Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments

Chapter 50, Part I

By Holice and Debbie



Appointment of a Fire Marshal. -- A Corps of Sappers and Miners. -- Steamboat Havemeyer and Mills. -- Business Rules and Regulations. -- Superintendent of Buildings. -- English and American Fire Services. -- Instructions in Life Saving. -- Several Destructive Fires. -- The Dry Goods District. -- President Purroy's Water Tank.

The new board speedily availed themselves of the sweeping provisions of the law which legislated out of office all but the Foremen and members of Engine and Hook and Ladder Companies. On the 19th of May Commissioner Hatch resigned as Treasurer, and Mr. Van Cott was chosen. Wm. B. White was appointed Secretary, Eli Bates, Chief of the Department, and Charles Oscar Shay, Assistant Chief. By direction, Chief Bates nominated the following corps of assistants--Chiefs of Battalion--and they were confirmed: James H. Monroe, William H. Nash, Gilbert J. Orr, Benjamin A. Gicquel, William W. Rhodes; Foreman Hugh Bonner, Engine Company No. 20; Foreman William Rowe, Hook and Ladder Company No. 9; Foreman, John W. Miller, Engine Company No. 17; foreman Robert King, Hook and Ladder Company No. 1; Foremen John S. Fisher, Hook and Ladder Company No. 2.

Next day George H. Sheldon was appointed Fire Marshal at $3,00 a year, in spite of influence invoked by Mr. Thomas McSpedon, who was legislated out of office which he held under the Police Commissioners; and Alexander V. Davidson, Storekeeper, at $2,000 a year. Dr. Christopher Prince, Medical Officer, made way on the 27th for Dr. Charles McMillan at $2,500 a year, and Dr. A. J. Minor at $2,000 a year. C. K. smith was made Superintendent of Telegraph at $2,500 per annum; William Terhune, Inspector of Combustibles, at $2,500; Charles E. Gildersleeve, Chief Clerk of this bureau at the same salary, and Jacob Springsteed, Superintendent of Horses. June 4th, Charles F. Hill was appointed Assistant Fire marshal, vice James S. Burnton, who declined the office, and ex-Assistant of Combustibles, an office he held until his death in February, 1874. At about this time peculiar influences which, later on, led to a fearful accident and well-grounded accusations of robbery and corruption, introduced to the Commissioners and Secretary White, Mrs. Mary Belle Scott Uda, a fascinating woman, who procured a patent right for a life-saving and hose-carrying apparatus, known as an aerial ladder, and she was favored in June with tests of her apparatus. William Matthews was made Foremen of the machine shops, under chief of Battalion Orr. Edward Savage was made Chief Book-keeper at a salary of $2,500 per annum.

The estimate of expenses of 1874 was made at $1,455.011. September 10, the Bureau of Combustibles was moved to Firemen's Hall. Hook and Ladder Company No. 16 was organized on the Old Bloomingdale road, between Ninety-seventh and Ninety-eighth Streets, on the 23rd. of October, 1873.

Under the Act of May 23rd, 1873 (afterwards amended to Chapter 329 of the Laws of 1873), "to provide for the annexation of the Towns of Morrisania, West Farms, and Kings Bridge, in the County of Westchester, to the City of New York," the Board, on the 21st of November, instructed Superintendent Smith to inspect the territory and report on telegraphic facilities, and chief Bates was directed to estimate the number of men and apparatus necessary to cover the new district.

Under the Act of the 12th of June, 1873, the corps of sappers, and miners was organized. Chief Shay had command of it, and, on the 10th of December, 1873, Julius H. Striedinger was, on the recommendation of Brevet Major General John Newton, United States Engineers, appointed Instructor of the Corps of Sappers and Miners at $2,000 a year. December 4th, J. Elliott Smith, the present Superintendent of Telegraph, was appointed Assistant Telegraph Operator at a salary of $1,200. The force of the Department in the Twenty-third and Twenty-fourth Wards was established at two steam engine companies, four chemical engine companies, and two hook and ladder companies, to be known as the Tenth Battalion, and Engine Companies Nos. 41 and 42, Chemical Engine Companies Nos. 1 2, 3, and 4, and Hook and Ladder Companies Nos. 17 and 18.

The regulations for these companies provided, among other rules, as follows:

The hosemen and laddermen herein provided for shall receive pay at the rate of three hundred dollars per annum, sleep in the engine and truck houses, attend all fires, conform to the rules and regulations that are now, or may hereafter be prescribed, attend at the houses of their respective companies on two afternoons in each month, to be designated by the battalion Commander, for inspection or practice, assisting in cleaning the apparatuses and horses after each fire alarm, and in policing the houses when required by the Company commander, and shall have the privilege of pursuing their avocations at points convenient to the houses of their respective companies. They will also b required to provide themselves with the uniform, which shall consist of a uniform-coat, shirt, fire-cap and fatigue-cap, as prescribed by general Order No. 1, series 1868, office chief engineer, and, in addition thereto, dark blue or black cloth trousers will be worn when on duty.

In December, $1,274 were subscribed by the firemen for the firemen of Memphis, Tenn., who suffered from the scourge of yellow fever.

The first noteworthy event of 1874 was a resolution to propose plans and specifications for a first-class Department Fire-boat. At the end of January Assistant Chief Engineer Shay planned the organization of the Corps of Sappers and Miners, and his scheme was approved.

In February certain company quarters were turned into soup kitchens to enable Lorenzo Delmonico to properly dispense the bounty of Mr. James Gordon Bennett, of the Herald.

May 5th, the revised estimate of expenses of the Fire Department for 1874 was $1,608,654.33. June 24th Superintendent of Telegraph, C. K. Smith resigned, and John H. Emerich succeeded him. William H. Sawyer, commissioner Hatch's candidate for Superintendent, was made Chief Operator, but he failed to qualify, and, two months later, J. Elliott Smith was given the position. In August, Sharmon Ross rebuilt the Amity Street repair shops, and Wood, Dialogue & Co., of Philadelphia, were awarded the contract for the new Steam Fire-boat, this bid being $23,800. In September the estimate of expenses for the Department for 1875 was $1,436, 932. In October self-propelling engines were given to companies 8, 11, 24, and 32. The Police boat Seneca was equipped for use as a fire-boat. Suitable resolutions were passed December 2d on the deal of May William F. Havemeyer, and his memory was officially honored.

During 1874 the Bureau of Combustibles waged war on the dealers in dangerous vinorem, and secured convictions which resulted in driving the stuff out of the market and lessening the number of fires and accidents by it.

I January, 1875, the final estimates for the year were fixed by the Board of apportionment at $1,316,000. The Committee on Discipline was discontinued so the Fire board tried delinquents. January 27, to oust a Chief of Battalion, a resolution was passed directing the Chief Engineer to select ten persons as Chiefs of Battalion from the uniformed force, and he named Chiefs Orr, Bonner, Nash, Gicquel, Fisher, Monroe, Rowe, Miller, King and Rhodes, the existing Chiefs. Monroe was a week later reduced to the rank of Foreman, and sent to Hook and Ladder Company No. 9, against the wish of Foremen Perley, and E. W. Wilhelm was made Chief of Battalion.

The new steam fire-boat was, on motion of commissioner Van Cott, named the William F. Havemeyer.

Engine company No. 39, was organized in March in Sixty-seventh Street, between Third and Lexington Avenue, with Martin Walsh, Foreman, William Duane Assistant Foreman, C. E. Bensel Assistant Engineer, and Privates John O'Connor, John Shaller, Daniel Mannix, E. J. Carney, E. Hogan and August Levi. In April preparations were made to man the Havemeyer. Its complement was arranged as follows: One Foremen, one Assistant Foreman, one Engineer, one Pilot, and five firemen. Chemical Engine companies, Nos. 5 and 6, were organized, the former at No. 304 West Forty-seventh Street, and the later at No. 77 Canal Street, April 17th.

April 28th the Havemeyer was reported finished, and she was manned as follows: Foreman, Thomas H. Griffiths; Assistant Foreman, James H. Ford; Engineer, Charles B. Seaver; Assistant Engineer, Patrick Hughes; Pilot, Peter Van Orden; fireman, A. H. Wright, Matthew D. Conry, James Buckley, John Stapleton, and Dennis J. Leary. She was berthed at Pier No. 1, King, succeeded Mr. Van Cott as Commissioner.

VINCENT C. KING was foreman of Hose company No. 23 from 1853 to 1858. He was also, for four years commissioner of the Board of Appeal in the Volunteer Fire Department from 1869 to 1864. In 1875 he was appointed Commissioner by Mayor Wickham in the new Paid Fire department and remained in that position for six years. He was President of the Board for four years when the salary was $7,500 a year, the other Commissioners receiving $5,000 a year. The original commissioners of the new Fire Department were Philip Engs, Martin B. Brown, James W. Booth and William Hitchman. They had $10,000 a year. But this was cut down subsequently to $5,000 and made the uniform salary for all the Commissioners as it is to-day. Altogether in the old and new Fire Departments Mr. King spend over twenty years.

"What was the difference," Mr. King was asked by the writer, "between the old and new Fire Departments?"

"Well," he replied, "they have better engines in the present department and they have the use of steam to pump and work their supply of water, and they may be able to send a stream of water to a much higher altitude than could be done by the old engines, but the old engines had but one advantage tht the present ones have not. There was then a strong and abundant flow of Croton water and it was half the battle in a big fire as it came with a rush from the hydrants. Under the circumstances of the city at the time the department was equal to every emergency of fire because there were no big buildings then, few higher than three stories and the firemen were able to control them. But there were engines in those days tht could throw a stream of water over Reilly's liberty pole, down near Franklin Street and West Broadway, 175 feet high. Reilly (I guess he was the original one) kept a hotel and the boys used to bring their engines down just for the fun of seeing which of them could make the biggest shoot of water. It used to stir up the greatest excitement."

Ex-commissioner Philip W. Engs died May 19, 1875, and the Commissioners honored his memory inappropriate resolutions and attended his funeral.

On the 7th of July Charles E. Gildersleeve and W. B. White left the service of the Department, and Carl Jussen became Acting Secretary. "Siamese" connections and 1-1/2-inch nozzles were applied to all Hook and Ladder Companies below Fifty-ninth Street.

Brave and able Peter Weir, foreman of Engine Company No. 23, died in August, 1875, and he was buried on the 14th of august from No. 38 Elm Street, with suitable departmental honors. Foreman John H., Kehoe, Engine 5; Joseph Poynton, Engine 20; Arnot Spence, Engine 27; John J. Bresnan, Engine 33; George Quackenbush, Hook and Ladder 10, and James Walton, Hook and Ladder 12, being the pall-bearers.

PETER WEIR was born in the Sixth Ward about 1840. He joined Fulton Engine Company No. 21 and was elected successively representative, assistant foreman and foreman. In 1865 he was elected Assistant Engineer and served as such until the paid Department was organized. He was appointed foreman of Engine Company No. 31. He commanded this company until 1871 when he was transferred to Engine Company No. 25, located in the house formerly occupied by Black Joke Engine Company No. 33. He continued in command of this until his death. Chief Gicquel said: "Peter Weir was a genial, whole-souled man, beloved by everybody. He was one of the hardest worked men in the department. His name was placed on the roll of merit for gallantry. In appearance he was anything but a dude, but he was every inch a fireman. A better one I don't believe the department has ever seen. He rarely wore a fire-cap at a fire. he seemed to be utterly oblivious to everything, except the fire, when on duty. His death was brought about by over-exertion and exposure."

The collapse of the aerial ladder scheme occurred on the 14th of September, 1875, on the Tweed Plaza, at Canal Street and East Broadway. Several public trials of the invention has been given, and the dangerous character of the apparatus had been commented on. On one occasion, when one of the ladders appeared about to topple over, Chief Bates prevented it by slashing a line, which was carried to the top of the ladder. The final experiment was made on the Plaza, in the presence of a vast crowd of spectators and many firemen and others interested in such matters. The ladder was raised in eight sections to a height of ninety-seven feet, and Chief William H. Nash, of the Fourth Battalion, ascended, followed by Firemen Philip J. Maus, of Hook and Ladder Company No. 6; fireman William Hughes, of Engine Company No. 6, four other firemen and an Assistant Engineer. Chief Nash had reached the summit of the ladder, when it snapped far below him and dashed Nash, Maus, and Hughes, who were above the fracture, to the cobble-stones of the square. Nash and Maus were instantly killed, and Hughes died with an hour. No one else was injured. This accident revived the gossip, which charged a corrupt understanding with Mrs. Uda, and the payment of a large portion of the $25,000 she received from the city for her rights and public indignation ran to an intense pitch. The Fire commissioners promptly sat down on the aerial business.

September 15th Commissioner King offered a resolution, s adopted prohibiting the further use of ladders, as it had been demonstrated that they were useless, and there was good reason to believe that the invention was foisted on the Department at an enormous expense and by corrupt means.

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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