100 Years Ago

GREAT NECK, NY: MAY 1, 1910 — The renowned livestock farm owned by the Grace family and overlooking Little Neck Bay was the site of an early-morning fire. Workers discovered a two-story barn ablaze and called for help before attempting to battle the fire themselves. A call was made to the Grace family home, where a large assembly of guests was enjoying a black-tie dinner dance. Fifty guests still in their formal wear jumped into their automobiles and raced a mile to the scene. Flames were devouring the barn and raining embers across other farm buildings and neighboring barns. Members of Alert Hook and Ladder stopped the spreading fire and contained the major damage to the original fire area. Sadly, more than 200 pedigree ducks, chickens and geese were lost in the blaze.

FORD CITY, PA: MAY 2, 1910 — More than half the population of the town was out of work after a fire destroyed the Pittsburg Plate Glass Co. plant. Flames broke out just after 8 P.M. in the polishing pit, sending the 900 night-shift workers running for their lives. Neighboring fire departments sent help and the combined force protected the residential section of the town.

OTTAWA, ONTARIO: MAY 8, 1910 — Five tons of explosives stored in a magazine of the General Explosives Co. near Hull detonated in the afternoon, killing 15 people. Small boys apparently set a brushfire that extended to the building housing the explosives. Spectators and players from a nearby baseball game joined the crowd watching the fire. Two minor explosions and the warnings given by some plant workers went unheeded until the flames reached the magazine. A terrific explosion occurred, showering large stones a great distance as shockwaves from the blast damaged buildings in a one-mile radius. More than 150 people were injured, many severely, by the blast.

HACKENSACK, NJ: MAY 10, 1910 — A fire, followed by a gas explosion, injured four persons and destroyed an apartment building during the late-night hours. A fire that started in a dentist's office on the second floor sent most of the tenants fleeing in their nightclothes. Firemen arrived and began removing several people trapped inside. A 9-year-old boy realized his mother and baby brother had not escaped and began climbing up the fire escape to get them. An explosion caused by a gas leak shook the building and badly injured the unprotected boy. Firemen rescued the mother and baby and removed the critically injured boy, who was rushed to a hospital.

SHELTER ISLAND, NY: MAY 11, 1910 — Lightning struck the Manhanset Hotel at 1:20 A.M. and set the building on fire. Watchmen called the fire department immediately to request help. Powerboats filled with hastily dressed firemen from Greenport joined the Shelter Island crews as they struggled to battle the flames during a windy downpour. A sudden shift in the wind briefly imperiled nearby buildings before protection lines could be placed into operation. The original hotel building was destroyed, but the exposures were saved.

NEWARK, NJ: MAY 16, 1910 — A man walking his dog noticed a fire in a four-story bread-baking plant on Springfield Avenue. The man made his way through dense smoke to the top-floor apartment, where a plant employee lived with his daughter. They were roused from sleep and escaped outside as the man called the fire department. The father plunged back into the dense smoke and groped his way toward his sister's apartment, but was forced back by smoke and heat. The woman and her daughter had escaped to the roof, and just as the flames were closing in on them, firemen rescued them over ladders.

BOSTON, MA: MAY 16, 1910 — Fire alarm headquarters awaited word from the Harvard Observatory on whether Halley's Comet would be visible. The mayor said he believed that half of the people in the city were sitting on their roofs hoping to catch a glimpse of the passing comet, "I propose," he said, "to let these comet gazers get a little needed sleep…if the comet appears, the alarm bells will give them notice." The comet was a spectacular hit in Boston and the nation.

PAUL HASHAGEN, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a retired FDNY firefighter who was assigned to Rescue Company 1 in Manhattan. He is also an ex-chief of the Freeport, NY, Fire Department. Hashagen is the author of FDNY 1865–2000: Millennium Book, a history of the New York City Fire Department, and other fire service history books.