Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments


By Holice and Debbie

Many Thanks to Holice B. Young for the many hours typing this and for her continued dedication to helping researchers.  


History of the Fire Department of the City of New York, to be worthy of the subject, should embrace the most important and interesting episodes of the municipal government. So intimate were these departments connected with, and so closely are they still related to, all that is most worthy of mention in the history of the city, that the story of the Fire Departments is, to a great extent, the story of the rise, progress, and development of the City of New York.

Our Firemen, Volunteer and Paid, have left imperishable names and cherished memories which are dear to our citizens.

The recital of their self-sacrificing deeds must recall whatever is sublime in fidelity to duty and the faithful performance of a sacred public trust. No body of men could have been imbued with a more praiseworthy and unselfish desire to protect life and property. The Fire Departments, from the beginning, have been composed of men, who, at the call of duty, have abandoned their business, the social circle, or the comfortable surroundings of the family, when called upon to do battle with the flames. Their ardor and enthusiasm have borne then into hardships and dangers from which men made of stuff less stern would have shrunk in dismay. Not so they; the more imminent the danger--the greater the difficulty--the more dauntless their courage and the more their intrepidity verged on recklessness. Through fire and smoke, and amid the crash of falling walls, Our Firemen, impelled by an inspiring sense of duty, have ever remained valiantly at their post and faced death with the unflinching fortitude of true soldiers. The life of a Fireman, it is almost superfluous to say, is one of constant hardship and danger. he jeopardizes his life that others may live. He sacrifices his personal and domestic comfort that the safety and happiness of his fellow citizens may be assured. In a word, the duties of a Fireman are so exacting, so full of menace to life and limb, and so much depends upon his exertions in moments of panic and peril, that every man in the Department may be said to have the attributes of a hero.

The debt of gratitude our citizens owe these brave men, can never be fully repaid. The men who "went before," who were legislated out of unpaid office by the Act of March 30, 1865, are passing away. The Paid Department has attained the highest efficiency possible. Could then a better time than the present be chosen for publishing a history of their methods and their appliances from 1648 to date? No work worthy of the subject--a monument to both Old and New-exists. The lives saved, the property protected, the suffering and the catastrophes averted, cannot be estimated by the imperfect and meagre statistics to be found in the archives of the Department.

The writer has made an earnest, if not a successful, effort, to do justice to the achievements and fame of our New York Firemen. The importance of the subject had made it difficult of treatment, and has called for an expenditure of money which in any other book would be considered reckless extravagance. The engravings (over six hundred and fifty in number) are certainly not without merit, and all bear the stamp of originality. Major D. E. Cronin's well-known artistic ability has largely contributed to the embellishment of these pages. Credit in this line is also due to Mr. Louis Oram. As to the literary style of the book, the writer cannot undertake to be his own critic. No attempt has been made to depart from a plain, straightforward statement of facts. Fine writing is not aimed at; like beauty, the story of Our Firemen needs no extraneous adornment. He writer, however, has the satisfaction of knowing that no pains have been spared to make this history complete and accurate in every detail and department.

The history of Insurance Matters, the Fire engine, and the Architectural Growth of the City has been compiled from the most trustworthy sources, and will doubtless lend an additional interest to the work.

The chapters devoted to biography are, perhaps, the most interesting of any in the book. They treat of men whose lives have been devoted to fire service--human salamanders, in a sense--who braved the devouring element, with all its attending dangers, and performed duties the most laborious in the interest of humanity and philanthropy. That the names and records of others (equally brave and zealous firemen) have been omitted is no fault of the author. The line had to be drawn somewhere, or else there would be no limit to the number of pages. While it is true that the names of men whose services are entitled to honourable recognition in a work of this description have been unavoidably excluded, not from any unworthy motive, but because of the exigencies of space, it cannot be said that those who have been mentioned are not entitled to all the praise bestowed upon them. Above all things, accuracy of statement has been aimed at. For the first time the history of the various fire companies has been compiled and published. This, it need hardly be said, was no easy task. Owing to the large number of companies, length of service, and varied experiences, it was impossible to do strict justice to all by publishing their history with that fullness of detail to which, no doubt, they are properly entitled. Much that is interesting and important has been left unsaid; but what has been printed is in the main correct. To insure so desirable an end, proofs of each company have been submitted for revision to firemen who were cognizant of the facts. The same plan has been adopted with respect to other lading department or features of the book. By this means a number of firemen have been actively employed in the editing of this book.

Much, it is true, had to be sacrificed that would make very interesting reading; but brevity has its virtues also. The admonition of Judas Maccaboeus to the ambassadors has had its application in the writing of this book:

"Speak, and be brief,
Waste not the time in useless rhetoric.
Words are not things."

Some old Firemen, or other critics, may, perhaps, say that the book contains a vast amount of local history not specially appertaining to fire matters; for instance, the chapters on Architecture, the Water Supply of the City, Improvement and Growth off the Metropolis, Fire Insurance, etc. It is, however, the opinion of the writer, that all these subjects, apart from their great interest to the public generally, and New Yorkers particularly, are intimately connected with the history of the rise, progress, and development of the Fire Departments of this city. They are not mere, "side shows;" they are part and parcel of the story of Our Firemen--as essential as the character of Hamlet himself to the play which bears his name--and without which this history would be incomplete and unsatisfactory.

This book has grown to such stalwart proportions, past all calculation, in fact, that the writer had been urged to issue it in two volumes. This, however, he considered ill advised. Experience teaches that one big volume, even if it is high-priced, will command a larger sale than the same work divided into two volumes, and made cheap at that. It is useless to say here that labor and money have been expended to make this volume worthy of the cause and the subject. It will suffice that the book is now in the hands of the public.

A large portion of the Extra Library Edition is already disposed of. This fact is on that naturally brings joy to the heart of the writer and the endorsers and demonstrates the great popularity of OUR FIREMEN. The uniform price of the Extra Library Edition is:


This edition (sold in this city only), will be printed on fine calendered paper, and will, it is hoped, be an artistic and a literary triumph.

Other prices of the book are:


Our leading citizens and business men will be afforded an opportunity to become subscribers to the Extra Edition; the names so recorded forming, as it were, a Roll of Honor. The great popularity of OUR FIREMEN, apart from the merits of the book, or the objects of publication, will, doubtless, find a ready sale for this and many other editions. At all events, the published intends to act well his part in doing all in his power to make the book a business success. That, after all, is the main object, regarded from an everyday point of view.

The writer takes pride--pardonable, he hopes--in drawing attention to the fact that this book is published under the most favorable auspices. Not alone has he received the endorsement and approval of the various fire organizations of this city, and the hearty support and co-operation leading Firemen, but the book is also published under the sanction of contract with the Trustees of the Relief Fund of the paid Fire Department (The Fire Commissioners), and the Board of Directors of the Volunteer Firemen's Association.

The publisher begs leave to say that no DONATIONS will be accepted. His desire is that the book should sell on its own merits.

It would be the height of ingratitude if the writer did not make suitable acknowledgments to the friends and collaborators who have so largely assisted in the compilation of this book. The thanks of the undersigned are due to Mr. George B. Taylor, of the New York Times, who has an intimated knowledge of fire matters. Mr. James Clancy, of the New York Herald, has also rendered signal service. The warmest thanks of the writer are likewise due to the Fire Commissioners, Secretary Carl Jussen, William M. Randell, William B. Dunley, W. P. Allen, E. B. Child, Hon. Charles P. Daly, Judge John J. Gorman, and others, for many kind offices rendered. Acknowledgements for courtesy shown are also due to Arnett C. Smith, No. 14, Fulton Street, and to Charles E. Van Glahn, No 546 fifth Avenue, who possess very find collections of relics of the Old Volunteer Department.

Augustine E. Costello
March, 1887

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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