Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments

Chapter 48, Part II

By Holice and Debbie

The old companies began to fall into line. G. B. Tunison, foreman of Engine Company No. 52, reported it ready for service, as did Hose Company No. 33. On the twenty-second of June the Fire Commissioners were informed by the Police Commissioners that, if they chose, they could be accommodated at Police Headquarters. D. T. Valentine, clerk of the Common Council, sent in a list of all regularly enrolled firemen on March 30, 1865, and Chief Decker was invited to meet the commissioners. June 23, Hook and Ladder Company No. 8 and Hose Company No. 3 reported for duty., That day the following was sent to Chief Decker:

"John Decker, Esq., Chief Engineer, etc., etc.

"Sir: The Metropolitan Fire Department desires you to continue in the performance of your duties a chief engineer in the City of New York until further orders. You will therefore require obedience to your authority, and report to this Department any violation thereof.

"By order of the Board,
C. C. Pinckney, President.
Charles E. Gildersleeve, Secretary."

The commissioners had had an interview with him, and had learned his intention to do his full duty. He was by resolution authorized to procure necessary supplies, if they could not be obtained from the Street Commissioners. June 24, the commissioners first met in Firemen's Hall, and, after selecting the old trustee room for meetings, resolved that it be the headquarters of the board. It was announced at this meeting that the day before the Board of Estimates had resolved, despite the negative votes of Mayor Gunther and Comptroller Brennan, to apply to the Board of Supervisors for six hundred thousand dollars for 1865, and seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars for 1866. Many old companies announced themselves "ready for duty." Dr. J. H. Griscom, through Harry A. Oakley, Esq., secretary of the Howard Insurance Company, set forth the necessity of creating a surgical staff for the department to bar the admission of incompetent persons, and prevent deception by firemen who wanted to get excused from duty on the ground of sickness. The use of Firemen's Hall was given to the Exempt firemen and Board of Trustees of the Fire Department. The comptroller recognized the new commissioners in the following order:

"City of New York, Department of Finance, Comptroller's Office, June 24, 1865.

"To all persons having charge of the real estate and personal property of the City of New York, now in use and occupation by the Fire Department.:

"Permission is hereby granted to the commissioners of the Metropolitan Fire Department, established under an Act passed March 30, 1865, to take possession of the real estate and other property of the city, now occupied and used for the Fire Department, and over which I have any authority or control.

"Matthew T. Brennan, Comptroller."

Messrs. Pinckney and Brown were, on the twenty-sixth of June, authorized to visit cities where fire engines were constructed, to get information as to the cost and construction of the highest class. June 27, Chief Decker sent in the following communication:


"CHARLES C. PINCKNEY, Esq., President Board of Metropolitan Fire Commissioners.

"Sir: To your note of the twenty-third instant, desiring me to continue in performance of my duties as chief engineer until further notice, I respectfully reply that in accordance with my own feelings I desire to retire from active duty. As I am not an applicant for the position, but in order to act consistently, and to carry out the spirit of the resolution adopted by the Board of Engineers and Foremen of the Volunteer Fire Department, while the controversy relative to the constitutionality of the bill was pending, and while the public mind was fearful that the Old Department would refuse to perform duty, I volunteer my service to the new organization until a reasonable time shall have elapsed for the new Board of Fire Commissioners to take charge of all matters appertaining to the Department.

Very respectfully,
"JOHN DECKER, Chief Engineer."

The same day, on the application of ex-Commissioners William M. Tweed, and Edward Bonsell, Thomas Lawrence, Thomas Flender, and John R. Gorman, Hose Company No. 26 was restored to duty. The pay of bellringers was fixed at eight hundred dollars per annum, and that of engineers at nine hundred dollars per annum. June 30 the engineers met at Firemen's Hall, and on motion of Assistant Engineer John Hamill, the following resolution was adopted:

Whereas, it was stated at Albany, before the committee, the Volunteer firemen were anxious to get positions in the Paid Department,

Resolved, that a committee be sent to the new Commissioners that they will perform duty up to the first of August, if the Commissioners will honorably discharge all members of the Volunteer Fire Department. If not, the y will cease to perform duty July 10.

This was carried by Twenty-nine to twenty-four, but a number of disqualified companies did not vote. July 3 the commissioners tabled the communication, and on the eighth of July notified the fireman and engineers that they were not at present able to comply with the demand. July 17, Assistant Engineers Alexander V. Davidson, William Lamb, John Hamill, Bernard Kenny, and Bartley Donohue gave notice that they ceased to perform duty as assistant engineers on the eleventh of July. That day the Bank of the Manhattan Company was designated as the bank for keeping the funds of the Department and the following was sent to Chief Decker.:

"To JOHN DECKER, Esq., Chief Engineer.

"Sir: this board feels tht it is due to you and in accordance with your expressed wish, to have a period fixed when we shall be prepared to relieve you from your voluntary service as Chief Engineer of the Metropolitan Fire Department. they would therefore now respectfully inform you that arrangements are in progress by which this can be accomplished on the first day of August next."

The organization of the New Department was watched by the New York Boar of Fire underwriters, and so important was the selection of the chief engineer of the department considered, that a special committee was appointed to place the matter before the Underwriter in the form of a report, of which the following are extracts:

* * * * It is expected of us tht we will make such arrangements to the Metropolitan Commissioners as our experience as insurers qualifies us to make, and our deep interest in the efficiency of the Department justifies. Our policies embrace and protect hundreds of millions of property in this city, and we are, therefore, deeply concerned in having the most thoroughly efficient Department possible. * * *

The undersigned believe that the realization of the benefits expected to be derived from the new system about to be inaugurated will mainly depend upon the selection of the first executive office of the Department--chief engineer. * * *

The head of this important arm of the public service is required now to be something more than a "practical fireman," and an expert in extinguishing burning buildings; and we believe the commissioners will make a grave mistake if they do not secure talent and qualifications of a different kind from those which have hitherto been thought to e sufficient for that office to possess. * * *

To place this great emporium in the best state possible with reference to security against fire, is a task requiring the exercise of the highest ability; and the superintendent of the Fire Department or chief engineer (as the law designates him), being the person whose business it is to take cognizance of existing defects and abuses, to discern danger, at anticipate calamities, and to recommend to the commissioners for this approval such measures as the public interest requires, should be a man of rare acquirement and endowments, and if the office is held by one who will fill it, we believe that it will be second to none under the city government in dignity, influence, and usefulness.

The Fire Department of this city should be the most perfect on the Continent. It should be a model not only in the perfectness of its apparatus and the wisdom of its regulations, but the influence of the Department should be felt in elevating the standard of security in warehouses, hotels, places of public assemblage and tenements, and in the buildings of the city generally. * * * The work cannot be divided. It naturally devolves on the chief engineer, and if he proves himself capable, he will not lack for fame and reward. Such a man would not only be the first executive officer of our Fire Department, but he would be in effect the controller and regulator of all the Fire Departments in the country. * * *

The assistant engineers should and doubtless will be selected from the most experienced and best qualified firemen of the Old Department. The senior member of the assistants perform similar duties to those heretofore performed by the chief, and the presence of the superintendent or chief under the New Department would only be necessary when unusual measures are demanded or when circumstances arise calling for the exercise of unusual responsibility.

WE do not suppose that it now is or hereafter will be the intention of this board to suggest to the Fire Commissioners the appointment of any particular person to the office of chief engineer, unless they are solicited to do so; but it may not be inappropriate, in view of the difficulty which will probably be encountered in obtaining the services of one possessing the qualifications which the undersigned think indispensable, to suggest to the commissioners (provided the views herein expressed are concurred in by the board); that the proper person could probably be found among the eminent generals of our army, and especially among those whose education as military and civil engineers would qualify them for the important position of chief engineer of the New York Fire Department.

All of which is respectfully submitted,
George W. Savage, A. B. McDonald, Henry A. Oakley.
New York, July 11, 1865.

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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