Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments

Chapter 49, Part VI

By Holice and Debbie

July 17, Assistant engineer Eli Bates was appointed assistant to Chief Perley. The Post-office tower was finally abandoned September 24, 1872. The commissioners, during the month, again locked horns with the comptroller on a requisition from them for one hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars. Mr. Green held that, under the amended charter if 1870, the Fire Department had no right to a separate treasury and disbursing officer. Proceedings by mandamus were taken against the comptroller by the commissioners, bur the Supreme Court denied the motion. The salaries were paid by the comptroller pendente lite. In October a system of ambulance calls over the fire wires was adopted.

On the twenty-first of November, the commissioners estimated the expenses of the department for 1873 at one million three hundred and sixty-four thousand nine hundred dollars, of which nine hundred and forty-four thousand four hundred dollars were for salaries, and asked for one hundred thousand dollars more for new buildings.

A detail of firemen of all grades attended the funeral of the Hon. Horace Greeley, on the fourth of December, 1872. On the last day of this year Mr. Alexander T. Stewart sent a contribution of one thousand dollars to the relief fund.

One of the first important acts of the year 1873 was the inspection of theaters and other buildings, with a view of discovering their weak points. January 31, Dr. McMillan came back to the Deportment as associate medical officer. April 30, 1873, the Legislature passed the charter of the committee of seventy, known as Chapter 335 of the Laws of 1873. It provided that the Mayor--William F. Havemeyer--should nominate, and, by an with the consent of the Board of Aldermen, appoint three fire commissioners--one for two, another for four, and the third for six years, from the first of May, 1873, at a salary of five thousand dollars, except the president, whose salary was fixed at seven thousand dollars.

Although General Shaler framed tht part of the act which related to the Fire Department, he was not destined to e a member of the Fire Department of the City of New York. Mayor Havemeyer, without solicitation, sent for Chief Perley, announced his intention of nominating him for commissioner, and he, Mr. Cornelius Van Cott, and Ex-Judge Roswell D. Hatch, were nominated and confirmed, Perley for six years, Hatch for four years, and Van Cott for two years. the Board organized on the nineteenth of May, 1873, by selecting Mr. Perley as president, and Mr. Hatch, as treasurer; and the same day Eli Bates was appointed chief of the department, and Charles Oscar Shay assistant chief. The same day General Shaler issued an address, in which he exhorted the officers and men to be obedient and do their duty under all circumstances.

JOSEPH l. PERLEY, born in New York, 1835, was a mechanical engineer. He went to public school (in those days called common school) old No. 5, at Stanton and Sheriff Streets. He learned his trade at Eckfort Iron works, corner of Cannon and Sheriff Stanton Streets. Mr. Perley joined the Department in 1856, about the time he came of age, having run as a volunteer for five years previously. He joined Live Oak Engine Company No. 44 in 1856. He was elected an assistant foreman in 1860, and almost immediately assistant engineer. He served in the latter capacity until 1865. He was appointed under the Paid Department as first assistant engineer, and was assigned to duty in the lower section of the city, south of Canal Street, and at the same time placed in charge of the machinery of the Department, and superintendent of the repair shops, all the engines having to be altered to the new system. In 1868 he was relieved from duty in the repair shop and was placed in command of that portion of the city north of Twenty-third Street, for the purpose of organizing the Department in that section. While so serving, in 1869, he was promoted to be chief of the Department, and so served until May, 1873 when Mayor Havemeyer requested him to accept the appointment of commissioner for six years. he was made president, serving for four years, and relieved in 1879.

When Chief ELI BATES retired from the new Department May 1, 1884, he ended a firemen's career which had lasted thirty-eight years and one day. A carpenter by trade, he had not passed his twenty-first birthday, on April 29, 1846, then he received his certificate, and joined Guardian Engine Company No. 29, located at Jefferson Market. His connections with the company lasted until 1862. In 1852 he became assistant foreman and three years later was promoted to foreman. From 1862 until the Volunteer organization was dissolved Mr. Bates performed the duties of assistant engineer, and he joined the Paid Department as district engineer, a rank now designated as chief of battalion. His district lay on the west side of the city, south of Forty-second Street. later he was transferred to the east side, with Fourteenth Street as the north boundary of his district. In June, 1871, Mr. bates was made assistant to Chief Perley, whom he succeeded in command of the Department May 19, 1873. For the next eleven years Chief Bates' gray horse and plain buggy were familiar to new Yorkers as they dashed through the streets in answer to alarms. The chief's quarters were with no. 9 Truck in Elisabeth Street, and he attended all fires south of Twenty-third Street. during his term of office there were several fires which caused immense property losses, but none where there was appalling loss of life. Three theaters--the Park, Windsor, and Standard--were burned within a short time, but the first and last took fire before the time for the performance, while the Windsor began to blaze at midnight on thanksgiving, 1883. Chief Bates was twice injured in the performance of duty. There was a fire at West and Murray Streets, January 4, 1867, when the ladder on which he was standing slipped, and his right knee was severely injured. Five years ago he entered a burning flour store in South Street, and fell while coming down-stairs. His chest struck heavily upon an iron girder, and his body was bruised over the ribs. In 1869 he was instrumental in saving a family on the fifth story of a house at Cherry and Montgomery Streets.

With other officers of the new Department in 1865 Chief Bates had many difficulties to fight. For the Volunteer service--four thousand strong--were substituted four hundred men. The engines were feeble compared to those of the present day and much of the hose was bad. Friends of the Old and enemies of the New organization were ready to spy out defects and errors. There was practically no fire alarm telegraph, but signals were sent by bells and police wires--two slow and uncertain methods. Except Engine 22, at Third and Eighty-fifth Street, the 'full pay" companies were all south of Fifty-ninth Street. the upper part of the city was defended by Volunteer companies, which each received one thousand dollars from the city per year for expenses. "Hosemen" and "ladder men" were paid to work at fires, but went on duty only when alarms sounded. To-day firemen ride to the spot where they are needed; then the machines were too light to carry them, and they had to run. The work was harder and the danger greater than now.

Efforts were made to turn the Robinson system of alarms to account, but hey failed. On March 28, 1870, the present telegraph arrangement was ready for service below Fourteenth Street, but the poles were like angels' visits, "few and far between,' and often the wires came down, so that there were long delays in getting apparatus at work. Chief Bates attached great importance to a perfect system of alarms. He claimed credit for the invention of the simultaneous call. There had been first, second and third alarms, and special calls for particular companies, but no signal to bring a large force immediately to grapple with an immense fire. The chief's idea was approved by the commissioners, and an order announcing the new signal to the Department had been drawn up. Before it was officially promulgated, the big fire at No. 444 Broadway broke out, February 8, 1876. Chief Bates sounded his new call, but the telegraph operators at headquarters refused to recognize it. A second alarm was then sent out from Broadway and Eleventh Street, and as fast as the companies arrived they were sent down to the fire. the order was promulgated with further delay. Although the simultaneous call is rarely heard, it has been used on several occasions when its usefulness was proven beyond question. One other reform chief Bates instituted. Originally no matter how threatening the fire was, the first, second, and third alarms were sent out in regular order. Now an officer, believing that the circumstances demand it, may send out a third alarm when the fire is discovered.

On two occasions Chief Bates performed fire duty beyond the city limits.

Both times the fire was in the Export Lumber Company's yard at Long Island City. the second, and more severe fire, was in the autumn of 1880, when Chief Bates went to the rescue with the fireboat 'Havemeyer.' He pushed up the pellucid waters of Newton Creek, and had to fight the fire from the leeward side. Smoke was blown upon the boat in clouds, and sparks fell upon her in showers. The men demurred, but the chief refused to give up the fight, and held his position until the flames were subdued. Mayor-elect Grace, who had watched the struggle, congratulated the chief upon the success of his pluck. Since his retirement ex-Chief Bates has lived in a pleasant cottage in Harlem.

MR. WILLIAM B. WHITE, ex-secretary of the Paid Fire Department, was born in Baltimore, December 15, 1835. His parents were New Englanders. His widowed mother took him to New York when he was four years old, and educated him. A Republican, he twice represented the Ninth Ward in the Common Council of this city, and in 1866 he was elected councilman of the Sixth District. At the end of this time he was elected member of the Board of Aldermen, and served from 1867 to 1870. In this year he was defeated for State Senator. While alderman, General Grant nominated him collector of Internal Revenues of the Sixth District, and he was confirmed by the Senate, and received his commission December 129, 12869. June 15. 1871, he was appointed secretary of the Paid Fire Department, and was removed July 15, 1875.

EDWARD W. SAVAGE, chief bookkeeper of the Fire Department, is a man qualified by experience and probity of character to discharge the duties of his position. He is known and respected for his intelligence and courtesy. For a number of years he has held his present office, to the satisfaction of his superior officers.

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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