Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments

Chapter 41, Part II

By Holice and Debbie

Application was made in 1831 to the Legislature to extend the charter to 1860, and to increase their right to hold real estate on foreclosures to $50,000, which was granted.

It was deemed expedient also to devise some plan for increasing the fund. The number of widows had trebled in fourteen years and doubled in ten years. a committee was appointed, who reported a proposition to tax every member of the department two dollars per annum. It was voted down. The committee also suggested an application to the legislature to incorporate a fireman's bank. A clause was to be inserted in the charter securing an annual appropriation of fifteen hundred dollars to the Fire Department fund. Before the bill came up for final action the committee was apprised that the Legislature would refuse to grant the application embracing in the charter the proposed clause, thereby defeating the object and benefit intended. A subsequent meeting of the representatives was convened, and the resolutions were adopted instructing the committee to withdraw the application, which was accordingly done. The great fire of 1835 nearly exhausted the widows' and orphans' fund, their surplus being invested in the insurance companies of that time, most of which were swept out of existence by their losses from that fire, and the leading members of the Fire Department, whose hearts were wrapped up in the benevolent fund, undertook to resuscitate its fallen fortunes. Adam W. Spies, of Engine Company 5, and James Russell, of Engine Company 2, started a subscription among the merchants of the city, and succeeded in raising about $14,00.

It was reported at the forty-fourth annual meeting, December, 1836, that the fund was reduced to the extent of $5,750, as the call for charity had increased to a very great extent. By dint of redoubled exertions the following year the permanent fund was not only restored to its original amount, but was increased by $7.500, for which result the department was chiefly indebted to the indefatigable exertions of Messrs. Y. M. Russell, A. W. Spies, and other members of the department, in obtaining in the manner above related, donations to the fund.

On the sixteenth of December 1850, a committee was appointed at a meeting of the representatives of the Fire Department, to apply to the Legislature to amend the charter increasing the right to real estate to one hundred thousand dollars. Various donations had been made from time to time to the charitable fund of the department, embracing public benefits, contributions from fire insurance companies, as also many munificent gifts from private individuals. The number of widows and children who at this time depended upon the fund for assistance was in the aggregate of about 1,300; and notwithstanding the incessant and increasing calls for aid, the fund had by no means lost ground, but, on the contrary, had steadily increased, owing to its having been from the beginning faithfully guarded and correctly administered.

The act of 1849, to which reference has been made, directed that there should be paid to the treasurer of the Fire Department of the City of New York for the use and benefit of the department the sum of two dollars upon the one hundred dollars, and at that rate upon the amount of premiums which during the year or part of a year ending on the next preceding first day of December, should have been received by such agents, and it was provided also that sections one, two and three of the act should apply to every city or incorporated village in the state , where known by the laws of such city or village, the treasurer of such city or incorporated village should exercise the powers and perform all the duties, for the purpose of the act, of the treasurer of the Fire Department of the City of New York, as far as related to the city or village of which he was treasurer, and he should, under the direction of the Common council of the city or the trustees of the village, pay over all the moneys received or recovered under the first, second and third sections of the act to the Fire Department of such city or incorporated village. By this act, although the license fee ot tax upon the agents of insurance companies was continued, the mode of payment and disposition of the fund which would be created by its receipts was changed. It was thereafter to be paid not to the treasurer of the state, but to the treasurer of the Fire Department and to the treasurers of the other Fire Departments throughout the state or to some on their behalf.

In 1854, and while the ac t of 1849--without amendments--was still in force, a contest arose as to the constitutionality of this act, which imposed the payment of a certain percentage by every person who should act as an agent for individuals or associations of individuals not incorporated or authorized by the laws of this State to effect insurances against losses by fire or against marine losses and risks, and the question mooted was twice argued in the Court of Common Pleas of this city, and all the objections against the legislation which could be argued; but they were overruled decisively, and the judgment of the Common Pleas affirmed by that of the Court of Appeals. By the act of 1865 it was provided that the members of the old Volunteer Fire Department, if discharged by the new commissioners named in the act, were to be entitled to all the privileges and exemptions allowed by the laws as if they had served out the full term, and it was declared that nothing therein contained should be construed to deprive any such persons of their right to or affect their interest in the fund known as the New York Fire Department fund, or any part thereof, and that the fund should continue to be held and administered by the then present trustees of the Fire Department, or their successors.

By a supplementary act, passed on May 12, 1865, a board of trustees was created to take charge of the Fire Department Fund, and the income was required to be appropriated by the trustees to the relief of the widows and orphans of deceased firemen and other applicants for relief from among exempt firemen and their families, who should have served in the Volunteer Department of the city, or should have received proper certificates of discharge from such service in the city from the Metropolitan Fire Commissioners, and it was provided by the ninth section that the trustees would be paid to them all duties, taxes, allowances, penalties and fees to which the Fire Department of the City of New York as theretofore established had been entitled. This seems to have been a temporary act, for in April, 1866, an act was passed creating a corporation under their present title, to exist for twenty years. By the first section it was declared that the president, two vice-presidents of the Exempt Firemen's Association of the City of New York, and the then present board of trustees, of the Fire Department Fund of the City of New York were thereby constituted and appointed a body corporate and politic by the name and style of the trustees of the Exempt Firemen's Benevolent Fund of the City of New York. And by the third section of that act it was declared that the existing Fire Department Fund was transferred to the corporation thus created, and the surplus revenue derived from investments and from other sources, or so much thereof as should be required, should be appropriated by the trustees to afford and relief to such persons and their families as should have been lawfully discharged from the Volunteer fire Department of the City of New York, who were in indigent circumstances, and to the families of members of that department who had been maimed or killed in the discharge of their duties as Volunteer Firemen. And by the seventh section it was declared that this corporation was entitled to receive, and that there should be paid, a percentage or tax on the receipts of foreign fire insurance companies doing business in the City of New York for five years from the passage of the act.

One of the principal sources of revenue received by the trustees of the Benevolent fund was the proceeds of the Fire Department balls, under the management's of a voluntary organization known as the Firemen's Ball Committee, which was organized in 1829. The amount of money paid to the Benevolent Fund by that organization up to 1873 exceeded the sum of one hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars.

Another source, of income, and the principal one, was the revenue derived from the two per cent tax on fire insurance companies not chartered by the laws of this State, or of he United States. The income from this source exceeded the sum of eight hundred and fifty thousand dollars since the year 1849, when the tax was authorized by the Legislature. This tax is still in existence, notwithstanding the Volunteer Department was disbanded twenty years since, and the whole system of state and city taxation upon other State and foreign insurance companies remodeled and placed upon an equality with State companies, and in face of the fact that of the whole number--some eighty-two companies, but fourteen of them were in business in the City of new York at the time of the Volunteer Department.

The Firemen's Ball Committee was organized in 1829, under the following resolutions;

Whereas, The Fire Department Fund was instituted for the purpose of affording relief to such members of the Fire Department, and their families as may stand in need of assistance, and to alleviate he wants and distresses of the widows and orphans of deceased firemen; and,

Whereas, The ordinary receipts of the fund have been found to be insufficient to meet the increasing demands upon it, a number of individuals, impelled by feelings of philanthropy and benevolence, having formed themselves into a committee for the purpose of giving an annual ball for the benefit of the Fire Department, and with a view of perpetuating it, and for the government of the committee, the present members have found it advisable to form the following code of by-laws.

In 1883, at a meeting of the members of the committee, the following was passed:

Whereas, the Firemen's Ball Committee of the City of new York was originally organized for the purpose of augmenting the fund for the benefit of the widows and orphans of deceased members of the Volunteer Fire Department; and,

Whereas, the circumstances that caused the formation of the committee no longer exist, it is still the desire of the surviving members to maintain their organization as a social institution in order to keep alive, foster, and cherish the friendships that have been engendered in the past years, and, should occasion require, give their best efforts in behalf of the fund. With this end in view, and for their better government, they subscribe to the following code of by-laws.

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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