Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments

Chapter 31, Part III

By Holice and Debbie

SELLECK WATERBURY served his time with Dry dock Engine No. 47. He was born in Connecticut, came to New York in 1831, and joined the Fire Department in 1836. Engine 47 was organized for the protection of the dry dock and adjacent shipping about the foot of East Tenth Street. The ground for the engine house was presented to the city by the Dry Dock Company, with the understanding that the engine should not be required to go to fires south of Grand or west of Essex Street. William H. Webb, the shipbuilder, was a member of the company. Mr. Waterbury is a life member of the Exempt firemen's Association, and is now in the wholesale business at No. 37 Warren Street.

CHARLES PLACE served his time with Engine No. 38, which was located in Ann Street, opposite Theater Alley. He was an enthusiastic fireman, and was, of course, a "bunker." Prior to joining 38 he was, as a boy, first with Engine 15 and then with Hose No. 1. Mr. Place is a member of the Exempt Firemen's Association, and one of the oldest members of the Firemen's Ball Committee. He is now president and treasurer of the Consumers' Gas Works Company (Limited), and director in several other companies.

PETER VETTER, JR., now foreman of Engine Company No. 36 in West Thirty-seventh Street, is the eldest of the twelve children of peter Vetter, Sr. He was born in Ludlow Street on December 13, 1838. His father was member of Clinton Engine Company No. 41, and of course, young Peter ran with that engine as soon as he ws old enough to run at all. He relates that he got lost the first time he undertook to go to a fire, and was picked up and carried by a policeman to the station house at the Bowery and Third Street, where he was claimed by his father after the fire was over. He ran with 21 until he company was disbanded for fighting with 15 Engine, when he joined the runners with Manhattan Engine No. 8, which was a Philadelphia double decker and had only four-wheel hose carriage in the Department. The boys who used to run with her organized themselves into a company, of which Peter Vetter, Jr., was assistant foreman. The runners used to congregate at the corner of Ludlow and Delancey, and the moment the Essex Market bell struck they would make for the engine house and man the ropes of the hose carriage.

"And a hard time we young ones had to keep up with the engine," says Mr. Vetter in talking of the old times.

Shortly afterward Engine 41 was reorganized, and Mr. Vetter went back to his first love. On august 9, 1859, he became a regular member of the company, and in the following year was elected assistant secretary, a post which he held for the two succeeding years. In 1863, 1864, and 1865 he was secretary. On August 20, 1865, the company was again disbanded for fighting with "Big Six" in Ridge Street.

On the organization of the Paid Department, Mr. Vetter was appointed a fireman and assigned to duty with Hook and Ladder No. 16, which was organized on October 20, 1865. That evening the members held a meeting and informally elected Mr. Vetter secretary. He was soon afterwards appointed district inspector, and in June 1, 1868, he ws made assistant foreman and placed in command of Hook and Ladder No. 6. On December 16, 1868, he was placed in command of Hook and Ladder No. 3, and on September 18, 1870, was transferred to Hook and Ladder No. 9. On May 1, 1872, he was appointed foreman and placed in command of Hook and Ladder No. 1. After successively commanding Engine No. 11, Hook and Ladder Nos. 11, 7, 15, 13, and 19, and Engine No. 4, he was given his present command on November 14, 1884. 26 engine is a double company, and covers one of the most important districts in the city. Under Captain Vetter's command the company has been kept in a condition of the highest efficiency. The captain takes the deepest interest in everything pertaining to fire matters, and possesses a large and valuable collection of "fronts," trumpets, fire hats, and minute books, and other documents relating to the old Volunteer Department. He is a member of the Exempt Firemen's and Volunteer Firemen's Associations.

PETER VETTER, SR., the father of Captain Peter Vetter, of engine No. 26, of the Paid Department, was born in the Tenth Ward on February 7, 1815. After running with the engines as a boy he joined Live oak Engine No. 44 as soon as he became of age. The engine lay on the north side of Houston Street near Lewis. Mr. Vetter then lived in Delancey Street near Essex. After serving two years with "Live Oak" he joined Clinton Engine No. 41, familiarly known as "Old Stag," in 1838, and served with her as an active and honorary member until the disbandment of the Department. His total term of service in the department covered a period of nearly thirty years, during which time it is said that he never, even once, failed to respond to an alarm of fire. Although one of the most efficient and popular members of the company, he resolutely refused to hold office, remaining a private throughout his whole career. He was one of the earliest members of the Association of Exempt Firemen, which he joined on October 21, 1851. His son, Captain Vetter, is also a member, forming the only instance of a father and son being simultaneously members of the organization.

"Old Stag" used to lie at the corner of Delancey and Attorney Streets, occupying

the first floor of the building, while the upper part contained the station house of the Thirteenth Precinct Police, commanded by Captain Devoy. No. 15 Engine, known as "Old Maid<" and "Black Joke" No. 33, were the principal rivals of "Old Stag." Considerable ill-feeling existed between the firemen and Captain Devoy, who was disposed to be overbearing. On one occasion he took exception to the practice the firemen had of lounging in front of the engine house in warm weather and rudely ordered them into the house, alleging that they were annoying people on the way to church. The firemen were naturally furious at this attempted infringement on their rights and determined to "get even" with the captain.

Shortly afterwards the company went on a target excursion to Matt.Gooderson's at Flushing, L. I. They paraded as the "Clinton Guards" with Foreman John Brown as captain. The target, however, borne at the rear of the company by "Nigger Sam," who cleaned the engine, and three other colored men, consisted of a life size portrait of Captain Devoy in full uniform. On the shield over his head was the couplet:

"From thy heart thy blood shall run,
From the bullets of Forty-one."

When the company returned that night, they drew up in front of the station house, and displayed the portrait with the shield riddled with bullet holes, from which ran streaks of red paint. Captain Devoy was furious, and next day caused every member of the company to be arrested and bound over to keep the peace. Captain Vetter relates of his father, to illustrate the old gentleman's fondness for a dry joke, that one night when he was hurrying to the engine house a citizen in a night cap thrust his head out of the window, and excitedly called: "Fireman, where's the fire?"

"I don't know, but I'll come back and tell you," replied Mr. Vetter, without stopping. About four hours later, on his way home, Mr. Vetter stopped at the citizen's door, and seizing the knocker, delivered a perfect volley of raps. Out came the night cap again with, "Hello! What�s the matter?" "I only wanted to tell you where the fire was. It's at ________," began Mr. Vetter mildly. "The fire is d--d," howled the night cap, and down came the window, and Mr. Vetter went chuckling home.

Among Mr. Vetter's fellow members in "Old Stag" were John Brown, Philip B. White, George W. wheeler, Samuel Berian, Thomas Haviland, Henry Lewis, Jesse Smith, Charles Ostrander, Arthur Britton, and Joseph Hyde.

Mr. Vetter retired a few years ago with his wife to the enjoyment of his vine and figtree at Keyport N. J., where, true to his old instincts, he is an active member of the local Fire Department.

JOHN H. WAYDELL is one of the "Old Knickerbockers" in the true sense of the word. He was born in the old Sixth Ward in 1826, and has lived all these years in his native city. He first joined Oceana Hose Company No. 36, in 1847. The boys had a good joke on "Old Boy Waydell," as they like to call him. Just about that time one of his side partners, in a joking way, made a bet that Waydell would miss the first "working fire.' The bet was taken up by another, a few nights passed without their having a "working fire." The matter finally got to the ears of Waydell, and he made a vow (rather a rash one, as will be seen hereafter) that in no event would he miss that fire is alive and well. It so happened that just about the time named he got married, and on the nuptial night the test of his loyalty to the cause and his vow came. The groom, while yet the wedding bells were sounding in his ears, heard the clangor of that other bell calling for help to suppress the flames. Likewise he recalled his vow. The situation was embarrassing. In imagination he saw the smiles and heard the laughter of his mocking "chums." The neophyte groom and fireman felt himself placed in a dire dilemma. Should he abandon his bride--but now led from the alter--the wedding feast, the assembled guests? Or should he remain ands brave the taunts and flings he knew would be his portion did he shirk that other duty which this brassy bell was clamorously proclaiming. Which bell, then, should he give his first allegiance to? Their sounds became intermingled and confused in his brain. There was no help for it; he would go. And he did go to that fire, and was among the first to arrive at the big blaze. This immortalized him in the estimation of his associates. It is recorded also that the bride generously forgave him.

Mr. Waydell served with Oceana Hose for about six years, during which time roll-call, hardly with an exception, never found him absent from his post of duty. The last fire he attended as an active member of the Old Volunteer Department was in the winter of 1852. It was a downtown fire. He got inside the rope on Engine No. 19; his side partner tripped and fell; the engine went over him and killed him. This made such a sad impression on Mr. Waydell's mind that he retired from active duty, not by any means from lack of bravery, for no more fearless fireman could New York produce.

Mr. Waydell is perhaps one of the most active, and certainly one of the most popular of the Trustees of the widows' and Orphans' fund of the Exempt Firemen's Association. He had been for years a member of the Association. He is an active member of the Volunteer Firemen's Association of New York, and was unanimously requested to accept the treasurership last year, but declined. He is, perhaps, one of the wealthiest shipowners in the country. He has been a director in the Firemen's Insurance Company for the past ten years, a member of the Produce Exchange., and also of the Maritime Exchange; is president of the Easter District Dispensary, a position he has held for the last five years. He was president of the Mechanics' and Tradesmen's Society for several years. Yet of all the honors conferred upon him none have more charms for him than the recollections of his connection with the old Volunteer Department.

WILLIAM H. VAN SICKEL, SR., was born in New Brunswick, N. J., on June 4, 1812. He joined Engine Company 30, May, 1829. He was assistant foreman for two years. He resigned in 1836.

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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