Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments

Chapter 24, Part IV

By Holice and Debbie

There is a memorable incident in the life of Anderson. It was about the fall of 1843 when an extensive fire broke out in the neighborhood of Hanover Square. Among other merchandise endangered was a quantity of cigars, which, being exposed, were soon carried off by some thoughtless members of the Department. One who had an extra share approached the Chief, and, in a jovial way, offered him a bundle of prime Havanas. Anderson looked him coolly in the face, and said, in his pleasant, quiet manner: "It is easy to steal cigars, but they smoke better when you buy them!" Such was the character of the man. His unimpeachable integrity, his decision, his intrepid courage, his unassuming manners, his mildness, his blunt, outspoken feelings, are traced upon the city's history.

ALFRED CARSON joined Engine Company No. 12 in 1837. In 1841 he was assistant engineer. He became Chief in 1848, served for eight years and then in a close contest with Harry Howard was defeated. After this he rejoined his old company. He died in March, 1880, at his residence No. 28 Stone Avenue, Jersey City. He left behind him four sisters--Mrs. Haynes, of Brooklyn, one living in Williamsburg, one at Red Bank, N. J., and one in the West. When he retired from the Department he became an insurance surveyor.

"The law adopted last winter, placing the Department under the supervision of Fire Commissioners, elected by the representatives of the several companies, far exceeds in its usefulness the most sanguine expectations of its friends. The Board has been in existence scarcely three months, yet had rid the Department of a large proportion of the disreputable characters attached thereto; and ere long those that remain will be reached, unless they conduct themselves in a becoming manner. When misconduct is reported tot he Commissioners, they--with the sanction of your honorable body--can remove the guilty parties, and prevent them from again becoming members of the Department. But here their power ends. The miscreants who have been removed and, and may of them do, unite with the runners, and create disturbances between companies. A case of this kind occurred recently; a company complained of being attacked by a member of another; on investigation, it was ascertained that the person committing the assault had been previously expelled for offenses of a similar nature, and is now but a runner. The aggrieved parties, therefore, had him arrested, but, by giving security in a mere nominal sum to keep the peace for a short time, he was liberated by the judge. As it generally occurs that these rowdies have too much political influence to receive their just deserts from our courts, I would suggest--if constitutional-- that application be made to the legislature to clothe the Fire Commissioners with full judicial powers, to be used by them only in case of attack, or otherwise interfering with firemen, while in discharge of their duty."

Alfred Carson, chief engineer, was well known for his temperate habits, his favorite beverages being sarsaparilla. Some of his jovial opponents used to say, when he came into a place for refreshments after a fire, "Her comes Old Saxaparill!" One night at a fire on the east side a remarkably zealous foreman, who loved his company like the apple of his eye, and to be her commander was honor enough for him, gave orders to his men after the fire to man the ropes. He did this because he saw a rival company about to start for home. The chief engineer knew well the feeling that existed between the companies, and at once said, "Stand fast!" The foreman of the company, in a excited manner shouted, "Man your ropes!" In his state of mind he could not see or hear the chief, only the rival company, and the orders of her foreman. Carson, in a louder tone, said, "Stand fast!" The excitable foreman again cried, "Man your ropes!" The assistant foreman called his attention to the orders of the chief, and he replied, "I am foreman of this company." After roll-call, when he had cooled down, an ex-foremen told him he had done wrong, and should have known letter, that he would get the company into trouble. He now for the first time began to realize the true condition of affairs, and he asked what he was to do. The ex-foreman told him he had better go over, and see the chief and apologize for his conduct. "All right. You know Carson; will you go over with me?" Receiving an affirmative answer, they called on Mr. Carson at his residence. The ex-foreman introduced his companion, who had a slight impediment in his speech, and he instantly blurted out, "Chief at the fire, I made a --------fool of myself, and I have come over to apologize and ask your forgiveness for what I done, as I did not intend any disrespect to you. And now, cone, chief, let us go and have a drink."

HARRY HOWARD was born in Manhattanville, now a part of the Twelfth Ward of this city, August 20, 1822, was adopted by generous Christian lady, Mrs. Sarah Charlesworth Howard, whose name he has always borne and which was afterwards legalized by an act of the Legislature, who brought him up and educated him as if he had been her own son. On Orchard Avenue in Greenwood Cemetery, a monument over Mrs. Howard remains, suitably inscribed, with a life-size marble statute of the lady, today attests the gratitude of her adopted son.

Harry was indentured to learn the trade of cabinetmaker with Abijah Matthews & Son, corner of Henry and Catharine Streets, with whom he remained, applying himself with characteristic earnestness, steadiness, and perseverance until he became of age. His career as a fireman began April 11, 1840, as a member of Peterson Engine Company No. 15, so-called after their foreman, who was killed at a large fire on Chatham Street, in 1811, located in Christie Street, between Bayard and Canal Streets. But he was no novice, for he, like most strong and active young men in those days, commenced as a runner with that company in 1835. The prominent members of the company were: Nathaniel Bradford, foreman; Matthew D. Green, assistant foreman; John L. Berrian, William J. Vanduzer, Samuel B. Skinner, Nicholas F. Wilson, Henry Chanfrau, Moses F. Odell, who in after years became a member of Congress, and Charles L. Merritt. No. 15 was called the "Old Maid," because she had never been overflowed or washed by any rival engine.

In 1850 Harry Howard was elected foremen of Atlantic Hose Company No. 14, situated on Elizabeth Street directly in the rear of the old Bowery Theater. From that position he was elected in the same year assistant engineer to Chief Carson, in which capacity he rendered such frequent and brilliant services to the Department that he received the warmest thanks from all quarters. The Sixth Ward station house, then located on the Franklin Street entrance to the New York Tombs, was his headquarters, selecting that place because a fire telegraph connected the Tombs prison with the office of the Chief of Police in the basement of the old City Hall. This gave Harry Howard the advantage of learning of outbreaks of fire in distant quarters before he could have been notified by the customary bell-ringing; and enabled him to attend every fire in every district as acting chief until the chief engineer reached the scene. It was the over-exertion thus undertaken that subsequently undermined his health. During the seven years Mr. Howard served as assistant engineer his promptness and dispatch won universal praise. In recognition of his great services, he was elected chief engineer in 1857.

The first act of Mr. Howard, after assuming the office of Chief, was to establish and fit up sleeping apartments, or bunk rooms, for the firemen in all the depositories of fire apparatus throughout the city. this at first was regarded with disfavor by some. But its wisdom was afterwards substantially recognized by the fact that it has been continued to the present day.

He kept the firemen constantly on the alert, and by attacking and subduing fires in their incipiency he was instrumental in saving many millions of dollars of property. The supply of improving fire extinguishing apparatus at that time in use was very limited. There was no steam or horse power to rely upon; everything was done by hand; and it is remarkable how well fires were kept under control with such feeble resources to combat the flames. The losses by fire under Howard's administration as Chief were reduced to such a degree the rates of insurance were considerably diminished.

He served as Chief engineer until 1860, when on account of his disabled condition he was obliged to retire from the Department, after completing twenty-five years of active volunteer fire duty. In spite of his remarkable strength and vigor, his great exposures and labor brought on a heavy stroke of paralysis. Being overcome on Grand Street, he fell while running to a fire on East Houston Street, July, 1858. He has never fully recovered from that affliction, although in other respects he enjoys the best of health--thanks to his life-long abstention from the use of liquors and tobacco. A consultation of the most eminent medical men resulted in the conclusion that the cause of his illness was "exposure, great energy and over-exertion at fires, in performance of the duties of Chief engineer."

During his active career of twenty-five years, Mr. Howard saved the lives of many persons. His rescue of Samuel, the son of A. S. Van Pragg, of No. 448 Broome Street, at the fire in No. 231 Broadway, Jenning's Clothing House, April 24, 1854, where a number of gallant firemen lost their lives, was notable instance of his bravery and coolness in time of danger. In the case of the burning of the ship "Great Republic," on the twenty-six and twenty-seventh of December, 1858, he distinguished himself by such unremitting zeal and perseverance in preventing the entire destruction of that vessel, and so resolutely declined in that instance, as in every other, remuneration for his services, that he received the special thanks of the Board of Fire Underwriters in a letter dated July 22, 1854.

Mr. Howard, while a fireman, represented the Second Assembly District in the Legislature, of 1853, was elected alderman of the Sixth Ward in 1854-5, was Receiver of Taxes in 1856. At the close of his connection with the Finance Department as Receiver of Taxes, which he resigned to accept the position of Chief ofd the Fire Department, he demanded an investigation of his accounts, as millions of public fund has passed through his hands.

A committee of his political opponents pronounced the accounts correct. This is the only instance of a financial officer in this city having his accounts examined at his own request.

Mr. Howard visited the Legislature at the session of 1866, and made an address before the Committee on Cities, for an increase of the firemen's salaries, which resulted in giving them an increase of twenty per cent.

Mr. Howard has been honored in an especial manner by the cooperation of this city. In the Aldermanic Chamber to-day hangs a full length portrait of him as Engineer in Chief of the Fire Department, executed by order of the Common Council in recognition of his invaluable services; and "Harry Howard Square," the open space located midway between Broadway and the Bowery, at the junction of Canal, Walker, Baxter, and Mulberry Streets, in a further evidence of the gratitude of the municipality in perpetuation of Mr. Howard's name and fame.

Chief Engineer Harry Howard's long experience in the Volunteer Fire Department convinced him that the public did not appreciate the great personal sacrifices of the Volunteer Firemen, numbers of whom met death or became maimed and paralyzed in the performance of the onerous service of protecting lives and property, and extinguishing fires in this city by hand. He said they ought to be paid, and favored changing the Volunteer Fire Department to a Steam Fire Brigade, with horses to draw the fire apparatus and good salaries for the officers and men.

Of a herculean frame, iron constitution, and quick movement, he was able to go through enormous fatigues, and impart a nerve and vigor to the Department which, for the first time, gave reasonable security tot he property and lives of New Yorkers. The losses by fire under his administration were less than under any other Chief. The expenses of the Department were reduced more than one-half from what they had been before, or ever have been since. The Chief had then entire supervision and control of all supplies, repairs and expenses, and no bill passed his scrutiny that was not a fair claim on the city. There was no atmosphere of corruption around him or his office; his hands were clean; nor could any contractor or company or private citizen induce him to receive any commissions, fees, perquisites, presents or rewards of any kind, outside of his salary, which me always declared was all he was entitled to.

Chief engineer Howard arranged and was Grand Marshal of the two largest Firemen's Parades ever held in this city. First, the grand illuminated parade in celebration of the paying of the first Atlantic Cable, on the night of September 1, 1858; and second, the Department's last grand Triennial Day parade, October 17, 1859.

In February, 1885, Mr. Howard donated one thousand dollars to the burial fund of the Association of Exempt Firemen.

Ex-Chief Howard headed the firemen's division of the Bartholdi Parade of October, 1886, and received an ovation all along the line. Though the day was wet and the thoroughfares slippery, yet the veteran marched with a vigor that was remarkable.

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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