Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments

Chapter 50, Part VI

By Holice and Debbie

Whereas, frequent and sometimes very serious delays occur in sending alarms after the discovery of fires, notwithstanding the means afforded for that purpose; and

Whereas, The first minutes after the outbreak of fires, if the alarm is properly sent, are of greater value to the householders and owners in the saving of loss, and to the firemen, than subsequent hours of labor and effort to extinguish fires; and

Whereas, the delay in sending alarms for fires generally results from want of information as to the location of the nearest fire-alarm box; therefore

Resolved, that the cards prepared under the direction of this Board, showing the location of the fire-alarm box nearest to each building in this city, giving the directions as to the sending of alarms, and suggesting precautions to be taken against fires resulting from some of the most prolific causes, to be turned over to the Chief of Department for distribution through the companies in their respective districts, with directions to have one or more carefully and neatly tacked up in each building, above the reach of children, in as conspicuous a position as practicable, and preferably in the various classes of buildings, as follows:

In dwellings of all kinds and office buildings, in the main hallways
In hotels, factories, warehouses, stables, etc., in the offices or near the front door
In schools, churches, etc., in the vestibules or lobbies.
In places of amusement, in or near the ticket office and upon the stages;
In mercantile establishments, etc., in the offices or near the desk, and

Resolved, that the owners and occupants of buildings be requested, by the representatives of this Department detailed to distribute the cards, to permit them to be as conspicuously placed as possible, and that the names and addresses of all persons refusing to receive such cards be reported to the Board.

April 6th, 1884--the General Term of the Supreme Court having reversed the decision of the Board which dismissed private Robert L. Kent for drunkenness while on duty, and substituted a punishment of suspension from pay and duty for six months, thereby establishing the guilt of the officer and the correctness of the Board's decision, the attorney was directed to appeal the case.

MR., EDWARD SMITH, a veteran fireman appointed by Mayor Grace to succeed Mr. Cornelius Van Cott, whose term of office has expired, took his seat in the Board on the 9th of May, and Mr. Henry D. Purroy was elected President and Mr. Richard Croker Treasurer.

In April structures put up on the south side of Sixty-second Street, west of Tenth Avenue, fell, killing several persons. They were erected by the "jerry' builder Buddensick, and on the 15th of this month two neglectful examiners of the Bureau of Buildings were removed.

In order to more thoroughly equip the members of the Department for life-saving emergencies, the following resolution was adopted on May 20th:

Whereas, The records of this Department show that since the extension of the life-saving service to all the Hook and Ladder companies, in august, 2883, the lives of the following persons, viz.: John Hurley, at fire No. 332 East Thirtieth Street, on September 25th, 1883; Louis Castaign, at fire St. George's Flats, on April 7th, 1884; Kate Leary, at fire Nos. 16 and 18 South William Street, on February 21st, 1885; a man, woman and a boy, named Koernich, and an unknown woman, at fire No. 672 First Avenue, on May 3, 1885, have been saved by means of the scaling-ladders and other appliances in the hands of the members of the Life-Saving Corps; and

Whereas, It is believed that the above list of person saved might have been increased if it had been feasible to extend the life-saving service to the engine companies of the Department, for the reason that life is usually lost at fires in the first few moments immediately preceding the alarms, and the Engine Companies, as a rule, arrive ahead of the Hook and Ladder Companies; therefore,

Resolved, That the Foreman in charge of Repair shops be instructed to fit up, with promptness, the four-wheeled tenders of the Department; in accordance with the suggestions made by the assistant Chief of Department, so that will each safely carry at least two of the scaling-ladders and other appliances needed for life saving at fires; and further

Resolved, that with a view of afford in some hope to persons who may be forced, as a last chance, to jump from burning buildings, the Assistant Chief of Department be authorized to have made the safest possible jumping-sheet, so that, if adopted, the firemen may be instructed in the use of such sheets, and they may be placed on each Hook and Ladder truck and four-wheeled tender in the Department.

Resolved, that while the air-gun invented by Otto Rigl, and approved by the assistant Chief, is being approved and perfected, the Board authorizes the Chairman of the Committee on apparatus and Telegraph, to purchase six Travis guns with all their attachments, at a cost of $55 each, to be used in firing a life-line to persons in danger on the roofs or in the windows of burning houses.

All these life-saving services are now carried by the truck companies.

June 12th, under the provisions of Chapter 456 of the Laws of 1885, Mr. A. F. D'Oench, Inspector of Buildings, was made Superintendent of Buildings. July 1st, Mr. Charles De F. Burns, Assistant Secretary, resigned to become Secretary of the Department of Public Parks, and the board recognized his services in very complimentary resolutions. Mr. Enoch Vreeland, Jr., succeeded Mr. Burns as Assistant Secretary on the 19th of August.

In September Chief Charles O. Shay reported the distribution of cards showing the location of alarm boxes, as provided in the resolution of March 2d, as completed. Superintendent D'Oench submitted regulations for the inspection of passenger elevators, and on October 10th they were approved, and Mr. William H. Class was promoted to the supervision of passenger elevators, with M. T. Gaughan and John Crossen as assistants. This action led to a tempest in a teapot. The Board of Examiners, created by the act which reorganized the Bureau of Buildings, who held that the assistants, or "inspectors" or "supervisors," must pass an examination before them, and that they ha a right to make rules not only the their government, but for the Commissioners. Mr. W. L. Findley, Attorney for the Department; George W. Van Sicklein, the Examiner's lawyer, and others, spoiled much paper on opinions, and Corporation Counsel Lacombe ended that matter by deciding that the examination was not necessary.

The Department estimate for 1886 was approved at $1,904,156.10.

In November, 1885, the following rules fixed the stations of Hook and Ladder men at fires:

I.--Commanding officers of Hook and Ladder companies shall have exclusive control and direction in the raising and placing of all ladders, and shall not permit their use y anyone before they are in proper and safe position; they shall not be used at any time thereafter by any person not a regular or probationary member of the Department, or persons rescued, and by them only under the following restrictions:

1.--the number of persons permitted on the various sized ladders simultaneously shall not exceed--

To each 10 to 15 feet ladder, one.
To each 20, 25, or 30 feet ladder, two.
To each ladder more than 30 feet, three.

2.--When used for pipe-lines, the pipeman only will be permitted at the pipe, and he will fasten the line to an iron round if conveniently near, or if not, he will hitch it on two wooden rounds, in such manner as to prevent the kinking of the pipe.

3.--If it be a 35-feet ladder, the second man shall take position just below the point at which the pressure bends of ladder, where the line will also be fastened, preferably to an iron round, or in lieu thereof, two wooden rounds. With all other ladders, the second man shall take position with feet resting upon the first round above the point where the poles support the ladder, where the line shall be fastened in the manner above prescribed.

4.--If a third man is required, he shall take position on the ladder neat the butt.

5.--while their services are not needed in shifting the line, the second and third man will not be required to maintain the prescribed position.

6.--After shifting the line, the second and third man will resume the position prescribed, and fasten it as before indicated.

7.--Before shifting a line from a ladder over 25 feet long, it must be cleared of water.

8.--Officers and reliefs may use the ladders at any time, but must not pass the second man except at the point above designated for fastening the line.

February, 1886, apprehension was felt along the line of the new aqueduct because of the storage of large quantities of high explosives near the shafts. An explosion at Fordham Landing made decisive action necessary, and Mr. Peter Seery, Inspector Combustibles, made such seizures, reports and regulations as to reduce danger to a minimum. March 12th, 1`886, Chief Francis Mahedy lost his life from injuries received in a collision while going to a fire.

April 23d Mr. Edward Smith offered a resolution that "Henry D. Purroy be and hereby is appointed a committee to visit England and France for the purpose of examining into the fire departments of London, Paris and other large cities, with reference to their method of appointment, tenure of office, organization, discipline, apparatus and water-supply for fire extinguishing purposes."

Under this Mr. Purroy made a memorable and satisfactory visit to Europe. While de derived but little information or few hints from foreign fire extinguishing methods, his reception everywhere was of the most cordial and gratifying mature. On his return, Mr. Purroy published the following:

"A charming and painstaking host in his native country is Colonel A. C. Couston, Chief of the Paris Fire Department or Regiment des Sapuers Pompiers de Paris. This gallant and handsome officer was born in 1834 and entered the French Army when 18. Three years later he ws promoted to a Sub-Lieutenant in the 5th Infantry. He first smelled powder in the Crimean War and was present at the burning of Varna, the battles of Balaclava, and Inkerman and in the attack of the Lex on the 2d of May was wounded and was mentioned for conspicuous courage in the order of the day. He was also at the battle of Tractir, and at the taking of Sebastopol. He was again noticed for valor and was made Lieutenant on the 30th of August, 1826. In 1837 he distinguished himself by saving an army captain who was in imminent danger of drowning in the Rhone at Aries and was commissioned as Doctor of Schools and Instructor in Rifle Practice. At the breaking out of the Italian War in 1859 he was assigned as Lieutenant of Voltigeurs and for his conduct on the field was decorated with the ribbon of the order of Military Valor of Sardinia. In 1862 and 1863 he was Staff officer to General de Valaze. Then came the Mexican campaign. He received his commission as captain on the 10th of January, 1864, and was with the Foreign Legion in the expeditionary columns sent to Quetetaro, Verde-san-Lius, Tamanlipas, Valle Purissima, and Calosrce. At Rio Feio he was appointed commandant. When in Africa he distinguished himself at the cholera outbreak at Geryville, with the Arbaouat Column and in the Rasoul and Figuig expeditions. At the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war he was at South Ovan in Africa. He was registered for active service and went to the field chief of the 7th Battalion. At Coulmiers his first serious encounter with the advancing legions of the Prussians took place. At Juranville he had a horse killed under him and was made an officer of the Legion of Honor of which he became a member in 1855. As commander of the Forty-second Regiment de marche he was present at the battles of Villersexel, Hericourt and Cluse and was wounded at the latter engagement, February 1st, 1871. In 1873 he took part in the military manoeuvres at St. Quetin as major of the Forty-fifth, and in 1877 he was promoted Lieutenant Colonel of the Forty-second Regiment and commanded it at the manoeuvres of the Tenth Corp. July 10th, 1881, he was commissioned colonel of the Eighty-eighth Regiment of Line Infantry. His next service was with the Nineteenth Army Corps at South Ovan and then with the Seventeenth Corps in which he directed the Brigade manoeuvres with non-commissioned officers. August 22d, 1881, he was called to the command of the Paris Fire Department. His administration has been a signal success and his fitness has been recognized in very flattering official orders. He traveled in Europe and America to study fire extinguishing service and used the information he acquired in recognizing that of Paris so that in four years all that was advanced was possible to apply to the Paris service was adopted even to acquiring engines used in Foreign Departments. Colonel Couston has been an officer of Public Instruction since 1879, and his military and technical knowledge was perfected in travels in Austria, Italy, England, Holland, Belgium, and this country. America has no better friend than the accomplished, modest and able Chief of the Sapeurs-Pompiers of the capital of France. Colonel Couston's headquarters re on the Boulevard du Palais. His corps is in the War Department, but the Minister of the Interior has supervision of the expenses and the service at fires is under the Chief of Police.

During his trip he met Chief Benjamin A. Gicquel, of the Seventh Battalion, on leave of absence, who was also the recipient of much appreciated courtesies.

Mr. Purroy returned to New York just in time to act on a painful and embarrassing matter. Ample preparations to protect life and property on the 5th of July, which was on Monday, had been made by Chief Shay. In the evening a fire broke out at No. 2293 third Avenue, from the ignition of fireworks on a stand, and an alarm was sent out, and Chief of Battalion Francis J. Reilly sent our second and third alarms, and special calls for six engines. When Second Assistant John McCabe arrived and took command he found a large fire, but in the judgment of the best men in the Department the engines on the ground were amply sufficient to cope with it, and this opinion is sustained by the fact that they did extinguish it. Chief McCabe was, however, impelled to send out the call known as the "Three Sixes,'; thus: 6, 6, 6--12--5, 1, 8--767, so that all the companies due on the a third alarm at Seventh Avenue and Forty-ninth Street were brought to Third Avenue and 126th Street, so that the city north of Fourteenth Street was entirely unprotected. The engines and trucks summoned by the "Three Sixes" were sent back as they arrived by Chief Shay, but the greater portion of the city was in peril for nearly an hour, despite the prompt action of Assistant Chief Hugh Bonner, who sent apparatus to the district that was deprived of protection by McCabe's action. He was tried by commissioners Purroy and smith, after suspension from pay and duty, and was defended by Roswell D. Hatch, E. s. Clark, and George B. McClusky. On July 21st the decision of Messrs. Purroy and Smith dismissed Chief McCabe. The General Term of the Supreme Court ordered his reinstatement, March 2, 1887.

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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