Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments

Chapter 57, Part II

By Holice and Debbie

The distribution of the various floors is as follows: in the cellar are placed the boilers, dynamo engines, etc., necessary for heating and lighting the building, etc. the first story is occupied by engine No. 39 and Hook and Ladder No. 16. The fittings of these quarters are certainly as fine as are to be found anywhere. The walls are wainscotted to a heighth of seven feet with yellow pine above, and above are faced with glazed brick. The ceiling is of corrugated iron, with concrete arches above. The floor of the stalls are of artificial stone, and the balance of floors are laid of edge grain Georgia pine, as is usual in the new York fire-houses. The second story is used as bunk rooms for the men, and is finished in ash.

On the third floor the commissioners rooms occupy the entire front. The sliding doors which separate these rooms are so arranged that when desired they can be thrown into one large Board room. The partition dividing them from the large room, for the clerical force, is of oak, paneled to a heighth of seven feet six inches, and glazed with plate glass to the ceiling. On the east side, beyond the staircase and elevator, is a vault for the safe keeping of the records of the department, and still further back the toilet rooms.

The Building Bureau occupies the fourth floor; the rooms for the Superintendent and the Attorney being in front, and the rest of the space, with the exception of the portion set apart for toilet rooms, is devoted to the clerks, inspectors, etc., belonging to this branch of the department.

The fifth story front is given to the Bureau of combustibles, and the balance of the floor is to the School of the Lifesaving Corps, and the Medical Examiner of the department. Spray and other baths are provided here for the use of the life-savers. The rear wall of the building has been built with especial reference to these men, and the rear yard, 50 X 100 feet, is devoted to their use. The larger part of the sixth floor is used by the Telegraph Department; the battery room is to the rear, and the instrument room and private room of the superintendent to the front. The remainder of this story is used by the Fire Marshal.

The building is constructed of fire-proof materials throughout. The floors are of iron beams, with terra-cotta or brick arches between, and filled up solid with concrete to the under side of the flooring boards. The partitions (with the exception of a few made in cabinet work), are of porous terra-cotta; the two staircases are of iron; even the window frames and sashes are either of iron, or iron coated, to prevent the communication of fire from a conflagration in the neighborhood. The roof is of brick, and the endeavor has been throughout to make a building which, for its purposes, shall be fire-proof.

The building is heated by steam, lit by either gas or electricity, and has a large hydraulic elevator. It was erected from plans and under the superintendence of N. LeBrun & Son, architects for the Department.

Napoleon Le Brun, the well-known architect, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in which city at the early age of fifteen he began his professional studies in the office of the distinguished architect of the national Capital at Washington Thomas U. Walter.

Mr. Le Brun was barely in his twenty-second year, when, with characteristic energy and industry, he had established a practice of his won, and before two decades had elapsed, had designed and erected under his personal supervision many prominent public and private buildings in his native city and state.

Among the most noted of these public edifices may be mentioned the Cathedral of Philadelphia, the American Academy of Music, the Seventh Presbyterian Church, the Girard Estate Buildings, and several prisons in the interior of Pennsylvania.

About twenty years ago Mr. Le Brun decided to make New York his permanent home. In this city he has erected the Masonic Temple, the New York Foundling Asylum, several large and elegant churches, many of the latest improved engine houses, and the Headquarters of the Fire Department in Sixty-seventh Street, recently finished. He is a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, and an active member of the New York Chapter of the said Institute, whose representative he is in the Board of Examiners of the building Bureau of the new York Fire Department.

Mr. Le Brun's long, varied and practical experience have made his opinion sought for and valued as an expert and advisor in many building enterprises throughout the country.

His strict integrity and conscienious treatment of any subject which he undertakes, are characteristic traits which distinguished him in a high degree. His two sons inherit these traits as well as his talents, and are following the same profession with honor and success.


The office of Fire Marshal was due to a suggestion of Mr. Alfred E. Baker, in the spring of 1854, while a reporter on the New York Herald, he was struck by the number of peculiar fires of doubtful origin, and noticed that the authorities made no efforts to find the cause of them. Mr. Baker had the endorsement of Chief Engineer Carson. The police justices, at the instance of Police Justice Stuart, took the matter in hand, and the Board appointed Mr. Baker their clerk, to investigate the cause of fires, but without pay. The fire insurances raised a fund out of which to remunerate him for his services, and he assumed, and was recognized, by the title of Fire Marshal--a title now used in every city of the United States. One of his first acts was to bring to justice, for the crime of arson, Charles A. Peverilly, for attempting to fire the storage warehouse, No 147 Front Street.

At the expiration of the first year a meeting was called of insurance companies, and on motion of Mr. George J. Hope, president of the Continental Insurance Company, an increase of subscription was made, creating a fund sufficient to give a better salary to Mr. Baker, and also to employ an assistant, thereby approving the necessity and usefulness of the office. In order to make his investigations as complete as possible, Mr. Baker obtained permission from Chief Carson and the Board of Engineers to wear the uniform of a fireman--red shirt, fire-cap, and fire-coat. The board of Police Commissioners conferred upon him a sergeants' shield, on which ws engraved "Fire Marshal, New York." Mr. Baker continued his successful investigations up to 1868. Legislative action was then taken, instituting a fire marshal, adopting Mr. Baker's title, investing the appointing power in the Board of Police Commissioners.

Police Captain Brackett was made Mr. Baker's successor. Captain Brackett held the office for about two years, but a change of the Police Board caused his removal, and ex-Alderman Thomas McSpeden, received the appointment, and while McSpeden was in office the Legislature again took action, placing the appointing power of a fire marshal in the hands of the Board of Fire Commissioners. McSpeden was superseded by Mr. George H. Sheldon.

The office of the Metropolitan Fire Marshal was created by Chapter 563 of the Laws of 1868, and was made part of the police system, the police commissioners having the power of appointment, and the powers and duties of the incumbent extended over the entire Metropolitan District. The title was changed by Chapter 584 of the Laws of 1871--when the Metropolitan District was abolished--to City Fire Marshal, and the duties of the office were confined to the city's limits. The office was abolished by the reform chapter of 1873 (Chapter 335, Laws of 1873, Section 117), and the Bureau of the Fire Marshal was created in the Fire Department by Section 769, Chapter 335 of the Laws of 1873, and the power of appointment ws vested in the fire commissioners. George H. Sheldon, who succeeded Mr. McSpeden, was appointed fire marshal by Commissioners Perley, Hatch, and Van Gott, on the twenty-first of May, 1873. He still holds the position and has done the following work:



Total number


Discharged by magistrates




Cases dismissed by Grand Jury




Tried and convicted


Tried and used as witnesses


Tried and acquitted


Died before trial


Tried and Jury disagreed


Absconded before Trial


Tried and sent to House of Refuge


Discharged on their own recognizances.


Tried and sent to the Lunatic Asylum


Indictments dismissed



For natural Life


Fifteen Years


Ten years


Seven years


Six years


Five Years


Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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