Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments
Chapter 26, Part III
By Holice and Debbie
JAMES F. WENMAN comes of a good old stock; and can be said to have been born a fireman, his father, Uzziah Wenman, being at the time of his birth (March 7, 1824) an assistant engineer, and living at that time in Fulton Street, just below Church. Mr. Wenman received his first ideas of the Fire Department in the house of Franklin Engine Company 39 (his father's old company), then located on the corner of Vesey and Church Streets, where his old colored nurse took him nearly every day. He says his earliest recollection of the Department is being seated on the front box of the engine with a firecap on, and the members telling him now to give orders through the trumpet. At the first of 1835, although but eleven years old, he and his brother Thomas Franklin (two years his senior) went down to the early stage of the fire, and remained all night. One of 39's members, Samuel Maverick, found them almost frozen, and wrapping them up in blankets (of which there were an abundance lying around) placed them in the doorway of a house in Pearl Street, below Wall. They put in an appearance at their home (66 Elm Street) at seven o'clock the next morning, to the relief of their family, and were great heroes with the brothers and sisters. On the return of their father, who had remained three days at the fire, their glory departed for the time being, for, when he heard of the youngsters' night off, there was a "fire in the rear" of which they did not say much.
At the age of fourteen he commenced doing "active duty" (as he called it) with Victory Hose Company No. 15, then located in Cortlandt alley, near Canal Street. On the organization of the American Hose Company 19, they occupied Hose 15's quarters. Mr. Wenman attached himself to that company in 1841, where he served five years, then joined Engine 38, but served there but a short time. His father moving to Sixteenth Street and Eighth Avenue, he joined Hose Company 35, serving there three years, when he joined New York Hose Company 5--March 5, 1849. In October of the same year he was elected secretary and representative, and on September 4,1850, assistant foreman and representative, and on December 2 of the same year was made foremen, and re-elected for six consecutive years. He resigned in May, 1856, having been elected an assistant engineer. On his retirement from his old company they presented him with a handsomely engrossed copy of complimentary resolution and an elegant silver trumpet, on which were engraved a fac-simile of their hose carriage and their headquarters, Firemen's Hall. In 1853 he was elected Secretary until his election as assistant engineer. On his retiring from the Engineer Board, in 1859, they presented him with a copy of complimentary resolutions, suitably engrossed (the first and only ones ever presented by the Board of Engineers to a retiring member).
At the Jennings fire in 1854 Mr. Wenman was foreman of Hose 5. In regard to that fire Mr. Wenman says, if he had had his trumpet with him, he night have saved the lives of some who were crushed by the second falling of the floors, as from his position, in the rear of the adjoining building, he saw the beams giving away, and called out "back out quick." His brother Uzziah Wenman recognized the voice, and jumped out into the rear, escaping with a slight bruise.
At the Kipp & Brown fire in May, 1848, there was a report that a sick man had been left in a small shanty back in an alley. Mr. Wenman and brother made their way in, just in time to seize the sheet on either end and bring the man out, more dead than alive.
Mr. Wenman became a member of the "Firemen's Ball Committee" in 1849 (when C. V. Anderson was its president), and is not its president, having been unanimously elected to the position fro twenty-two consecutive years. He was also elected to the position of Treasurer of the Exempt Firemen's Benevolent Fund on the death of John S. Giles. On the organization of the "Veteran Firemen's Association" he was selected as their treasurer, and a few of his friends had a full length portrait of him painted in oil by the celebrated artist Mr. Joseph H. Johnson, and presented it to the association. In 1876 Mayor Wickham appointed Mr. Wenman a park commissioner. He was elected president of the Board, and retained the position during his term of office. He always took great pleasure in furthering the interest of the two museums in Central Park--the "Metropolitan Museum of Art" and "Museum of Natural History." On his retirement from the Board the trustees of the Metropolitan Museum of Art unanimously elected him an "Honorary Fellow for Life," a distinction very seldom bestowed.
DAVID SCANNEL, the present famous chief of the San Francisco Fire Department, earned his first laurels in that nursery of gallant men, the Old Volunteer Fire Department of New York.
Born in this city in 1820 he ran with the engines as a lad and early enrolled in Engine Company No. 5, lying in Fulton Street, of whole men it is related that on an alarm of fire they used to throw their boots out of the bunk room window and be downstairs as soon as the boots were. He soon earned a pre-eminent reputation as a man of absolutely reckless courage, ever foremost when any hazardous feat was to be undertaken.
On the call for troops for the invasion of Mexico in 1846 he was among the first to spring to arms. He offered his services to Colonel Ward B. Burnett, who had the honor of raising the first regiment of New York Volunteers, and was immediately gazetted second lieutenant. Such was his reputation as a gallant man that unaided he succeeded in a few days in recruiting his company to its full strength. Under General Scott he participated in the whole series of brilliant engagements that marked the advance of the American army on the City of Mexico, and was one of the first to enter the captured capital, the division, under General Quitman, to which he was attached, forming the advance of the army. Immediately after the capture of the city Lieutenant Scannel was promoted to the rank of Captain. On the disbandment of the forces at the close of the war he was mustered out of the service and returned to New York. The greater part of the two ensuing years he spent in the South, returning to New York in 1850. The gold fever was then at its height, and Scannel's adventurous spirit prompted him to seek his fortune in the new El Dorado. He landed in San Francisco in March, 1851, and promptly joined Empire Company No. 1, whose house stood at Clay and Dupont Streets. In a few months he was elected assistant foreman and then foreman. His splendid services were rewarded in 1860 with the post of chief of the Department, to which he was re-elected in 1863 without opposition. On the organization of the paid Department in 1866 he was succeeded by Frank E. R. Whitney.
In 1871 he was again called to the post of honor, but retired for eight months in 1873, at the expiration of which time he resumed the command which he as held with infinite credit ever since. In 1853 Mr. Scannel held an important office under Major Hammond, the collector of the port, and in the following year served as under-sheriff. In 1855 he was elected sheriff, a post in which he gained much honor during the terrible days of the vigilance committee.
Superb as his record as a soldier and as a public officer it is as a brave and skillful fireman that his reputation is imperishable.
To his thorough administrative qualities, no less than his brilliant example as an intrepid leader, is due the present high efficiency of the Fire Department of San Francisco. His absolute contempt for personal danger has been marvellous. An arm broken, two broken ribs, and a fractured collar-bone, to say nothing of minor injuries unnumerable, attest the recklessness with which he has exposed himself in the public service. Fully a score of times, while urging his horse at full speed to the scene of some conflagration, he has been hurled from his wagon and seriously injured.
Age has dealt kindly with the veteran chief, whose erect, stalwart frame, showing unfailing vigor in very movement, give him the air of a man scarce fifty. His face is a kindly one graced by carefully waxed moustache and imperial that shade of mouth showing in every line indomitable determination. In manner he is genial and courteous. During the many years in which he has directed the affairs of the San Francisco Fire Department he has fairly earned the affection and confidence of his fellow-citizens due to the unceasing fidelity with which he has administered the duties of a position of unrivalled responsibility. There is in San Francisco to-day no more trusted official than the gallant soldier and fireman "Dave" Scannel.
TIMOTHY SULLIVAN was born in the Sixth Ward, New York, in the year 1839. In 1830 he joined Peterson Engine Company No. 31, which lay at that time in Christie Street, near Canal, in the house formerly occupied by engine Company No. 15. It was not a new business to Tim, for he had been thoroughly schooled from childhood, and had run as a Volunteer many years with Hose Companies No. 14 and 15 and Old Peterson Engine Company 15, known as "Old Maid." Tim lived in the vicinity of the Bowery, and was well acquainted with all the old-time "Bowery Boys" and fighters of those days, as they all congregated in that neighborhood, around the old Bowery Theatre. He performed duty with an old hand engine of 31 until 1863, when, in September, of that year, the company received a small steam fire engine of the "Smith" build, and he was appointed the engineer. He continued in that position until May, 1865, when he received a paralytic stroke (while proceeding to a fire in the old sixth district), from which he has never fully recovered. President J. L. Perley in 1873 made Tim a night watchman at fire headquarters.
Transcribed by Holice B. Young
HTML by Debbie
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