Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments
Chapter 52, Part XII
By Holice and Debbie
This completes the record of the heroic men whose names comprise the roll of Merit. Is it not a chapter of brave deeds such as cannot be found chronicled in any other branch of public service the wide world over?
THE BENNETT MEDALISTS.
The Bennett Medal was originated in April, 1869, when the Following correspondence was had:
NEW YORK, April 13, 1869.
My father, being desirous of adding an additional competition to the members of the Metropolitan Fire Department, in the discipline, courage and honesty with which their duties are now performed, and which was particularly called to his notice at the fire at his country residence during last September, has directed me to enclose the sum of fifteen hundred dollars, and requests that you will pay five hundred dollars to Messrs. Tiffany & Co., for the die of a medal they are preparing, and use the income of the balance in procuring, annually, a gold metal to be struck from the same, and to be conferred by you and your successors in this trust, upon such members of the Department as you may, in your judgment, consider vest entitled to the reward.
Very truly yours,
JAMES GORDON BENNETT, JR.
To Messrs. T. Bailey Myers, James M. McLean and Robert S. Hone, Esquires.
NEW YORK, April 16, 1869.
DEAR SIR:--WE have received your note of the thirteenth instant enclosing your check for fifteen hundred dollars, with the request that we should use five hundred dollars of the amount in payment for the die of a medal which you have ordered, and the income of the balance in annually preparing and conferring a gold medal, in the name of your father, on the members of the Fire Department whom we consider to be the most meritorious.
Although it will be difficult to make the selection from so much individual merit, as the Department is developing, we accept the trust with a full appreciation of the compliment conferred in our selection as trustees of your fathers' generous endowment, and will cause to be prepared a formal acceptance insuring its perpetuity.
We are, very truly, yours,
T. BAILEY MYERS,
The following were, and are, the holders of a medal, endowed by the late James Gordon Bennett, proprietor of the new York Herald, whose attention was directed to the discipline, courage and honesty of the officers and members of the Department on the occasion of a fire at his country resident at Washington Heights. The heroic acts for which the medals were given are detailed in the roll of Merit:
THE STEPHENSON MEDALISTS.
The Stephenson medal was started in July, 1867, in the following correspondence:
NEW YORK, JULY 13, 1867.
Alexander Shaler, Esq., President Board of Commissioners, Metropolitan Fire Department:
DEAR SIR:--We are pleased to express our admiration of the efficiency of the Fire Department as exhibited last night at the fire which consumed the bonded warehouse and distillery in East Twenty-sixth Street. We were present for four hours during the fire, and in a position to see the working of men and apparatus. The order, quietness, sobriety, obedience, intelligence and efficient effort surpassed our experience or conception. While we are thankful that these (Under Providence) saved our lumber depot from destruction, we are exultant that this strong arm of our city's service is so well directed.
JOHN STEPHENSON & CO.
p. s.--Inclosed please find check for two hundred and fifty dollars, which please appropriate to the interest of your department., The efficiency of your department saved us from much loss at the recent fire in East Twenty-sixth Street. We congratulate you on the good condition of your command.
JOHN STEPHENSON & CO.
The medal is a recognition of the attainment of the highest standard of efficiency and discipline in a command, given to foremen.
1883--ARNOT SPENCE, Foreman, Engine Company No. 27.
NOBLE RESCUE BY A BOY.
About eight o'clock on the morning of January 4, 1881, a disastrous fire broke out in the five-story brick building, No. 35 Madison Street. the lower floor was unoccupied except by a liquor saloon in the front. Eight families lived on the four upper floors, one on either side of the stairway each story. The stairs ran directly through the center of the house, and in order to economize space, many sharp angles were made, so that the stairs might almost be called spiral. They were so narrow that two persons could scarcely pass each other, and when the flames had one started, they shot upward. The bartender in the saloon ran out into the street and summoned a policeman, who sent out the alarm. The firemen responded promptly. Engine Companies Nos. 7, 12, and 9, with Chief Bonner, of the Second Battalion, were the first to arrive. A second alarm was sent out, and this brought five additional engines and four hook and ladder trucks to the scene. The police had considerable trouble in keeping back the crowd. The men of the house had nearly al gone to their day's work., but thirty-one women and children were imprisoned on the burning building, and entirely cut off from all retreat by the doorway. The fire escape was practically useless, as it was directly opposite the burning stairway, and the platforms--being of wood--caught fire very soon, and the iron ladder was heated to that it could not be used. On the third floor, rear, the McKenna family had their home. The family consisted of Mr. McKenna, his wife, and four children. The father had gone to his work, and his wife had just gone down the street a little way, leaving the younger children behind in the care of the eldest, Charles, a lad of fourteen years, but as brave and with as strong a nerve as most men of double his age and experience. On the mother's return she found the smoke belching from the doorway, making it impossible for her to enter. Charles, hearing the agonizing cries of his terrified mother, opened the door leading to the landing; he found all retreat that way cut off. Below was a sheet of flame, and the stairs were crackling and ready to fall. Behind him a dense cloud of smoke threatened suffocation if he attempted escape by the roof. His own apartments were rapidly filling with smoke, and the flames were approaching the door. Shutting it hastily, he rushed to the window, and opening it, looked out. The fire was blazing out all around him. His decision was made in an instant. Seizing the baby, which was lying on a bad, he threw it out of the window, where it fell unharmed in a pile of snow. He next grasped Hugh and dropped him to some men, who were standing on a shed in the rear of the house. He then attempted to throw his brother James, nine years old, out in the same way, but he refused to leave the room. He got him to the window, but the boy would not jump, telling his brother that he would certainly be killed. Charles finally went to the back of the room, ran towards him unexpectedly, lifted him in his arms, and dropped him to the crowd below. He was not in the least hurt. Charles then got on the fire escape, around which the flames were flying, and lowered himself to the lowest balcony, from which he jumped into the yard, landing on his feet uninjured, save for scorched hands. He told the story afterwards as calmly as though relating a boyish adventure. Fireman Commerford received the Bennett medal for his services at this fire. The fire started through the carelessness of a plumber, who was thawing out the pipes in the cellar with a gasoline lamp,. Ten persons lost their lives at this fire, and six were badly injured.
Transcribed by Holice B. Young
HTML by Debbie
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