the Department; if the companies were full there would have been two thousand eight hundred and eighty-eight men.
During the year ending August 1, 1851, there had been three hundred and nineteen fires, by which the loss on buildings amounted to one hundred and fifty-nine thousand four hundred and fifty-five dollars, and on wares five hundred and forty-eight thousand and twenty-five dollars, making the loss by fire seven hundred and seven thousand four hundred and seventy-eight dollars. There had been two hundred and thirty-eight alarms. These facts show an increase of thirty fires and forty-six alarms over the preceding year, but, at the same time, a decrease of five hundred and eighty-seven thousand six hundred and twenty-five dollars in the destruction of property.
The fire companies in the northern section of the city has long suffered great inconveniences for the want of proper alarm. For their relief an iron tower was built on Thirty-third Street. A lot was procured for the erection of an iron tower in Spring Street, near Varick, which was much needed. The tower on Centre Street was much dilapidated and insecure, with a bell weighing only four thousand pounds. During a high wind, or an alarm, the tower would vibrate in a very noticeable manner. Its demolition was recommended, and a new tower to be put up on the lot where engine No. 9 was located on Marion Street. The Jefferson Market bell tower was destroyed by fire on the twenty-ninth of July, and an iron tower was erected in its stead.
The connection of the bell towers with Fire headquarters by telegraph was completed in the summer of 1851. Instantly the effectiveness of the connections was recognized, as the firemen were saved much unnecessary labor by the prevention of the numerous false alarms which had theretofore misled them.
The report of Chief engineer Alfred Carson in this connection is worth recording.
"The entire (telegraphic) apparatus," says Mr. Carson, "is necessarily of very delicate construction, and must be used with great care by the bellringers, or it at once becomes utterly inoperative. And it grieves me to inform you (The common council) that the telegraphic apparatus is often seriously injured, either by the bellringers themselves, or by some of the numerous friends who unceasingly visit them, who often use it without occasion, simply to gratify their curiosity, thereby misleading and creating general confusion at the bell towers throughout the city, and of course, throughout the Department."
The fire limits of the city, in the winter of 1851, were extended from Thirty-second Street to Fifty-second Street.
In January, 1854, Engine Companies No. 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 38, 41, 42, 43, 44, 46, 48, and 49, Hose Companies Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 31, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, and 54, Hook and Ladder Companies Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 11, were in possession of houses in good condition. The houses of Engine Companies Nos. 10 and 45, Hose Company No. 30, and of Hook and Ladder Company No. 10 were in a dilapidated condition, but yet occupied by them. The apparatus of all the companies were in good order, except those of Engine Nos. 20 and 36. Engine Companies Nos. 3, 27, 36, and 40; Hose companies Nos. 32, 55, and 56, and Hook and Ladder Companies Nos. 12 and 13 had no locations, except that Engines Nos. 36 and 37, and Hose Companies Nos. 55 and 56 were doing duty from temporary houses. Engine Company No. 39 occupied a temporary house, but a building was in process of erection for them in Thirty-first Street, near Seventh Avenue, and the engine in use by No. 9 was to be appropriated to their use.
It was made the duty of the policemen on duty, whenever an alarm of fire had been raised during the night, to give notice thereof to the several firemen residing within their respective beats, at their places of residence, who, in accordance with the fire regulations, ought to turn out on occasion of such alarm. Each fireman was required to deliver to the captain of police for the district in which he resided a statement of his name and place of residence, and the captains should furnish the several policemen under their charge with the names and residences of firemen residing within the respective beats of such policemen.
All third class engines were allowed in future ten additional men, so as to make their full complement forty.
The chief of police was authorized and required (Act, April 16, 1852) to make an investigation into the origin of every fire occurring in the city, and for that purpose he was invested with the same powers and jurisdiction as were possessed by the police justices.
At any alarm of fire it was the duty of the captains of police (Act, April 13, 1853) nearest the scene of conflagration forthwith to proceed to the same, with the reserve corps of their command, to be diligent in preserving order and in protecting property. The chief of police should also repair to the scene of the fire, and, with the assistance of the police force, use every exertion to save and protect property, and remove or cause to be removed, all idle and suspicious persons from the vicinity of the fire.
The hydrant companies were decreed to be of very little service, and it was believed that they might be dispensed with without detriment to the Department.
During the year 1853 several extremely violent fights took place between fire companies. Pistols and other dangerous weapons had been brought into requisition, and the apparatus upset and nearly destroyed. The worst of these encounters were between Engine Companies Nos. 6, 18, and 44, and Hose Companies Nos. 16 and 17. Yet no punishment had been inflicted, although the facts had been duly reported to the Common Council, who, instead of investigating the circumstances, allowed the matter to lie for several months, and then directed the chief engineer to return the apparatus which he taken from them. If these acts of insubordination had received proper attention, and the persons who were found guilty of any serious offenses were expelled forthwith, disbanding the companies to which they were attached, and transferring the unoffending members to other companies, the number of companies would have been reduced (for which the authorities had been clamoring), and the Department would have got rid of the persons who were bringing reproach upon it.
In July, 1858, the chief engineer, in compliance with a resolution of the Common Council, reported that he was quite satisfied of the great utility of the fire-alarm telegraph system introduced by Mr. Robinson, and he counseled the purchase of it. He had seen the immense advantages of it in regulating the striking of the several bells, as by means of it the alarms were always correctly transmitted, and at the same moment, from the station first discovering a fire to each and every one of the other stations. The apparatus could therefore be taken with greater dispatch to the vicinity of fires, and the labor of the firemen and the wear of the apparatus were materially lessened.
In the reports of the chief engineer for the year 1851, 1852, and 1853, the official action and integrity of the Common Council were brought into question, and the chief engineer indulged in epithets towards the members couched in language so unbecoming his position and so gross as to induce the belief that designing men were using him as a medium for venting their spleen upon the authorities. That was more than the aldermanic soul could endure, and Mr. Carson's decapitation was contemplated.
Soon petitions began to roll into the aldermanic chambers from various engine and hose companies, asking for the removal of Chief Carson. The Board of Aldermen, therefore, felt called upon to take action, and they passed a resolution at a meeting held on September 15, 1853, designed to ingloriously put an end to the career of the chief. This was referred to the Board of Assistant aldermen for their concurrence, by whom it was shelved, and it never again saw the light of day.
By an act of the legislature, passed July 18, 1853, the salaries of the fire wardens were fixed at five hundred dollars per annum, instead of two hundred and fifty dollars, which they were in receipt of theretofore.
In December, 1853, the sum of twenty-four thousand eight hundred and eleven dollars was appropriated for a new building for the use of the Fire Department, to be called "Firemen's Hall," located in mercer Street, between Prince and Houston Streets, of which more is said elsewhere.
The following table shows the population of New York City for a number of years:
Transcribed by Holice B. Young
HTML by Debbie
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