Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments

Chapter 50, Part IV

By Holice and Debbie

Resolved, That an immediate inspection be made of all theatres and places of amusement where in machinery an scenery are used in the city of new York by the Chiefs of Battalions in their respective districts, with directions to make a detailed report of such inspection in writing to the Board, with an accurate description of each structure, the material of which it is constructed, its size and seating capacity, the location of the dressing rooms, carpenter and paint shops, the facilities for egress in case of fire or other alarm, stating width of entrances and exits, the method of sending out an alarm, and the exact distance from stage to alarm box, and whether a more direct communication cannot be established between such theatres or places of amusement and the headquarters of this Department; also the location of gas jets or lights of any other description used around the stage or other parts of the building, the protection from ignition, with recommendations, where necessary, from further protection from fire; also the fire appliances on hand and ready for use in case of fire, and whether proper care is taken of each appliances; also any violation of the Combustible or Building laws; also of what material the proscenium arch is made, its height above the stage, and whether it extends to the roof of the building; the openings that a re in it above the stage, and if there are any openings in the roof of the building, with such recommendations as may be deemed necessary for the further protection of life and property in all such places of amusement in the city of New York.

December 24th, all but 6 engines and 2 hook and ladder companies below Thirty-fourth Street were called out to fight four fires that were burning at the same time. One at No. 61 East Twelfth Street did $500 damage; another at No. 359 Broadway--a dry goods warehouse--$195,000 damage; a third at No. 140 Centre Street, slight damage, and the other a tea warehouse, Nos. 71 and 72 south Street, $1,025,800 damage.

One of the last acts of the Board in 1881 was to require the Inspector of Buildings to report within fifteen days al modifications of or additions to the laws relating to buildings or the rules governing the Bureau of Inspection of Buildings, which, in his opinion, might be necessary to insure the better protection of life and property. Early in February the medical force of the Department was made one Medical Officer and two vice Medical Officers; and Dr. Robert A. Joyce was appointed to the latter position. January 28th, on the report of Battalion Chief Bresnan, the Commissioners adopted a resolution recommending the use of asbestos cloth or other non-flammable material for stage costumes, and that they be daily inspected.

January 31st, 1882, at 10:12 P. M. a destructive and fatal fire broke out in the Potter or World Building, which faced On park Row, Beekman Street and Nassau Street. It did more than $400,000 damage, and twelve persons were in various ways killed. The fire directed attention to a source of peril to life and property which had before created apprehension, and on the 3d of February Commissioner Purroy offered the following resolution, which was adopted:

Whereas, there have recently been constructed in this city a great number of large flats and business houses, reaching in many cases to a height exceeding one hundred feet; and whereas the extreme height to which it is possible to stretch and mange extension ladders have been probably reached, and does not exceed seventy feet, thus making futile the vest efforts of this Department toward rescuing the occupants of the upper stories of the buildings above mentioned whenever such occupants are cut off from escape from below; there fore be it

Resolved, That the chief of Department be and is hereby instructed (keeping in view the increased height of the buildings above mentioned) to report to this board in writing his views in regard to what improvements in the appliances and complements of the Department, what changes in regard to the erection and construction of fire-escapes, and what regulation as to the construction and maintenance of fire-proof shutters are necessary, together with any suggestions in regard to the better protection of life and property he may deem advisable.

Chief Bates' report favored the providing of each Hook and Ladder company with scaling ladders, one of fifteen feet and one of twenty feet, and a life-line, and the principal companies were thus equipped. Commissioner Purroy's foresight was displayed in the resolution which resulted in the "doubling up" of the most important companies.

March 15th Engine Company No. 49 was organized on Blackwell's Island. In the spring a malicious fellow, discharged from the service of the Department, put the Department and the police to much trouble and expense by sending out false alarms. I May Pusey & Jones, of Wilmington, Del., was given the contract for anew floating fire engine, their bid being $45,000, and Clapp & Jones contracted to construct the engine for $11,800. Later on the boat was named the Zophar Mills (Engine 51), in honor of an old and distinguished volunteer fireman, and stationed at Pier No. 42, North River. July 14th, three fierce firs were burning at the same time in the lower part of the city, namely, in a cotton storage at Nos. 15 to 25 Whitehall Street; the Empire Paint Works, at Nos. 243 and 245 Pearl Street, and at the soap manufactory at Nos. 418 and 424 Washington Street. More than $170,000 damage was done, but the loss was insignificant when the prevention of a conflagration in each case is considered. To these three fires 42 of the 67 fire extinguishing companies in the city were called, with 417 officers and men. July 31st 17 engines and 5 hook and ladder companies were on duty at a fire which started in Hecker's Mills and burned to Water, Monroe, and Cherry Streets and Pike Street and Slip, doing $202,000 damage. In September the estimate for 1883 was made at $1,671,905 and $1,551,345 were appropriated. D. G. Gale, Superintendent of Horses, was removed and James Shea was appointed. The training stable forth green horses of the Department were established at the vacated quarter of engine Company No. 37, at No. 58 Lawrence Street.

Commissioner Purroy made a report favoring the appointment of an instructor in life-saving, and on January 24th Chris Hoell, of the St. Louis Pompier Corps, was engaged to instruct the life-Saving Corps, a branch of the School of Instruction, which was located in the quarters of Engine Company No. 47, in their duties. The Corps was instructed and trained in the use of scaling and ordinary ladders and life-lines and other life-saving appliances, at the Old Sugar House, at the foot of West 158th Street. Chief Bonner was at the head of the School and instructor in the practical duties of a fireman, and candidates for appointment had to pass the School, and get a report on the degree of proficiency exhibited and the branch of the service for which they were best qualified.

February 5th Police Inspector Byrnes was thanked for the arrest of the "fire-alarm fiends" and the breaking up of an organized plan of systematic and malicious annoyance to the active members of the Department by sending out false alarms.

During the month, Water Tower No. 1 was placed on test service in the quarters of Engine Company No. 7. In March the District Messenger Companies were required to connect their offices with fire Headquarters, as several serious fires, and the death of at lest one person, were found to be due to a popular belief that the companies had direct communication with the Fire Department.

January 3d, Chief of Battalion Hugh Bonner was made Second assistant Chief of the Department, and on the 11th Foreman Thomas Gooderson, of Engine Company No. 35, was promoted to the rank of Chief of Battalion. The peril to the city in the event of the destruction of the telegraph apparatus at Headquarters had been considered for several years, and Commissioner Purroy's suggestion tht a duplicate set of apparatus be made and put in a fire-proof building is about to be carried out.

The new fire-boat, the Zophar Mills, was at this time the subject of much comment and the object of much attention, as it was intended to be the most powerful and useful fire extinguishing auxiliary in the world and worthy of the name of the veteran and famous fireman which had been given it. The boat was known as Engine No. 51, and the tests of her pumps, which were made by the Clapp & Jones Manufacturing Company, of Hudson, N. Y., were made at Pier No. 52, East river, on the 27th of March 1883. Of it the Fireman's Journal said:

"She was taken to the dock at the foot of Montgomery Street and subjected to an eight hours' test, throwing water in a variety of ways. The first test was with eight ``-2 inch streams, then the lines were Siamesed into four larger streams, and in every way the most satisfactory results were obtained. It was a wet, disagreeable day, with a keen, cutting wind blowing, so that the distance record id not do justice to the work, but the pumps proved satisfactory in every particular."

The official report of Charles Oscar Shay, Assistant Chief, was tht the tests were entirely satisfactory. The capacity of the pumps was found to be, with the four pistons, traveling in the aggregate 1,200 feet per minute, and, with the usual percentage deducted for friction, etc., the actual discharge would be about 2,200 U. S. gallons per minute.

An exceedingly favorable report ws made afterward by B. F. Isherwood, Chief Engineer, U. S. N.; Theo. Zeller, Chief Engineer, U. S. N., and Robert Domby, Chief engineer, U. S. N., of the Bureau of Steam Engineering, Navy Department, April 23, 1883. Robert R. Farrell, Foreman of the Fire-Boat Havemeyer, was made Foreman, of the Zophar Mills, and the first firemen were: Henry Albright, William J. de I'Armitage, John Brady, John Stenson, and Alfred Lewis, privates; P. J. McEntee, Andrew Gaffney, and Wm. M. Gordon, firemen. The temporary organization of this company, on December 21, 1882, was: C. D. Purroy, Foremen; John Barber, Assistant Foreman; Patrick Riley, Thomas Tallman, and John Iles, Engineers; Patrick Barker and Thomas Friston, Pilots; and A. J. Cook, John J. McNamee, John E. Boyle, P. J. McEntee, W. M. Gordon, Andrew Gaffney, Thomas O'Halloran, and Abraham Walton, firemen.

May 9th, 1883, Mayor Franklin Edson, reappointed the Hon. John J. Gorman, and, on motion of Henry d. Purroy, the board was reorganized with Cornelius Van Cott, President, and Henry D, Purroy, Treasurer. Christopher Hoell, of the St. Louis Fire Department, who had instructed classes in life-saving with various appliances of his invention, severed his connection with the Department in May, and a complimentary and well-deserved eulogy was passed by the Board.

In June, keyless street boxes for the transmission of fire-alarms were put up. The first step toward underground telegraphic communication ws on the 3d of August, when the Attorney asked what power the Department had to put fire telegraph wire underground, and, if none, what action was necessary to acquire it. Later on, Superintendent J. Elliott Smith ws directed to visit Washington and report on a system of underground telegraphic communication there. In September the estimate for the cost of the Department for 1884 was fixed at $1,685,129.20. On the 21st. of November, Richard Croker, a practical and experienced fireman, and engineer, was appointed commissioner by Mayor Edson, vice John J. Gorman appointed Police Justice.

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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