Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments

Chapter 48, Part XIII

By Holice and Debbie

Resolved, That the Board hereby acknowledges the public services of those members of the Volunteer Fire Department who continued until relieved by resolution, to perform their duty as firemen at the sacrifice of long cherished attachments, thereby, exhibiting a striking example of respect for the dignity of Constitutional Law.

Resolved, that we tender them individually and officially our sincere thanks for the services thus rendered, and the assurance of our continued regard.

The first stop towards creating a fund for the relief of fireman and their families was taken on the twenty-seventh of November, 1865, when Commissioner Engs offered the following:

Resolved, that the Committee on Appointments and Discipline be requested to present to this Board a its next regular meeting a plan for establishing a fund for the care and relief of those members of the Metropolitan Fire Department force who may be injured or become sick in the performance of their duties, and for the families of those who may die in consequence.

This was legalized by Chapter 756 of the laws of 1866, creating the metropolitan Fire Department Relief Fund. Its revenue was derived from all fines and penalties collected by the attorney, fees for permits, etc., all fines of members of the force, donations, and an assessment not to exceed twenty dollars per annum on all persons entitled to its benefits. Section 3 provided that:

"Said fund, as soon as the same shall amount to the sun of ten thousand dollars, shall be liable for the payment of the recipients of relief severally thereto, the sums of as follows: To each person permanently disabled while in actual performance of any duty assigned him by said department, the sum of twenty dollars per month for the term of his natural life; to each person who shall become superannuated after a service of ten years in the employment of said department, annually thereafter an annuity of two hundred and fifty dollars, payable quarter-yearly, during the term of his natural life; to the family or relatives of any deceased person who shall be killed while actually engaged in the performance of any duty assigned by said department, or who shall die from any injuries received resulting from the performance of said duties, the sum of two thousand dollars, to be paid in the order following: first to his widow, if any him surviving; second, to his children under fifteen years , if any him surviving, equally, share and share alike; third, to a father living with and dependent on his support for a living; fourth, to a mother living with and dependent on his support for a living.

The first trustees were C. C. Pinckney, president, and P. W. Engs, treasurer with Mayor John T. Hoffman and James M. McLean, president of the Board of Fire Underwriters, ex officio trustees.

The first victims of fire service under the metropolitan commissioners were Robert Wintringham, of Engine Company No. 1, and George Bell, of Engine Company No. 8. Both died in 1865, the former being run over, and the latter was brought to his grave by exposure.

On the first of November, 1865, the commissioners recognized in complimentary resolutions the services of Assistant engineers George H. E. Lynch, Michael Halloran, and Abraham Horn; and Halloran, Horn and John Hart were appointed district engineers in Harlem, Yorkville, Manhattanville, Bloomingdale, and Carmansville. On the same date outrages by the followers of the Volunteers had become so frequent that a reward of five hundred dollars was offered by the commissioners for the detection and conviction of any person cutting hose and disabling or impeding engines and firemen.

With the advent of 1866 the commissioners prepared to combat the difficulties which beset them in spite of attacks by the press and a public sentiment that the Metropolitan Department had fallen short of what was expected of it. Early in January Superintendent Chapin had established forty-one special signal stations and one hundred and eighteen ordinary signal stations which were designated, as fires occurred, on the eleven alarm bells. At the end of the year there were one hundred and eighty-seven signal stations. The city above One Hundred and Sixth Street was divided into eight fire districts, viz.:

District No. 1, Ward's Island;

District No. 2, Randall's Island;

District No. 3, One Hundred and Sixth to One Hundred and sixteenth Street and Sixth Avenue to the East River;

District No. 4, One Hundred and Sixth Street to One Hundred and Sixteenth Street, from Sixth Avenue to the North river;

District No. 5, One Hundred and sixteenth Street to One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Street, and Sixth to the East River;

District No. 6, One Hundred and Sixth Street to One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Street, and Sixth Avenue to the North river;

District No. 7, north of One Hundred and Twenty-fifth and Sixth Avenue to the Harlem River;

District No. 8, North of One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Street and Sixth Avenue and from Harlem River to the North River.

The carrying of speaking trumpets, except on parades, was abandoned. The care of the one hundred and twenty-four horses in the various quarters necessitated the employment of a superintendent and William Burns was chosen on the seventeenth of January, 1866. The first hitching-up drill system, was ordered at the same time by a resolution offered by Commissioner Abbe.

The public was not backward in recognizing the efficiency of the New Department when its members did good duty, and testimony to this effect was from time to time sent to the commissioners. There was no lack of material wherewith to make firemen; in fact, the applications for appointment accumulated to such an extent that in April a resolution was adopted at the instance of Commissioner Abbe which gave exempt firemen preference over all other applicants, of whom toe thousand four hundred had sent in their names. The Legislature at this time slightly increased the salaries of the force. Much anxiety and annoyance was caused by fires which were believed to be incendiary. In June the commissioners required every engine to be supplied with apparatus to keep the water at boiling point, or as near as possible. Under an act relating to the storage of combustibles, Charles T. Polhemus was appointed attorney for the board at a salary of one thousand two hundred dollars per annum, June 15, 1866.

The cost of the department for 1866 was nine hundred and thirty-six thousand dollars (December 1, 1865 to December 1, 1966), and one hundred and ninety-eight alarms of fire--forty-six of which were for serious outbreaks--were responded to There were forty-five arrests for incendiarism during the year, and fourteen convictions for arson. Sixteen new first and second-class Amoskeag engines replaced apparatus manned by volunteers. Private Thomas Irwin and Dominick Scott, of Engine Company No. 4, and foreman D. B. Waters and Private P. H. Welsh of Engine Company No. 5, were killed in the discharge of

duty, and their families received each one thousand dollars on policies donated to the members of the force by the new York Accidental Insurance Company. In their statutory reports to Governor Fenton, the commissioners and chief engineer took occasion to make some laudatory and strong comments. The latter said:

"It cannot be denied that the first attempt to establish this department a an active, reliable force, met with antagonism, not more from the avowed hatred of those who opposed and stood aloof from belonging to it, than from the covert, unsuspected malignity of some who joined its ranks, and, for w while, pretending to be on the side of right, were really plotting its destruction. That day has, however, gone by, and with pleasure do I look upon the body of men now under my command; from time to time there may be indeed be causes for the exercise of strict discipline, but they generally will be found to arise more from error of judgment than of heart"

The commissioners' comments were:

"Noise and confusion in our streets on the occasions of alarms of fire have ceased; the sick and dying are no longer disturbed by the yelling of 'runners,' the machinery is drawn quietly to the scene of duty, the inhabitants are left to enjoy their needed to rest, and vehicles may pass on unmolested.

"Racing and fighting between companies is unknown, and the city police are relieved from the disagreeable duties which they were formerly called upon to perform by arrests; disputes between companies no more hinder operations at a fire.

"Thieves cannot fully get within the police lines; only the few citizens who have the badge of privilege are permitted to enter. 'Runners' no longer meddle with the duties of our firemen. The loss by theft so commonly added to claims upon insurance companies are rarely alluded to, consequently the saving of property counts by thousands. Beyond these advantages resulting from out present system of fire duty, comes to us the inestimable blessings resulting from out breaking up of the 'runners' organization, and the consequent release of our youth from one of the way that lead to ruin. WE may estimate the loss of wealth, but who can measure the loss of character which befalls the youth so misled, the loss of his services in the walks of life, and an end that puts him beyond the pale of hope. That we have been instrumental in rescuing such from the jaws of destruction, it is to us a gratifying reflection"

Only a few days after this was written the commissioners passed resolutions continuing the reward of one thousand dollars for the conviction of every incendiary, asking the may to call the attention of the municipal authorities to the matter, and requesting the co-operation of the Board of Fire Underwriters. The last request led to the appointment of a committee consisting of Messrs. Rankin, Hope and Norwood, by the underwriters, to confer with the fire commissioners. In 1866 the first Paid fire-boat, the 'John Flattery' was hired. Blackwell's Island was protected by hand apparatus.

The Academy of Music was destroyed by fire on Monday, May 21, 1866. This fire broke out shortly before midnight; the curtain had scarcely fallen upon the last act of "La Juive"; the audience had just departed, and the had only left their dressing rooms, when the alarm was given that the Academy of Music was on fire. The gas was not yet extinguished in a portion of the building, and the doors on Fourteenth Street were still open. The first indications were observed in light wreaths of smoke issuing from the upper windows immediately under the roof. The firemen soon arrived and carried their hose into the building, and, as soon as water could be supplied, they poured a stream on the portion of the house where the fire was visible. When the first fire broke out, it was supposed that it could be extinguished by the hydrant streams within the building. Three small lines were promptly attached, but did not reach the flames. On the arrival of Hook and Ladder Company No. 3, lying in East Nineteenth and running a tender, they stretched it from the hydrant under directions of Engineer Sullivan, who was in the immediate neighborhood at the time of the occurrence, but the force being insufficient they could accomplish but little. Soon after, Engine Company No. 3 came on the ground, and got a line in on the rear--while Engine Companies 13 and 14 were on duty at the front or main entrance; 13's pipe was stretched nearly to the middle of the parquet, and was manned by John F. Denin and Hugh Kitson, when the gas exploded. Denin was so seriously injured that he had to be conveyed to the New York Hospital for treatment. He was seriously burned, but not fatally so, and finally recovered. Engine No. 16, which stood at the corner of Fourteenth Street and Third Avenue, was surrounded by flames, and the members were compelled to abandon it for a time. It was finally drawn away badly injured. Engine Company No. 36, of Harlem, of which Robert C. Brown was foreman, came all the way down to the fire, and worked tow hours and a half to save Worcester's piano factory from destruction.

The progress of the fire was checked at daybreak, and immediately afterwards the firemen began the search for their missing brethren. About half past ten the body of Peter H. Walsh, private of engine company No. 5, was discovered below the central portion of the stage, the legs and arms being completely burned off. The remains of David B. Waters, foremen of engine company No. 5, were not recovered until about half-past two in the afternoon. They were found lying over on of the heaters neat the stage entrance. They were badly burned like his companions. Waters had been a member of 23 engine in the Old Department. Waters and Walsh had started in the buildings to find their pipe and relieve the men at it, when they unfortunately missed their way and was lost in the smoke and flames. The funerals of the unfortunate men were largely attended, the offices and members of the department acting as a body guard and as pall bearers.

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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