Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments

Chapter 36, Part II

By Holice and Debbie

No. 51. -- Mutual. -- Shortly after Engine Company No. 30 was disbanded in 1854, a number of their members, with many other companies, among them were Andrew P. Sutton, John A. Smith, John F. Sloper, Geo. McGrath, and Wm. H. Swords, met together, and on December 29 of the same year organized Mutual engine company No. 51, taking up their quarters in No. 30's old house on the north side of Twenty-second Street, between First and Second Avenues, next door to where the police station now stands, John F. Sloper becoming the first foreman. They ran an old gooseneck engine during their first year, and in 1856 received a new second-class Shanghai engine, which they shortly afterwards in 1857, took with them to the State fair at Elmira, and carried off the first prize at the playing match, beating seven other engines, and being the first new York City company to win and get an out-of-town prize. While at Elmira an opportunity occurred in the burning of a building for the New Yorkers to exhibit their skill, and they did so creditably, Sloper, "borrowing" the butt out of a country engine that had got to work, to put into No. 51. The members of 51 Engine Company, 29 Hose, and some other companies, were greatly annoyed at being assaulted and stoned by the hangers-on at the dogpit on Second Avenue, and this the member of 51 determined to put a stop to. So on the night of the first at the Second Avenue stables in 1856, and after being stoned on their way to the fire, 51's boys "dropped in" on them as they were on their way hone and thrashed them. The latter complained to Mayor Wood the next day at the City hall, but the mayor took a common sense view of the matter and told them that they had this time woke up the wrong customer. After Sloper's term expired John A. Smith was elected foreman, and he was succeeded by Geo. McGrath, who was elected assistant engineer in 1865.

One afternoon as Nos. 51 and 7 Companies were racing down Broadway, having met at Astor Place, a lot of No. 9's men jumped in on the rope of No. 51 Engine near Prince Street to rather offset the help that No. 4 engine had given No. 7 Engine just above. One of them, in his haste to be of assistance, got between the tongue and front wheel. That was no place for him, so he rolled up in a heap and went under the wheels of the engine. Jack Sloper, who had command of No. 51 engine, had the man picked up, and, thinking him mortally wounded from the quantity of blood, conveyed him to the new York Hospital, then on Broadway near Anthony Street. A few days afterwards, as Sloper was passing the building, he thought he would stop in and see if he was yet living. At the hospital gate were Alfred Carson, chief, and Elisha Kingsland, assistant engineer, who were trying to gain admittance to see a member of No. 5 Engine Company who had broken his leg at a fire a short time previously. As Sloper had on his best clothes, he pretended not to notice the chief and assistant engineer, but stepped up and also put in his plea for admittance. The keeper asked if he wanted, like the others to see the wounded fireman. Sloper, seeing that his predecessors were unsuccessful in gaining entrance, it not being visiting day, said indignantly that he knew nothing and wish to know nothing about any fireman--that he wished to see one of the doctors. But his efforts were of no avail, and all three had to leave without entering the front gate. Sloper did not give up so easily. Going around to No. 21 engine house he asked one of the members how he could get into the hospital when they wouldn't let him in by the front gate. Upon advising Sloper went ot the back gate, where they were getting in coal that day, and asking the old Irishman who was doing the shoveling "Who�s in charge here?" "I an, sorr," said the old man. "Well, then," said Sloper, "see that you stay here and attend to it." And walked into the building. He very soon came to the bed of the wounded member of No. 5 Engine and stopped to offer him a few words of comfort, saying that the must keep up a good heart and that his friends did not come oftener on account of not always being able to get there on visiting days, and added that he would have had two more visitors that day had they been able to gain admittance. He then asked him if he knew where the member of No. 9 Engine was that No. 51 had run over and so severely injured a few days before. "What, that fellow!" said the sick man; "why, Sloper, he is the worst man I ever knew; he is down in the yard now; just look here!" and turning down the coverlid disclosed to the astonished eyes of Sloper oranges, apples, jams, jellies, and other delicacies, and said, "That fellow prowls around the ward, and whenever he sees anything nice, no matter where it is, he steals it and being it here. I can't eat all of these, and I don't want them found here.' Sloper guessed that it couldn't be the same man, for his man was very badly hurt. "Oh, no, this one is down in the yard now," said the member of No. 5 engine. Sloper went down, and, sure enough, there he was. He told him he ought to be in bed, as he was hurt worse than he imagined, and besides he wanted him to go up and take away those things from that bed, and not get No. 5's member into trouble. "Oh, that's all right; I ain't hurt, and that poor fellow up stairs shall have anything he wants; mind, now, I say so. I am only waiting here a day or two longer to make a stake and I'll see you." Two days afterwards Sloper, who then lived in Twenty-third Street, back of the engine house, was called to the door, and there was the No. 9 engine man. "Sloper," he said, "come round to the engine house. I've got lots of money, and we'll have a bully time." Sloper told him he had company, but if he would go around he would join him in an hour. The fellow went off, and Sloper did not go near the engine house that day. He had had enough of badly wounded firemen for a while.

No. 52. -- Undine. -- This company was organized on February 19, 1863, by the members of Hose company No. 21, and located at 304 Washington Street. It went out of service in 1865.

No. 53. -- Hudson River. -- Was organized by members of Hose Company No. 21 February 19, 1963 and elected Terence Duffy foreman, and Thomas McGrath assistant foreman. On march 23 the company was suspended from duty for six months, and was disbanded December 17, 1864. An appeal was made to the courts, and on June 13, 1865, the Supreme Court reversed the decision of the fire commissioners, so that No. 53 was in good standing when the Volunteer Department ceased to exist.

No. 54. -- Paulding. -- was organized February 19, 1863, by members of Hose Company No. 57, stationed at No. 162 West Eighteenth Street, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues. The officers elected were: Robert Williams, foreman; James McEntee, assistant foreman. The existence of No. 54 was very brief. The company was disbanded February 11, 1864, inside a year of their organization.

Floating Engine. -- The mist of years appears to wrap this company with an almost impenetrable cloud. As near as can be ascertained, some time in the year 1800 the city had a boat constructed after the model of a scow, skiff-shaped, sharp bow, and square stern. On board this vessel was placed the works of an ordinary fire engine, with all the paraphernalia for extinguishing fires--hose, pipes, etc. The motive power was twelve strong, willing men and long man-of-war sweeps, or oars. The vessel was located at the foot of Roosevelt Street, and was to be used for the purposes of aiding the Fire Department at fires occurring on vessels at shipyards, wharves, and adjacent property generally. The company did not remain in service many years, was finally broken up, and the engine became the "Supply engine," and was located at Leonard Street, between Centre and Elm Streets, where the tombs now is.

In the Common Council, January 7, 1805, a report was received from the select committee to whom was referred a report of the city inspector, dated 24th ult., upon the subject of fire, and a letter upon the same subject from the street commissioner to the mayor, under same date, and also a report of the engineer of the Fire Department. The select committee reported as follows:

That the means employed in the extinguishment of fire are susceptible of considerable improvement, that the increasing extent and population of the city increase the chances of frequent and dangerous fires, but at the same time afford the means, and indicate the propriety, of putting the Fire Department upon a more efficacious and systematic footing. It is now known that experience has fully proven the superior utility of the floating Engine. But as that engine can not always be moved in due season to the place where it may be wanted, the committee propose that another of the same kind should be procured. For a like reason, and also because at some seasons the ice or other causes may prevent the floating engines from moving, the committee recommend that two other engines be procured of similar powers, but to be placed on wheels, and to be kept within the city. These, however, are not proposed merely as substitutes for the floating engines, but because it is thought that four of this species are not more than can be usefully employed on many occasions. It appears also to the committee that certain of the engines now in use are both entirely too small and greatly out of repaid, that they accede more readily to the proposal of selling these because they are of opinion that in future all the engines except those before mentioned should be of about equal size and power. The committee is also of the opinion that the screws of all the leaders should be made of uniform size, so that each one may fit all the rest, by which means the accidental failure of a leader, when in use, may be supplied, if necessary, from another engine. Upon this subject, too, an improvement upon the method of fixing the leaders to each other has been suggested, which is submitted to the board among the resolutions subjoined:

Resolved, that one floating engine of like power with that now in use, and also two other engines of like power to go on wheels, be constructed in this city for the use of the corporation, and that the same be contracted for by the chief engineer, and built under his direction. That engines No. 2, 5, 6, and 16 be sold at auction, or otherwise, under the direction of the chief engineer; and that the cause their places to be supplied by an equal number of new engines of equal power with the largest now in use except the floating engine.

That in future there be but two sizes of leaders and of the screws wherewith they are fitted, viz.: the first size for the engines of the like power with the floating engines, and the second size for the others. That to every common engine there be at least four leaders of forty feet each, and that the chief engineer procure and always keep at such places as he shall think proper a number of spare leaders, sufficient to supply the probably deficiencies that may suddenly happen. That the leaders be connected with each other by screws of such construction that they may be joined without twisting, and that each leader may be fitted to any other of the same class of engines, and for this purpose new screws be added to all the leaders now in use, which will admit of screws of the size that may be determined on as the standard, and that the chief engineer cause this resolution to be carried into effect.

That it be the duty of the chief engineer, whenever any engine leader or other fire machinery or utensil belonging to the Board is out of repair, to have it repaired immediately at his discretion and at the expense of the Board.

WYMANT VAN ZANDT, ABRAHAM KING, ABRAHAM BLOODGOOD, SAM. M. HOPKINS, JACOB MOTT, Members of Select committee

The Floating Engine was changed to engine Company No. 42 in 1824.

Supply Engine. -- This company was organized in 1827. Among the earliest members were William L. Jenkins, Robert S. Barnes, Thomas C. Shipley, James M. Tilley, Robert H. Haydock, Leffert Schenck, Edmond Penfold, William W. Macy, John H. Robins and James B. Townsend. These men were all merchants or accountants, and their fire duty with this company was not very arduous. The Supply engine stood on the Franklin Street side of the Corporation Yard, in the middle of the block between Elm and Centre Streets. It was ina a frame building about seventy-five feet long, and bout twenty feet deep. The engine was stationary, and drew the water from the well underneath. It was only used when a fire occurred in the neighborhood, and then only for the supply of the engines, the well being too deep for them to take suction from it. It was on the sit of he old Collect Pond, and, as the saying goes, "had no bottom." The engine could not throw a stream, being only a suction engine, and its utmost capacity was the supplying of three engines at one time. It was worked by a revolving shaft running the whole length of the building, the pump being in the center, and whenever occasion required the assistance of this company they were helped out by the citizens, and boys of the neighborhood, who would flock to the house when the engine was at work for the fun of having the chance to turn the crank. There was always an opposition to this company among the firemen, on account of its having so little duty to perform, but it remained in existence until February 26, 1841, when it went out of service. The placing of hydrants around the city had rendered the use of the engine needless, and, the Corporation Yard being moved away, the pump was laid aside.

Exempt Engine Company. -- this company was organized by the Common Council as a reserve corps, December 27, 1854. It was composed exclusively of exempt members of the Fire Department, and only performed duty in case of a general alarm, or when directed by the engineers. The first officers were James L. Miller, foreman; Floyd S. Gregg, first assistant; John W. Garside, second assistant; John B. Leverich, third assistant; James Gilmore, secretary; Charles E. Gildersleeve, Asssitant secretary, and John S. Giles, treasurer. They took charge of the large first-class haywagon style engine that was built by Waterman in 1842 for the use of 42 Engine company, and which had been abandoned by them on account of its great weight. They organized with one hundred and fifty names on their roll, including at least seven ex-assistant engineers, any number of ex-foremen, and one ex-fire commissioner. On the ninth of February, 1855, the Exempts had a trial in the City Hall Park between their old "Man-killer" Engine and a new steam engine built in Cincinnati. The park was thronged with spectators all interest in the exhibition. The engines took suction from a cistern, and each played through four lengths of hose (two hundred feet). On the first trial, playing horizontally, the steamer threw a stream over one hundred and eighty-two feet, while the exempts reached one hundred and eighty-nine feet. The second trial on the same conditions had the same result. Preparations were made for a third trial, this time perpendicularly, and when the streams were directed to the figure of Justice on the cupola of the City hall, Zophar Mills and John W. Garside, assistant foreman of the Exempts, ascended to the roof to watch the progress of the playing. The "Haywagon's" stream was the highest, but after the men had dropped exhausted from the brakes, the steamer's stream kept steadily on.

"John," said Mr. Mills, "that stream stay there."

"Yes, it does, said Mr. Garside.

"Well, that settles it," said Mr. Mills, and both these old firemen then felt convinced that the steamer was the engine of the future.

Zophar Mills followed James L. Miller as foreman of the company, and held the office several years. In 1859 this company was given charge of two steam fire engines which were stationed in the park, the hand engine being still housed at 2020 Centre Street. One of the steamers was the largest self-propeller, a very powerful engine, but hard to get to and from fires, its liability to break down of its own great weight causing considerable trouble. Once at work at a fire, it was worth a dozen hand engines in its capacity for throwing water.

John J. Gorman followed Zophar Mills as foreman of the company, and remained as such until the reorganization of the Department in 1865. Shortly before that time the company had given up their location in Centre Street, housing both their engines in the house in the Park--the John G. Storms and the Haywagon; the Cary had been taken from their charge previously. At the first at Pier 6, N. R., January 28, 1860, the Exempts had the "Storms" to work, and after the fire, and while coming up Broadway, the alarm struck for the Ledger building fire in Fulton Street. The company proceeded there and again got to work. It was Friday evening when the company went to the ship fire, and they did not again house their engine until Sunday morning.

In 1860 the following officers were in command: Zophar Mills, foreman; John W. Garside, first assistant foreman; James Millward, second assistant foreman; Charles E. Gildersleeve, third assistant foreman; James Y. Watkins, Jr., Secretary; Thomas L. Talman, assistant secretary. The company continued on active service until the time of the absorption of the Old by the new Department. The officers at the time of the final act were as follows: John J. Gorman, foreman; James Y. Watkins, first assistant foreman; E. F. Lasak, second assistant foreman; George R. Connor, third assistant foremen; John M. Harned, secretary; Joshua Isaacs, assistant secretary. The insurance interest and the public generally were profuse in their thanks to those old fireman, who, after serving their many years of toil, exposure and danger, were willing to sacrifice family ties and home comforts to secure safety to their fellow citizens.

In 1853 Seth R. Abrahams, Peter Hoffman, W. J. Holmes, Wm. Hardy, John A. Leonard, W. J. Roome, and John A. Tucker were members, and Neptune Hose, of Philadelphia, presented the company with a massive silver trumpet. This, by a unanimous vote, was presented to Mr. Garside as a token of their esteem for him as an officer and fireman. In 1855 Philip Farley was elected foreman, and the company brought home another new carriage. In 1862 still another one was built by Van Ness, when John Lynch became foreman. He was followed by John L. Herbell. The company in 1863 elected James Cook foreman and John Kennedy assistant. The last foreman was John Kennedy, the company going down with colors flying at the disbandment of the Old Department.

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

You are the [an error occurred while processing this directive] Visitor to this USGenNet Safe-Site� Since March 9, 2001.

March 2001

[Firefighters Index][NY AHGP][NY ALHN]