Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments

Chapter 58, Part II

By Holice and Debbie

R. H. WALKER, chief engineer, Elmira, N. Y., is thirty-nine years old, and has been a fireman from a mere boy. He joined the old Volunteer Fire Department in 1864, but had served as a torch boy three years previously. He was a member of Neptune Engine Company, a hand engine, until 1867, when he was transferred to Independent Hose Company No. 3, which was an incorporated body. He served as foreman in this company for seven years, and was a member of the Board of Trustees of the Elmira Fire Department. He was elected chief of the Volunteer Department in 1875; served one year. The department was disbanded in May, 1878. The city organized a partial Paid Fire Department. He was appointed chief engineer in 1881, and has held the office since then, the fifth year. The Department is governed by a Board of Fire Commissioners. John B. Stanchfield, mayor of the city, is president. The commissioners are Charles Hazzard and Geo. M. Robinson. They have four steam fire engines, three hose carts, one Hays truck, and one double tank chemical engine, forty-one fire alarm boxes, and a thorough system of the Gamewell Telegraph. The Department has one chief engineer, one assistant, who is superintendent of telegraph, three foremen of companies, and seven permanent men; the rest, thirty-three in all, are call men, making twenty-six call men.

After a great number of troubles and difficulties the fire telegraph system has been introduced and adopted.

R. H. WALKER, chief engineer, Elmira, N. Y., is thirty-nine years old, and has been a fireman from a mere boy. He joined the old Volunteer Fire Department in 1864, but had served as torch boy three years previously. He was a member of the Neptune Engine Company, a hand engine, until 1867, when he was transferred to Independent Hose company No. 3, which was an incorporated body. He served as foreman in this company for seven years, and was a member of the Board of Trustees of the Elmira Fire Department. he was elected chief of the Volunteer Department in 1875; served one year. The Department was disbanded in May, 1878. The city organized a partial Paid Fire Department. he was appointed chief engineer in 1881, and has held the office since then, the fifth year. The Department is governed by a Board of Fire Commissioners. John B. Stanchfield, mayor of the city, if president. The commissioners are Charles Hazzard and Geo. M. Robinson. They have four stem fire engines, three hose carts, one Hays truck, and one double tank chemical engine, forty-one fire alarm boxes, and a thorough system of the Gamewell Telegraph. The Department has one chief engineer, one assistant, who is superintendent of telegraph, three foremen of companies, and seven permanent men; the rest, thirty-three in all, are call men, making twenty-six call men.

WILL Y. ELLETT, N. Y., was born on July 12, 1852./ he joined the Volunteer Department as torch boy of Steamer Company No. 1 in 1865. The Department was divided in 1869, and he went with one of the new companies known as Goodell No. 5; became foreman of the company in 1873, and continued as such until the Department disbanded in 1878. He was appointed in the present Paid Department on March 12, 1883, as assistant chief, and as superintendent of fire alarm telegraph in September of 1884.

JULIUS PEARSE, chief engineer of Denver Fire Department, was born in Germany, March 25, 1847. His parents removed to the United States, settling in Chicago, Ill., about 1852, where he resided until September, 1868, when he took Horace Greeley's advice and moved out west and settled in Denver, Col., early in October, 1868. In the summer of 1872, when the Holly Water Works were completed, he interested himself in the organization of the Denver Fire Department under Chief Trounstine, and in the following fall assisted in organizing the Woodie Fisher Hose Company No. 1, being appointed first pipeman. This office he held until May, 1873, when he was elected first assistant foreman. At the annual election of the company in August, 1873, he was elected foreman, which he filled until he was elected chief of the department in April, 1875. He was re-elected in 1876, and served with distinction until April, 1877, when he was succeeded by Thomas Clayton.

In March 1882, when the Denver Paid Fire Department was organized, he was appointed assistant chief and superintendent of fire alarms, and in the following November, 1882, he became chief engineer of the department, which position he has filled to the satisfaction of the citizens of Denver ever since.

Mr. Pearse is also one of the organizers of the Colorado State Firemen's Association, having served as president of said association the first and second years of its existence, 1876 and 1877.

FRED. E. WINDSOR, Warren, Warren County, Pa., was elected foreman on July 3, 1883; re-elected twice and in April, 1886 elected chief from an unexpired term of foreman and given the honor of being the youngest chief in Pennsylvania. He is now a member of the National Association of Fire Engineers, and undoubtedly its youngest member. He has charge of one hundred and ninety-three men, three hose, one truck, one steamer and hydrant system. He is twenty-six years of age.

GEORGE C. FAGER, SR., is the oldest firemen in the State of Pennsylvania in active service, He was born in Harrisonburg in 1814, and is now nearly seventy-two years of age, but as a fireman in the brave and energetic discharge of a fireman's duty, he has no equal; and he displays a zeal and an activity that might well be envied by young men not half his age. He first joined the Harrisburg Fire Department in 1828, becoming a member of the Friendship Fire Company. It was then, as now, an active, strong, fire company, albeit the fire laddies of those day did duty with buckets in quenching fire, and had none of the effective and powerful steam fire engines now in use. In 1835 the present Citizen Fire Company as organized, and Mr. Fager became one of its charter members. He is now the only original member of the Citizen Fire company, belong to the company, as an active member. A few of the original members re still living, but they long ago ceased to do fire duty. When the Citizen Fire Company was organized, a hand suction fire engine was purchased, the first ever in use in Harrisburg; it was manufactured by Bates, of Philadelphia, and was run by Mr. Fager, who was selected engineer by his company. He continued in charge of the machine until it was discarded for a stem fire engine. In the early days of Mr. Fager's service as a fireman there was no hose in use, buckets being the only means of carrying water. Mr. Fager has been frequently honored by Harrisburg firemen. He is now and has been for many years the treasurer of the Citizen Fire Company, and during the years 1878, 1879, and 1880, was the chief engineer of the entire city fire department. He is a well preserved old gentleman, popular with the firemen, and a good citizen. He himself knows of no fireman in the State of the same age in active service.

J. M. SULLIVAN, Chief Engineer, Long island City fire Department, was born in South Boston, Mass., in 1826, and by force of circumstances was compelled to earn a living before me had completed his education. On July 28, 1862, he enlisted in the Second new York Fire Zouaves, served three years, was wounded twice, and was honorably discharged in 1865. In 1870 was instrumental in organizing Friendship Hook and Ladder Company No. 3, of Long Island City, in which company he served as foreman for the firs three years, and two years after he was elected chief. In 1876 he was elected assistant engineer, and in April, 1886, chief engineer.

SAMUEL BEMISH, Chief engineer of Rochester, N. Y., was born in Rochester in 1843. He very early showed a predilection for a fireman's life, and when still almost a youth joined the volunteers. When the civil ware broke out, young Bemish, full of patriotic ardor, enlisted in the Thirteenth Regiment, New York Volunteers. After being s short time with his regiment he caught typhus fever and was invalided home. Upon his recovery, nothing daunted by his first experience of soldiering, the gallant young fellow joined the One Hundred and Fortieth Regiment, New York Volunteers, and served with his colors until the close of the war. When mustered out of the military service he rejoined his original one. He served as hoseman for three years, and was then promoted foreman. After holding the latter position for three years, Mr. Bemish was elected in 1871 to be assistant chief engineer, which office he retained with credit to himself and advantage to the department for nine years, when the department became a paid one. Under the new regime he was a foreman, and acted as assistant for three years. Then he was elected assistant chief, and on March 5, 1886, was promoted to be chief engineer. The office is an elective one by the Executive of the Common Council. Mr. Bemish distinguished himself on many occasions, and rendered excellent service at the great brewery and lumber yard fires. The Rochester Fire Department is well favored with a supply of water. It has one extinguisher, four steamers to fall back on if needed, three hook and ladder trucks, and seven hose carriages, each having twelve hundred feet of hose. There are besides, three volunteer fire companies attached to the paid department, and a fire patrol. Last year the fire losses were about one hundred thousand dollars. The department has one of the very best of reputations. Its steamers were introduced shortly after the war.

G. H. CLOYES, Chief engineer of the Portland, Me., Fire Department was born in Framingham, Middlesex County, Mass., on November 22, 1837. He served in the fire department of his native town for three years, and then joined the Portland organization on June 22, 1856. His energy, courage, and skill were in due time recognized by promotions, and in 1880 he was chief of the department.

FRED. HORNUNG, Chief Engineer of the Buffalo Fire Department, is one of the finest-looking firemen in the United States. He is six feet two inches tall, and powerfully built, His father, who settled in Buffalo over fifty years ago, was a yet bigger and a more powerful man, and he still (1886) alive. Fred. Hornung was born in 1848. Before he was twenty-one years old he joined Hook and Ladder Company No. 2. In 1876 and 1877 he was in charge of the supply stores; then for three years he was assistant chief. In 1883 the Board of Fire Commissioners, recognizing his merit and his services, appointed him chief engineer. Since his appointment as chief, Mr. Hornung has increased the efficiency of the department.

The reputation of the Buffalo Fire Department is known all over the country. It possesses seventeen steam engines, one hose cart attached to each steam engine, four chemical engines, and one hose tower. The salary of the chief engineer is two thousand four hundred dollars a year; there are seventeen engineers at $840; twenty-five foremen at $720; twenty-five assistant foremen at $600; fifty drivers at $600; seventeen stokers at $600; and seventy-one firemen at $600. Another company is to be added before the close of the year (1886), as soon as a house is built; an appropriation has also been made for a fireboat. Last year the fire losses were three hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars. At the Gilbert Starch Works, the Music Hall, and three big fires, the department was conspicuous for its efficiency. The small diameter of the water mains, however, has embarrassed the gallant Buffalo firemen to some extent, but gradually bigger pipes are being laid.

LEWIS P. WEBBER, chief engineer of the Boston Fire Department, is a native of the Empire State, and was born November 8, 1843. At the age of twenty he made his debut as a fully fledged fireman, when he became a member of Tremont Engine Company No. 7, of the Roxbury Fire Department. When steam took the place of hand engines, in 1864, he was appointed a hose man on Dearborn Steamer No. 1. On annexation of Roxbury to Boston, this company became Company No. 14. In 1868 he was elected assistant foreman and in 1870 foreman. When the department was reorganized, in 1874, the fire commissioners made him permanent foreman of this command. His qualities as a fireman advanced with his good record, for on May 13, 1880, he was called to more responsible fields of labor, and transferred to Engine Company No. 3, which is located in what is known as the lumber district. Here he made his mark, for he always had the respect and confidence of the command, as well as others he came in contact with. The commissioners, in introducing the rules and regulations of the department, say: "Something must necessarily be left to the intelligence and discretion of individuals; and, according to the degree in which they show themselves possessed of these qualities, and to their zeal, activity and judgment on all occasions, will be their claims to future promotion and reward." If ever there was an officer who lived up to these instructions, it was Captain Webber. This was a noticeable fact which the commissioners could not be blind to, and it was the expression from every mouth that faithful service has been rewarded when Captain Webber was promoted and assigned as district engineer of the Eighth Fire District, September 8, 1884.

Captain Webber was hardly settled among what promised to be his future surroundings, when the seat of the Board of Fire Commissioners left vacant by the retirement of Ed. A. White was filled by the election of Chief Engineer Green. Then came the perplexing question of who would be chief engineer. There were four candidates in the field from the board of engineers, and all pushed forward by their friends in no uncertain terms. It seemed to the commissioners that they must overcome the ill feeling that must come from the selection of either of the applicants. They held several consultations, when, at one of these consultations, Commissioner Fitzgerald made the remark: "I wish Captain Webber was a member of the board a little longer than he has been; he has every qualification, and would make an excellent executive head;" the opinion of Commissioner Fitzgerald met with the approval of his associates, and Captain Webber was at once elected chief engineer by the unanimous vote of the board. The appointment gave entire satisfaction. Chief Webber entered upon his duties October 23, 1884. From his advent to the chiefship Chief Webber has had many disastrous fires to cope with, and has thus far proved an able and successful fire engineer.

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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