Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments

Chapter 50, Part III

By Holice and Debbie

Among the acts which distinguished Mr. Van Cott while a Fire commissioner were the abolition of bell-ringing (which latterly had become a nuisance), the repeal of the law passed for the removal of the Forty-second Street reservoir, the enlarging of the mains in the power part of the city, the construction of floating steam fire engines, and the appointment of a municipal fire marshal independent of the insurance companies. He was in charge of the repair shops, and his mechanical knowledge was here eminently useful.

Ever punctual, strict as a disciplinarian, having a thorough knowledge of the minutest details of everything connected with the Department, always ready to listen to suggestions for the advancement of the interests of the service, and every member connected with it, he had rendered himself by those means one of the most popular of Fire Commissioners.

June 16th, Foreman John McCabe, of Engine Company No. 14, took charge of the repair shops, and chief Orr was sent to the Tenth Battalion. Serious charges were made against him, but he defeated them, and entirely vindicated himself. At this time Abner Greenleaf's portable Water-Tower had been tested, and put into service with a view of buying it. The first public test was in Washington Square, and the advantages of the apparatus were immediately recognized. In July the position of Chief operator was abolished, and J. Elliott was appointed Assistant Superintendent of Telegraph. In August the Fire-Boat Havemeyer was sent to her new berth at Pier No. 1, North River. The estimate of expenses for 1880 was made at $1,333,860, including $30,000 for three new company quarters, and #1,307,670 were appropriated. In November fireman henry C. Mount was fatally injured at a fire at the Eighth Avenue car stables, Forty-ninth Street and Eight Avenue, and his family were placed beyond the reach of poverty by subscriptions collated by General Lloyd Aspinwall, General Martin T. McMahon, General C. J. Graham, Thurlow Weed, William Remsen, Henry G. Chapman, Jenkins Van Schaick, Lispenard Stewart, T. Searl Barclay, John D. Lawrence, and Charles T. Ulrich.

January 28, 1880, Foreman John j. Bresnan, of engine company no. 33. And Francis J. Reilly, of Hook and Ladder Company No. 1 wee made chiefs of battalion. Preparations were made to give the Blackwell's Island institution and their inmates additional protection against fire by the construction of quarters for an engine. January 31st j. H. Emerich, Superintendent of Telegraph, was removed and J. Elliott smith was promoted to fill the vacancy. A. W. Parmalee was made Assistant Superintendent, and resigned' but two days later the office of Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent were abolished, and those of Chief Operator and Assistant Chief Operator were created for Foremen Thomas Hutchinson and J. Elliott Smith, respectively. In February the officers and men of the Department were permitted to collect subscriptions for the Herald Irish Famine Fund, and paid in $3,062.77. February 30th a fierce and uncontrollable fire broke out in the sub-cellar of nos. 384 and 386 Broadway, spread to and damaged seven other Broadway buildings, and two in White Street, did $750,000 damage, and called into service 23 engines and 10 Hook and Ladder companies. By the collapse of the building, due to improper foundations, Firemen Thomas J. Dougherty and John L. Cassidy, of Hook and Ladder No. 1, went down with the roof to their death. Subscriptions for their families realized $2,955, Dieckerhoff, Raffloer & Co., subscribing $250. Tefft, Griswold, & Co., and other firms were equally generous. The Fire commissioners order an investigation, and, on March 3d, Mr. Van Cott reported that the falling of the floors and roof of Nos. 384 and 386 Broadway were due to the supports of the central girder granite piers in the sub-cellar and iron columns in the basement, and Chief Bates was directed to report on all buildings similarly perilous in case of fire.

Under the Consolidation Act (Chapter 551 of Laws of 1880) the Fire Commissioners, on the 3d of June, called on Henry J. Dudley, late Superintendent of Buildings, to turnover to the Board all papers, etc., in his custody, and give his consent in writing to the transfer of the unexpended balance of the appropriation for the Department of Buildings for 1880 to the Fire Department, and the Board of Estimate and Apportionment was asked for such balance, amounting to $29,315.76. Mr. Dudley got out a writ of prohibition from Judge Joseph Potter, of the Supreme Court, against the Fire commissioners. William L. Findley, was, on the 4th of June, appointed Attorney to the Fire Department under the Consolidation Act, and on July 1st the position of Chief Operator and Assistant Chief Operator of Fire Alarm Telegraph were abolished, and that of Superintendent of Fire Alarm Telegraph created and J. Elliott Smith was made Superintendent. At this time Abner Greenleaf introduced the water tower to the notice of the Commissioners. It seemed to meet a want of an apparatus to throw a strong stream into the upper floors of buildings, and was taken on test. July 27th Mr. Dudley submitted gracefully to an adverse decision of Justice Potter, and surrendered his office and records. Assistant Fire marshal William Dodge was placed in charge of them, at No. 2 fourth Avenue, and on the 29th of July William P. Esterbrook was made Inspector of Buildings, with a salary of $4,000 per annum, by Commissioners Van Cott and Gorman. Commissioner King voted for T. H. McAvoy. Edward G. Dumahaut was made Chief Clerk under Mr. Esterbrook, and in a short time the Bureau was further organized, as follows; Wm. H. Clare, Record Clerk; John J. Tindale, Plan Clerk; J. J. Carroll, Charles M. Seibert, and Jas. J. Giblin, clerks; Charles K. Hyde, Chief Examiner; Andrew Owens, Assistant Chief Examiner, and E. C. Maloy, William Winterbottom, P. B. McGivin, Henry La Forge, John Hughes, Patrick Tallon, John Riley, Robert V. MacKay, and John H. Hyatt, Examiners. The Bureau speedily settled down to work. August 9th the Chief of the Department ordered an inspection of buildings o ascertain deficiencies in fire escapes, whether by absence or faulty construction or obstruction, and the Board directed Chief Bates and Assistant chief Shay to examine all buildings in the course of erection, construction or alteration, and report any violation or evasion of law, and officers and members of the Department were required to see that laws in relation to camp-stools and other obstructions were strictly enforced. In September the estimate of the expenses of the Department were made at $1,568,959, including $60,000 for "a new floating engine," and $36,000 for the bureau of Inspection of Buildings. In October Theodore Elliot, Superintendent of Horses, was succeeded by Frederick G. Gale.

In November and December Charles Oscar Shay, Assistant Chief of the Department, made, by order of he Board, the most exhaustive tests of the different capacities of several steam fire engines that have ever been made by any Fire Department Officer. His reports are regarded to-day as texts for all engineers. They were with the Ahrens manufacturing company's engine, from Company 13; the Clapp & Jones engine, from Company 33, and the Manchester Locomotive works' (Amoskeag) engine, from Company 20. The final results were as follows:






No. 13




No. 20




No. 33





Distance in feet water was thorn, each engine tested three minutes each hour. The last two hours of trial distance not taken.


7 to 8

8 to 9

9 to 10

10 to 11

11 to 12

12 to 1

1 to 2

2 to 3

Engine No. 13









Engine No. 20









Engine No. 33










All Engines

17,028 lbs.

Of which Engine No. 18 consumed

4,960 lbs. 6 hours' work

Of which Engine No. 20 consumed

5,692 lbs 5-1/2 hours' work

Of which Engine No. 33 consumed

6,694 lbs 8-1/2 hours' work


Engine No. 13 consumed

496 lbs. Per hour

Engine No. 20 consumed

993-1/2 lbs. Per hour

Engine No. 33 consumed

776-7/8 lbs. Per hour

During the year "four-way' connections for concentrating water from one to four engines were applied to Hook and ladder companies 1, 3, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, and 12, to reach the tops of high buildings with powerful streams.

In January, 1881, Dr. Samuel M. Johnson was appointed Vice Medical Officers. Charles H. Haswell was directed to prepare plans and specifications for a new floating engine. In March Chief Bates and Assistant Chief Shay were created engineers by the Board for the purposes of Section 3, of Chapter 726, Laws of 1873, giving the "Engineers in command" at a fire authority to raze by explosion any building, or buildings, to arrest the progress of a fire. The city was divided into two medical districts, divided by Broadway, Twenty-third Street and Fourth Avenue to Fordham. March 30th the tests of the water-tower had been so satisfactory that the Commissioners recommended its purchase for $4,000 to the Common Council. May 9th Cornelius Van Cott was elected President of the Board, and a week after Captain McCabe was made Chief of Battalion. In August Mr. Van Cott resigned as President, and became Treasurer, Mr. John J. Gorman taking the vacant position. September 13th Henry D. Purroy was confirmed as Commissioners, vice Vincent C. King, on a nomination of Mayor William R. Grace, made on the 10th of May, 1880, and laid on the table.

HENRY D. PURROY was born in this city on august 27th, 1848. He was the son of the late John B. Purroy, a prominent lawyer many years ago in this city. He was educated in St. Johns' College, Fordham, and admitted to the bar November, 1869. He was the first representative for the annexed district in the board of Aldermen, and until 1881 was connected with Tammany Hall, having been one of the thirteen Sachems in 1870, 1880 and 1881, and chairman of its Executive committee during 1880. He joined the County Democracy in 1884, and is now Chairman of its Executive Committee. He was appointed Fire Commissioner in 1881--elected President of the Fire Department in 1885. He introduced many improvements into the Department, among them being the establishment (two years prior to the Civil Service Act) of a School of Probation of applicants for appointment as firemen, the organization of the Life Saving Corps, the remodeling of the Department houses, the building of the Fire Boat, etc., etc.

On the 29th of September the estimate for 1882 was made at $1,498,850, including $134,000 for new quarters. The amount of $1,464,200 was appropriated. October 8th the Examining Board and Examining Board of Engineers were consolidated with Chiefs Shay, Bonner, Rowe, Denman, and Reilly at its members. October 10th seventeen engines and six hook and ladder companies battled for 18 hours with a fire that destroyed and damaged the stables of the Fourth Avenue Railroad Company and other of their property, the Morrell storage warehouse and dwellings, and caused a loss estimated at $2, 392,691. Foreman D. J. Meagher and Fireman Thos. Carney, of Hook and Ladder Company No. 3, and Private John Flanagan of Engine Company No. 1, were slightly injured while at work. October 14th Chief of Battalion Gilbert J. Orr was relieved from active service, but retained as a member of the uniformed force at a salary of $1,250 per annum, and chief of Battalion W. W. Rhodes was retired on a similiar pension. Next day Foreman Michael F. Reeves and Francis Mahedy were made Chiefs of Battalion. In November the Board accepted an offer of the Standard Oil Company of the service at fire in New York of the company's boats Standard, F. W. De Voe, Daylight, Brilliant and C. R. Stone. November 9th the rickety buildings, Nos. 53 and 55 Grand Street, condemned by the Department fell, killing 9 persons and injuring 5. The Commissioners instituted a searching investigation and passed resolutions to take such action official and legislative to prevent such calamities in the future. An investigation resulted in the removal of Chief Examiner Charles K. Hyde, of the Bureau of Inspection of Buildings, for neglect of duty.

In November, Commissioner Purroy reported $2,371.75 collected from the members and employees of the Department for the relief of the sufferers by the forest fires in Michigan.

December 12th, the frightful calamity of the Ring Theatre, at Vienna, prompted the following resolution and subsequent action:

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

You are the Visitor to this USGenNet Safe-Site´┐Ż Since March 9, 2001.

March 2001

[Firefighters Index][NY AHGP][NY ALHN]