Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments

Chapter 11, Part 2

By Holice and Debbie

Quite a revenue was derived from the infliction of fines. Here is the schedule of Clinton Engine Company No. 41, in 1823:

Foreman and assistant foremen, for neglecting to impartially enforce all laws that shall be adopted by the company


For the treasurer neglecting to render a true statement of the funds when requested by the foremen or assistant


For a member neglecting to repaid after engine to fire when alarm has sounded and engine gone


For going direct from home without his fire cap


For not coming to order when called by the chair


Absence from regular or special meeting


Not answering to name at roll-call (except he be within sight of engine-house

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Quitting meeting without leave of chairman


Introducing politics at meeting, improper behavior, using indecent language, profane swearing, or being intoxicated at any meeting of company


Shoving at engine, instead of dragging on rope when under way


Failing to report chimney on fire within forty-eight hours of knowledge of fact


These were regular fines, but there were others imposed according to the will of the majority of a meeting when special reports were made as to the conduct of members. We take Engine Company No. 13 as an example. In May, 1800, Henry Carmer, a clerk, in the Branch Bank of the United States, tried to be excused for not attending the monthly "washings." After much discussion he was fined two shillings for each absence. At this meeting each man "chipped in" one shilling to pay the tavern bill. At a meeting of this company in November, 1794, at Hunter's Hotel, when twenty-three members were present, the fines collected amount to 3 pounds 1 shilling. The "offenses" of those days make very amusing reading. On May 13, 1818, delinquents of No. 13 were called upon to "show cause" when James Burling was fined twenty-five cents "for not giving an unequivocal answer." In 1821 Richard Ustick was fined fifty cents "for using the trumpet contrary to law," and subsequently fifty cents "for leaving the engine at an alarm of Fire to get his Fire Clothes," but in the latter case the fine was remitted. In the same year John C. Hegeman was declared "finable for appearing at the Engine at a Fire without the initials of him name on his cap." Some of the excuses are no less remarkable than the fines. Here is one from No. 13:

January 15, 1807. (Fire at 1 a.m. in Fair Street.) Harris Sage's excuse (for absence) is received. He says at the time of the above fire he was locked in some one's Arms and could not hear the Alarm

Joseph Giraud, in 1807, said he could not attend a "washing" because of a sever pain in his face, and he was "under the necessity of having a Jaw Tooth Extracted." The companies, in all cases, were determined to have their pound of flesh, and never failed to dun a member for his fines. In cases of fractiousness the delinquent was expelled, and finally proceeded against by the corporation attorney. Here is a specimen of a delicate note sent by the considerate secretary of No. 13 to a bold, bad, wicked, and defiant member:

NEW YORK, Nov. 12th, 1835.

SIR.--It is with extreme regret that I find myself obliged to inform you that at the last quarterly meeting of Eagle Fire engine Company No. 13, held on the 11th inst., you were expelled from that Company for neglect of duty and numerous infractions of the Bye Laws of the company.

Enclosed I hand the account of the Company against you, which I have been directed to collect, and as authority is vested in me to Commute the same if I think proper, I would advise your calling upon me immediately, or I fear I shall receive instructions to place it in the hands of the Corporate Attorney to be sued for.

I trust, sir, the information, which I am obliged in the discharge of my duty to communicate, may engender no ill-feelings between us. I remain,

Yours, Etc.,

Call at No. 1 Jones Lane.

In addition to the fines mentioned above, there were, of course, others, and heavy ones, for non-attendance at fires. But, as a rule, the attendance was very prompt. Whether at church, wedding, fair, or funeral, off they would start at the sound of the bell. In the chapter of fires of the Old Department a notable instance of the devotion of the men to their duty is given in the case of the ill-fated "Andy" Schenck, who quitted his pleading sweetheart to go to his death. An incident not quite so mournful occurred one might in 1887. Watch night services were being held at the old colored church, corner of Leonard and Church Streets. The congregation had been worked up to the highest pitch of devotional enthusiasm, when the City Hall bell, ringing out its warning note, changed like a flash the aspect of the scene. Many members of the Engine Company made a rush for the door. Guarding the portal, however, was a saintly colored giant, a worthy deacon, pious and muscular. His sense of propriety was, so to speak, knocked all of a heap at the seeming irreverence of the fire laddies in their helter-skelter race from the sanctuary. St. Peter himself could not be more determined in keeping the wicked out of heaven than this stalwart deacon was in keeping them in church. He braced himself for a great effort. Lifting his eyes to heaven and his formidable bunch of fives in pugilistic shape, he prayed, "Lord, forgive me for what I am about to do, and may Thy name be ever praised." There was a "dull thud." His ham-like fist had fallen upon poor Jim Weir's left eye, and the foreman was hurled clear across an aisle into a pew, landing in the lap of a prayerful old lady. But the self-sacrificing, dutiful Jim was not to be deterred by a little accident of this kind. With an apology to the devotional dame, and a word of warning of this earthly St. Peter, he picked himself up, gained the street with his companions, and attended the fire. The recording angel duly registered the blow of the deacon, and then wiped it out with a tear, but it was not quite so easy to wipe out Jim Weir's black eye. During two weeks the gallant foreman walked about with his eye in mourning, and his feelings in a state of effervescence, for his friends gave him no peace about his church adventure. But one night it was Jim's turn to give the recording angel something to do. He met the good deacon accidentally, and "sailed right in," and when he got through with him the burly saint thought that he had been having a bad quarter of an hour in purgatory. Weir's eye visibly improved after that.

A notable example of what a foreman will endure in the performance of his duty is found in the annals of the Old Department. On January 8, 1854, when the LaFarge House and Tripler Hall, on Broadway, were destroyed, T. F. Goodwin, foreman of Hose company No. 35, was so persevering in holding his pipe to the flames that his boots were burned to a crisp on his feet. "Where," asked the Herald the next day, "can man go and find deeds of greater heroism than this in the history of the New York firemen? With no other incentive than merely to save property and rollback the waves of fire, we see this man entering the very jaws of death, and standing there--doing battle until the enemy had burned his weapon from his hands and his garments from his body."

After working for hours at a fire the men would naturally feel hungry. On their way home they would have their choice of supping upon hot corn or baked pears. These dainties were to be had from women who peddled them. Or they might visit places of refreshment, more pretentious than the street stand, such as Holt's cellar on Fulton Street. This place was open all night, so that the fire laddies out late could be sure of hot coffee and hash. Many of its patrons are now owners of brownstone houses. Among the women who used to minister to the comfort of the laddies was the servant of a member of No. 11 Engine, Mr. Benjamin Aymar. She was known as "Molly." Molly considered herself to be permanently attached to No. 11, and stood up for the superiority of the machine under all circumstances. She boasted that she belonged to: ole 'Leven," and used to say, "I allers runs wid dat ole bull-gine." On one occasion, in 1818, a blinding snowstorm prevailed when a fire broke out in William Street. The boys had the utmost difficulty in dragging their engine through the snow-obstructed streets, and had not men enough on the rope. Molly came along, hitched onto the rope and helped to drag the machine to the fire. This deed of Molly's was often recounted in the station houses. By the way, it was at this fire that Daniel F. Tiemann first did active duty as fireman. Twenty years after he was promoted to be foremen of Cataract Engine No. 25, when she lay in "Love Lane," now Twenty-third Street. When he removed from the Sixteenth Ward to Manhattanville, he became foreman of No. 43. He was for years in the Board of Aldermen and at last mayor, and also served in the Senate. While an alderman Mr. Tiemann got a resolution passed in the board, providing that no liquor should be paid for by any company, and ordering the appointment of a steward to furnish coffee and cake at fires. His company (No. 41) discharged a steward in 1838 because he," had not done the company proper justice," and elected Henry Hemmingway to fill the vacancy. Two years before this company was a little under the weather financially. Landlord Winslow presented a bill for refreshments, and it was ordered, "Having not money sufficient to pay it, motion was made that we pay him all we had in our funds, which was eight dollars, and let him wait a future day for the remainder." No doubt mine host waited till the cloud rolled by. Once a Boniface charged the company "an exorbitant price for refreshments," and the following simple and straightforward way of meeting the bill was adopted:

Resolved. That the treasurer call on him and offer a fair price. If he did not take it, not to (pay) him at all.

When Mr. Tiemann was running for state senator he had for his opponent (whom he beat two to one) the famous harry Genet--"Prince Harry"--whose connection with the "Tweed Ring" brought him subsequently into trouble.

A well-remembered entertainer of the firemen was Colonel Turnbull, of the One Hundred and Thirty-third Regiment, the police regiment in the brigade that was raised for the war of the Rebellion. Turnbull was captain of the Eighth Precinct in 1854. A fire which destroyed the City Assembly Rooms, No. 440 to 450 Broadway, on December 20 of that year, was fatal to James T. Laurie, of Hose company No. 7. The rear part of the building fell on him and killed him instantly. The body was recovered and taken home. The night was bitterly cold, and the firemen suffered a great deal. When the fire was out Captain Turnbull said: "Come along with me, boys, and get something warm." He took Hose Company Nos. 7 and 14 to his private residence in Grand Street, and there regaled them with hot coffee and plenty of good things to eat. This timely act of kindness saved many from being stretched on a bed of sickness.

Sometimes the firemen gave entertainments that were of a remarkably recherche character. Oceana Hose Company, No. 26, gave such a one on December 8, 1852, at their carriage house in Madison Street. A description of it in the Herald will give an idea of the "style" that was put on by Oceana:

On approaching the house we found the street lined on both sides, for about a block, with carriages, and imagined for a moment we had dropped down in the region of Upper-tendom, instead of the house of a fire company.  The house is fitted up throughout in a style not surpassed, if equalled, by any other of a similar kind in the city.  The walls were tastefully decorated with appropriate engravings, and in the back part of the room was the book-case filled with a collection of useful and entertaining books.  The drawing room was fitted up in a style truly magnificent, and would vie with those of some of our merchant princes in Fifth Avenue and elsewhere.  The carpet upon the floor was of Brussels tapestry, and the windows were hung with damask and lace inside curtains.  In fact, everything in and about the house was arranged in a style of spendor and convenience such as we have never seen equalled by any company in the Department, and we understand it has been done entirely at the expense of the members themselves, the whole cost being about one thousand two hundred dollars.  We could add much more in regard to this, but for want of space must pass on to the entertainment.  During our stay the house was crowded with ladies and gentelmen, all seemingly much pleased with the hospitable and generous manner in which they were received by the members of the Oceans; and we must say we never saw congregated together on any occasion a greater array than we witnessed on this.  An abundance of choice cake, lemonade, wines, creams, jellies, etc., were partaken of with a zest by the many charming ladies present.  A bank was in attendance during the evening which served to enliven the scene.  The whole affair was of such a character as to reflect credit upon the Company and the committee (Messrs. W. D. Wade, W. A. Woodhill, T. L. Parker, Jr., and A. Slote, under whose especial supervision it was got up, and for pleasure could not be surpassed.  It was a happy evening for all concerned and its pleasures will not soon be forgotten.  But it is unnecessary to say anything further in praise of the entertainment.  The members have ever deserved and sustained a good name, not only in the Department, but among the public at large, and we feel a pride in having such a company in our midst, to whome we would point as a proud example for others to imitate.

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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