Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments

Chapter 32, Part I

By Holice and Debbie



Firemen Who Have Run with the "Machines". -- Their Companies and Their Exploits. -- Methods Of Fire Extinguishing Which Have Passed out of Vogue. -- Very Lively Times When as Alarm Was Rung Out. -- The Kind of History Which Does Not Repeat Itself in Our Day and Generation. -- Leading Spirits who Cherish the memories of the Past.

GEORGE ROBERTSON joined the Department in 1828. He had known all the chief engineers from and including Thomas Franklin, to John Decker. New York, when Mr. Robertson was a fireman, had not crept beyond Canal Street, through which ran a sluggish and malodorous stream, confined by a big ditch. The First, Second, and Third Ward were considered fashionable districts. The first fire Mr. Robertson attended was the one at Crane's Wharf, where the Fulton Market now stands. It was a bitterly cold night. Mr. Robertson became a member of No. 9 Engine in 1829. The company was well known; Hon. James C. Millet, afterwards sheriff of New York; Hon. E. B. Hart, Robert and peter Goelet, and others were members. Mr. Robertson says that he thinks the boys of the Old Department were as active and quick, all things considered, as they are at the present day.

JAMES A. MONAGHAN joined Marion Engine No. 9, April 1, 1858, and served until the disbandment of the Old Department in 1865. Born in the Fourteenth Ward, Mr. Monaghan was familiar and popular with the entire population, and he soon drifted into politics. In 1867 he was elected a member of the Board of councilmen, became president of that body. He is a member of the Exempt and Veteran Firemen's associations.

PETER MASTERSON , in 1850, joined Engine Company 36, then located at Seventeenth Street and Broadway. The following year the company was disbanded. Mr. Masterson then organized, in 1852, Engine Company No. 33, which was popularly known as "Black Joke." The company's quarters were located at Fifty-eighth Street and Broadway, and Mr. Masterson for many years remained her foreman. "Black Joke" was one of the hardest working companies in the city, and was besides a power in the department. Mr. Masterson was likewise instrumental in organizing Hose Company No. 34, at Forty-first Street and Eighth Avenue; also Peter Masterson Engine Company 32, at One Hundred and Fourth Street and Bloomingdale Road. Mr. Masterson was elected one of the trustees of the Benevolent Fund. During the draft riots Foreman Masterson did some splendid service in the upper part of the city. On the first two nights of the riots Mr. Masterson kept up a full head of steam on the engine. His men were formed into a patrol, extending from Sixty-second Street to Fiftieth Street, and from Sixth Avenue to the Hudson River. For the protection so afforded to life and property, citizens presented Mr. Masterson with a case of beautiful pistols, and the company with a large purse of money.

DAVID DECKER was born at No. 38 Vesey Street, New York City, April 10, 1821. AS soon as his legs would allow he commenced to run to fires. In fact, the four Decker brothers (Chief John was one of the four) were all active firemen. When David was old enough he joined Columbian Engine Company No. 14, and served with the old engine many years, but, as No. 14 was only doing duty down town, he resigned to join Washington Engine Company No. 20, which company was running "all over." He served as a member and representative of No. 20 about two years, and resigned so as to have an opportunity to try hose company duty. He joined Hose Company No. 27, served with that company about three years, and having done active fire duty for over fifteen years, he resigned to take a rest. When Mohawk Engine Company No. 16 was organized a number of his old friends and companions of No. 14 were on the roll, and Mr. Decker was induced to add his name to the list. He served with No. 16 until he felt it to be his duty to retire to private life. Mr. Decker had many offers to accept office, but always declined any position but that of representative, where he would do good service for his company, and aid in elevating the standing of the department.

RICHARD H. NUGENT was born in the City of New York. He joined Baltic Hose Company No. 35 (Located in Mercer Street) February 22, 1859, and remained with that company until it was disbanded. In 1862 he joined empire Hose Company No. 40. Mr. Nugent is a very quiet, unassuming man, never was ambitious of holding office, but preferred to do duty as a private. He is a member of both the Volunteer and Veteran Firemen's Associations, a trustee of the latter organization, and a hard and earnest worker.

JOHN J. FINN'S first experience in fire matters as a boy was attained in running with Old 14 engine ("Jumper.") then located at Church and Vesey Streets, in the year 1853. At the breaking out of the civil war he enlisted as private in K Company, eleventh New York Volunteers, known as Ellsworth's Fire Zouaves, on April 19, 1861, and did duty with the regiment until it was mustered out of service in June, 1862. On returning to New York he joined Columbian Engine Company 14, and acted as such until the Volunteer Fire Department was abolished and the present Paid Department substituted. He is a member of the Old Volunteer Fire Department Association, and is well known in Masonic circles, having been a member of the fraternity for twenty-two years. During that period he served four years as Master of Eastern Star Lodge No. 227, F. & A. M., and three as High Priest of empire Chapter No. 170 R. A. M. He is also a member of the Masonic Veteran Association. In 1883, in conjunction with several old firemen, he helped to organize Noah L. Farnham Post No. 458, G. A. R., Department of New York, and was elected its quartermaster, a position which he has ever since retained. At the annual session of the International Typographical convention of the United States and Canada, held at Detroit, Mich., in 1878, he represented Typographical Union No. 6, of new York City, and received a vote of thanks from the Union for services rendered.

THEODORE E. TOMLINSON was a favorite with the Volunteer firemen, and many a festive scene was made brighter by his eloquence. There were but few orators in the country equal to Theodore E. Tomlinson in his prime. He was an honorary member of Columbian Engine Company No. 14, and accompanied them on their trips to Washington. During their stay at Baltimore, while being entertained by their brother firemen, Tomlinson was called on for a speech, and he made one that electrified the Baltimoreans and carried them clear off their feet. He told them he had been looking for Mason's and Dixon's line ever since he started from home, but had not found it, nor any line that could separate the friendships of the Volunteer firemen. The word was soon passed among the Baltimoreans to hunt up the Demostheneese and Ciceros of the Monumental City, as they had not expected to hear such eloquence in pure classic style as that of the orator. The distinguished men came to welcome the new Yorkers with true Southern eloquence, but it was the general opinion that none could pass 14's orator.

DAVID CLOSEY, considered one of the best firemen in the Department, was retired on July 1, 1883, on a pension of six hundred dollars. He enjoyed the distinction of being one of the quickest "bunkers" as well as one of the bet pipemen on the force. Cool and quiet in his demeanor, and strictly temperate, he was ever prompt at the call of duty. In his day he was a noted athlete, being a well-known runner and oarsman. He is an expert member of the Volunteer Fire Department, having served in Washington Engine Company No. 20. On a cal for volunteers to go to the front, e was one of the first to respond, going out as a sergeant in Captain William Hackett's company. He came back color bearer of the regiment (the First Zouaves). He re-enlisted in the Metropolitan Police regiment, and was made sergeant in Captain James Lee's company, and he was also appointed color bearer of the regiment. While so serving he was wounded, losing a part of his jaw and a number of teeth. He was discharged at the General Hospital on the twenty-ninth of May, 1865, and on the twenty-ninth of September, following was appointed a member of the Fire Department, and attached to Engine Company No. 17.

Mr. Closey experienced not a few painful accidents. While serving in Washington Engine Company 20 he was badly hurt. While a member of Engine Company No. 6 he received a severe cut in the head, necessitating seventeen stitches to close the wound. Afterwards he was thrown from hook and Ladder Company No. 12, and was taken to the New York Hospital. At another time he was struck by a falling beam; and again he was crushed by a portion of a wall falling upon him. Most of his injuries were received about the head, and these repeated hard knocks (including, as stated, the tearing away of part of his face by a Rebel bullet) in time told upon his general health. He had to retire from the service a scarred and pulverized veteran--a martyr to duty in the service of his country. Mr. Closey enjoys fair health now, and is a member of the Volunteers' Association, and Farnham Post, G. A. R., of which he is color bearer.

ROBERT B. NOONEY, President of the Board of Aldermen of the year 1886, became a member of the Red jacket Hose Company No. 45, located in East thirty-third Street near Third Avenue, in 1850. He was made secretary of the company the night that he was elected a member, and the following meeting night was elected representative of the company. He served about two years, when, with six other members, he resigned and joined Metropolitan Hose No. 39, located on Third Avenue near Twenty-sixth Street. He was elected secretary of that company two months thereafter, and served in that capacity until he was elected foreman two years later, which position he was re-elected to the following year. He resigned his membership in the department in 1856, having served six years, and having been a member of the Board of Representatives nearly the whole time of his connection with the department. He took a very active part in sustaining Alfred Carson as chief engineer, and also in his canvass for re-election, when partisan spirit ran very high, for an against the chief, in every company in the city.

GEORGE T. PATTERSON, ex-foreman of Manhattan engine Company No. 8, was born March 19, 1824, and joined engine 8 (Manhattan) in October, 1843, an office which he resigned in March, 1846. He joined Southwark engine 38 in May, 1846, and resigned November, 1849. In December he rejoined Manhattan engine 8, and served until the disbandment of the company, October 14, 1865, making twenty-two years of continuous fire duty. Mr. Patterson was foreman of the company at the time of its disbandment. He is one of the originators and incorporators of the Volunteer and Veteran Firemen's Association, and is also a member of the Exempt firemen's association.

SAMUEL W. ENGS was one of the early members of Neptune Hose No. 5, Carlisle Norwood, foreman, which was organized soon after the strike of 1836, when chief Gulick was superseded by John Ryker, Jr., "In these days," said Mr. Engs, "we would be called a 'dude' company, for our membership included many merchants and their clerks. I joined in 1838, when I was twenty-one years old. But my recollection of the department goes way back of that. My father, P. W. Engs, was a prominent fireman, and his re-shirted associates came often to the house. When I was ten years old I saw Chief Thomas Franklin. The form and faces of Assistant Chiefs Tom Howe, Jamieson Cox, and Uzziah Wenman were familiar to me. Wenman was so dashing and impulsive that his energy was supposed at times to get the better of his judgment. Cox kept a baker shop in Harmon Street, now called East Broadway.

"Neptune Hose No. 5 was located in Mercer Street, where the headquarters of the present department are. Our number was limited to thirty members, and our ranks were always full. We considered that we had the finest carriage in the city. At first we did not perform duty in our own district, but in the Fifth, which included the whole city below Chambers Street. Although we were a silk stocking company, we were well treated at firs, and never, as a body, got into a fight with another company. Marshall O. Roberts, then a West Street ship chandler, joined us, and pulled at the rope for some time, but I don't think he finished his term. Foreman Norwood was so full of vim that he always found work for us. In the usual order of things, most of us would have nothing to do after we had put a stream on the fire. Then came the familiar voice through the trumpet, 'Five--Hose five!' A minute later we would be a hook and ladder duty, pulling down a wall, for example. We were particularly friendly with Hose Companies 8 and 9, and ran with them when our carriage was laid up for repairs. George Hope called 'Tall George,' was foreman of No. 8. I had served four years with No. 5, when I joined Hydrant Company No. 1. In a short term I became assistant foreman, and was soon foreman. This organization had no quarters, and no apparatus except the wrench which each man carried in his pocket. Our monthly meetings were held in the old Second Ward Hotel, in Nassau Street, near Fulton. At fires, our duty was simply to tend the hydrant. The other firemen always welcomed us with 'Hallo, old boys! Glad to see you,' for we took the most tedious portion of the work off their hands. Often the hydrant would be so far from the fire that the man rending it had no excitement to compensate for his hours of watching and exposure."

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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