Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments

Chapter 25, Part I

By Holice and Debbie

CHAPTER XXV

SOME PROMINENT VOLUNTEER FIREMEN

Edward M. Hoffmire: His Varied and Interesting Career.--William Brandon: Fireman and Insurance Surveyor. -- John Baulch: At Every Large Fire in New York from 1835 to 1862. - -John T. Agnew: Comes of a Family of Firemen. -- Carlisle Norwood: "The Very Ideal of the True Fireman.". -- Richard P. Moore: First to Make Trial of a Steam Engine in This City. -- Clarkson Crolius: At Every Fire in the Sixth Ward. -- William B. Dunley: The Best Informed Fireman in New York. -- John McDermott: An Art Connoisseur.-- Richard Evans: Popular with the Boys. -- Francis Hagadorn: Has Filled Offices of Trust and Honor. -- William L. Jenkins: Enamored of the Fireman's Life. -- Abraham H. Purdy: A Sturdy Veteran. -- Anthony Yeoman: An Active Fireman.

EDWARD M. HOFFMIRE entered the old Fire Department when quite a young man as a member of Fire Engine Company No. 6. Mr. John McMullen gives the following admirable sketch of him: "Mr. Hoffmire rose to be assistant foreman and foreman of that company, and was afterwards made assistant engineer of the Department, under James Gulick as chief engineer. He was always very popular with the men, from his daring, his manliness, and his generosity. I presume that he never refused to help any one if in his power, but I never knew except from others of any such acts of his, for he never spoke of them. He made plenty of money in his business, but he was too open-handed to keep it. His work as a carpenter had developed him physically, in the best manner, and prepared him for his work as a fireman. It was a pleasure to him walking in the street with his erect figure, his light elastic step, his square shoulders and his keen eye that noted everything. My elder brother coming home one evening from Windust's, once a celebrated restaurant, stated that Gabriel Ravel, one of the best of that distinguished family of acrobats, was in the barroom, and when some one said to him, 'It's all very easy for you to turn the somersaults you do because you have springboards and all sort os appliances upon the stage,' he said, 'That makes no difference; I could do it right here;' and stepping out to the middle of the floor he turned a somersault as neatly as possible, alighting on his feet very nearly in the same place.

"'Well,' said Mr. Hoffmire, 'that isn't much to do. I could do it right her on this carpet.'

"We all thought that he was joking, but he stepped out just as he was, dressed in a light pair of boots and a dress suit, and turned a somersault, coming down as lightly as a bird. His gold watch, which was worn, as usual at that time, with a long gold chain that went around the neck, took advantage of the occasion to fly out of his vest pockets and twist the chain around his neck. When speaking one day about the softness of pine wood, he said that one could make dents in it with his knuckles; and, when some disbelief was shown, he immediately demonstrated it, so that we had no difficulty in feeling the indentations with our fingers.

"Once in the course of conversation he stated that he had ordered a plate of turkey in an eating house, and was eating it quietly in one of the small alcoves when some rowdies entered and a big fellow coolly sat down opposite to him and, sticking a fork into a piece of the turkey, put it into his mouth, saying, 'Hey, bub, let's see how it tastes.'

"He said it was a foolish thing to do, since there were four of them, but he could not help striking square on the cheek where the turkey was. Then stepping out of the alcove, and putting his back against the partition, he stood there to take the consequences. Just at that moment, as luck would have it, the door opened and in came some firemen. They took in the situation immediately, and one of them said,

"'Why, Ned, what's up?'

"He told them what had happened, but the rowdies wre so profuse in their apologies and assurances that it was all a joke and that they were ready to pay for the turkey ten times over that the firemen let them go without punishment.

"The daring he displayed at fires was a constant subject of remark. Many buildings were saved in consequence of it, and he received many tokens of gratitude from those whose lives or property he saved. I recollect seeing on his mantel-piece a small model of a fire-engine of those days, made by the pupils of a public school he had saved from destruction by his exertions. He often risked his life without saying a word about it, and the first intimation that his startled wife received was usually from some outsider.

"A man came early one morning h to ask if he was dead, and when his wife said no, that he was perfectly well, the man said, 'Well, I'm very glad to hear it, for they told me that he fell down a hoistway last evening, and I thought he must be dead.' On my asking Mr. Hoffmire about it afterwards, he said:

"'It was in a large store down town where they had the hoistway at the end against the wall, and as I was going along in the dark I walked right into the open hoistway, and fell down three stories. I struck on my feet, and was pretty well jarred, but not hurt seriously. I had the curiosity to go down the next day to see what it was that saved me, and I saw that I was my stepping forward so hesitantly that brought me square up against the end wall, and kept me from turning over so that I cam down straight, and I could see where the toes of my boots had scraped against the wall.'

"On another occasion a large wholesale coffee store down town took fire in the rear basement, and the flames went straight up, leaving the front apparently untouched. The firemen had poured in plenty of water, which had run down and filled the cellar nearly full, though its ceiling was rather high. As they afterwards found out, some burning brands had floated, as they burned, on top of the water, which by this time was so bear the ceiling as to enable them to set fires to the beams, so that when Chief Gulick and Assistant Hoffmire started in from the front to see whether the fire was sufficiently mastered, the floor was burned to a thin crust; and Gulick was a heavy man, weighing over two hundred pounds, he broke through, making a large hole, into which Hoffmire followed him. When they attempted to catch hold of the floor the burning crust gave way, and their cries appeared to be unheard. Hoffmire, seeing that something desperate must immediately be done, jumped up on Gulick's broad shoulders, and thence made a sprawling jump upon the floor spreading himself as much as possible so as not to break through again, and lending a hand to Gulick as he came up from his involuntary plunge. By this time help came, and a ladder was run across by the ready firemen, who soon raised up the dripping Chief. Gulick was a good-natured and a reasonable man, who soon saw that what was done was best for both, and both often thereafter jokingly referred to this adventure, in which Hoffmire's prompt decision and successful execution certainly prevented some suffering, and may have averted a calamity."

WILLIAM BRANDON, ex-chief of battalion of the New Department, is well known, not only in New York, but throughout the whole country, as a capable fireman. He is a member of the Volunteer and Veteran Firemen's Associations, and is now in the service of the Home Insurance Company, of New York, as surveyor of that company. Few men have taken a greater interest in fire matters outside their native place, for Mr. Brandon has been instrumental in organizing or improving fire departments elsewhere. In June, 1873, he visited Boston, accompanying a committee of the National Board of Fire Underwriters, for the purpose of reorganizing the Department of that city. In November of the following year he visited Chicago with General Alexander Shaler, at the request of the Citizens' Committee of Chicago. The result of the visit was the organization of a Fire Department on a basis that has made it one of the best in the country. One of the most important works that Mr. Brandon has undertaken was the examining and reporting upon the Fire Departments of some of the leading cities. This was done at the request of the National Board of Fire Underwriters in 1876. The cities reported upon were: Philadelphia, Pa.; Baltimore, Md.; Louisville, Ky.; Nashville and Memphis, Tenn.; Indianapolis, Ind.; St. Louis, Mo.; Cincinnati and Cleveland, O.; Milwaukee, Wis.; Detroit, Mich.; Albany, Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo, and Elmira, N. Y.; Providence, R. I.; Boston, and Springfield, Mass.; and Portland and Banger, Me. These reports, which were the most comprehensive of the kind, were distributed among insurance companies doing a general agency business.

Mr. Brandon's experience as a fireman rendered him peculiarly fitted for this work. He was born in the city of New York on October 25, 1835. Before he was twenty-one years old he served as a volunteer with Peterson Engine Company No. 15; afterwards he joined Fulton Hose Company No. 15, and became its foreman. Next he joined Hook and Ladder Company No. 1, one of the oldest and most efficient companies in the service. In 1859 he was elected a fire warden. When the new Department came into existence, Mr. Brandon was appointed a foreman on September 8, 1865, and next year, in April, was promoted to the position of district engineer (now known as chief of battalion) and assigned to the "dry-goods district," (the third), one of the most important in the city. In January, 1870, he was promoted to be Chief of the First Brigade.

In the Old Department he was once severely injured by the breaking of a ladder in a fire in Vesey Street. This was on August 24, 1858. He was laid up for some months.

In January, 1878, he went to Pittsburgh, Pa., to examine the Fire Department there, and was presented with an elegant silver service. In September, 1882, he represented the National board of Fire Underwriters at the National convention of Fire Chief Engineers, held at Cincinnati, O.

JOHN BAULCH, at present the chief engineer of the Fortress Monroe Fire Department, whose robust form is well known to all old New York people, and generally throughout the country, is one of the oldest active firemen now living. He joined the "good Intent" engine Company, No. 39, when she lay in the park in the rear of the old Bridewell prison. In 1838, shortly after, the company moved to Doyers Street, near Chatham Square. Mr. Baulch was elected assistant foreman in 1840 and foreman in 1841, holding the latter position when the Common Council disbanded his company. The reason for the disbandment was this: One Sunday afternoon, at a fire in Peck Slip, Chief Anderson appeared without uniform or cap, and undertook to direct 39 to give water to 15 Engine. No. 15 was their natural enemy at this time, so they washed the "stranger" who "interfered" and gave the water to 12 Engine. Mr. Baulch next joined Bunker Hill Engine No. 32, and was soon elected assistant foreman. He held this position until 1847, when he resigned and immediately joined Eagle Engine Company No. 13. He was elected assistant foreman soon after, and at the following annual meeting was elected foreman, filling this office with credit until he was elected an assistant engineer in 1854.

John Baulch was an assistant engineer from 1854 to 1862. During the latter part of this time he was acting senior engineer, and chief during the absence of Chief Howard, who was unable to be present owing to illness. In 1862 Mayor Opdyke received an order from the Secretary of War, directing him to send two powerful engines and an experienced engineer to Fortress Monroe. Mr. Baulch was selected for this duty, and left New York within six hours after receiving orders, taking with him Mohawk Engine No. 16 and Peterson Engine No. 31. These two engines were considered the most powerful engines at that time. Mr. Baulch arrived at Fortress Monroe, and more powerful engines was sent to him from Philadelphia, Baltimore, and other points. He organized fire companies for each engine and carriage from the volunteer regiments stationed at the fort, many of them being old firemen from New York who had served under him before. Mr. Baulch was then made chief engineer of the division of the South, with head quarters at Fortress Monroe. His duty was to follow up the military and take charge of all fire apparatus in southern towns occupied by our troops and to organize fire companies, with soldiers for the temporary protection of the town. In this work he rendered valuable service in preventing the destruction of property and received many complimentary letters. With his corps of assistants he made many friends and ministered to the comforts of firemen as they lay wounded and dying on the field, or supplied them with clothing as they arrived at the fort as exchanged prisoners of war.

Mr. Baulch was present at every large fire in New York from 1835 to 1862, and had many very narrow escapes. His grandchildren now admire the two beautiful silver trumpets presented to him as tokens of the esteem in which he was held. One was presented by the members of Engine Company No. 13, the other by the Volunteer Fire Department of Philadelphia; also the cap, belt and lantern presented to him by the Norfolk (Va.) fire Department for valuable services rendered while on duty in charge at that city. He was elected one of the vice-presidents of the Association of Fire Engineers of the United States. Mr. Baulch was elected for four terms as a member of the board of Councilmen, representing the fourth Ward, where he lived over thirty-seven years.

JOHN T. AGNEW comes of a family of firemen. His father, William Agnew, was a fireman and fire warden for twenty-one years, and served on the Floater. At the burning of Fulton Market, Mr. William Agnew was conspicuous for his bravery. He was also conspicuous at the great 1835 fire, where he and others placed a keg of powder under Remsen's store in Hanover Square and blew up the building to arrest the progress of the flames. He preserved with care his fire warden's hat, and his son, John T., still has it. Mr. John T. Agnew's brother, Alexander M., likewise served with distinction in the Volunteer Department and was a member of Oceans Hose No. 36--a crack company. The fire hats of Alexander and his father are to be seen in Mr. Agnew's warehouse in Front street. This warehouse is built within six feet of the spot where his grandfather had erected a dwelling house, at No. 313 Water Street, in 1793, and where he himself was born. Mr. Agnew's certificate of exemption (which is dated 1851) hangs in his office. He served for nine years in the Volunteers, and his courage, devotion to duty, and skill made him a remarkable man in the Department. With his father he was present at the fire of 1835, where he rendered great assistance and saved from the flames some valuable sets of books for his merchant friends. He was a member of Hose Company No. 1 for four years, then a fire warden for three years, and finally a member of a hydrant company for two years. Associated with him in fire duty were Halsey R. mead, a wholesale cooper, and two Mead brothers; the Ockershausens, sugar refiners, Van Nostrand, the hardware merchant, long at the corner of Beekman and Pearl Streets; Mr. rich, of the firm of Taylor & Rich, shipping merchants; Edward Brooks, of the firm of Brooks Bros., Peter H. Titus, Peter V. King, and Percy R. Pyne.

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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