100 Years Ago


At 3 A.M., Engine 33 turned out for an alarm of fire at 13th Street and Fourth Avenue in Manhattan. As the members of the company assembled on the apparatus floor of their Great Jones Street firehouse, Chief of Department Croker, his aide Captain Rush and his driver Fireman Finney prepared to respond in the chief's red car. As Finney cranked the starter, the auto exploded and burst into flames. The trio and members of the engine company scrambled to extinguish the flames that were rolling across the ceiling of the apparatus floor and threatening the dormitory above. The fire was extinguished quickly, saving the building and nine horses stabled in the rear, but the front wheels of Engine 33's steamer were burned off.

MIDDLETOWN, PA: APRIL 9, 1910 — An overheated stove caused a fire that spread quickly throughout the Market House building. Strong winds drove the flames to neighboring buildings and spread over an area of four city blocks. Mutual aid was sent from Columbia, Harrisburg, Lancaster and Steelton. The flames destroyed the post office, an auditorium, a shoe store, a cafe, a hardware store, and clothing and drug stores. In all, 75 structures took fire.

DUBUQUE, IA: APRIL 11, 1910 — Two hundred sleeping people had a narrow escape as flames swept through the Julian Hotel. Arriving firemen were faced with numerous people trapped at windows and calling for help. Ladders were rushed into position, but not before an excited man jumped from a window ledge. Despite the great headway gained by the fire, there were no reported fatalities. Firemen saved part of the blazing structure.

YONKERS, NY: APRIL 12, 1910 — A fire, apparently caused by children playing with matches, spread from one house to another along Lincoln Terrace until four homes were ablaze. Firemen scrambled to stop the advancing flames. The entire department was on scene and saved the homes on both sides of the blazing buildings. There were no injuries and the damage totaled more than $100,000.

ORLEANS, NY: APRIL 18, 1910 — This hamlet was nearly wiped out by fire as flames extended from building to building until 20 were burning simultaneously. People stood by helplessly without the benefit of any fire protection equipment as the fire raged. Bucket brigades were started, but could do little against the massive heat being generated.

LAKE CHARLES, LA: APRIL 23, 1910 — Fire destroyed seven city blocks, leaving 5,000 people homeless and $750,000 in damage. The fire started behind a row of buildings on Ryan Street, including the unoccupied Opera House, Gunn's Bookstore and a soft-drink stand. The fire spread down Ryan Street to the Catholic church and the courthouse, eventually destroying a swath of downtown two blocks wide and a half-mile long to the southeast. The fire raged for four hours and consumed 109 buildings. Firemen from Jennings and Alexandria, LA, and Orange, TX, arrived to help.

JERSEY CITY, NJ: APRIL 24, 1910 — Fire broke out in the cellar of the Mercer Street firehouse, driving the men from the smoke-filled building. Regrouping, they moved back inside despite the explosion of several five-gallon barrels of oil stored in the cellar. Firemen moved into the rear of the apparatus floor, trying to lead out several fire horses. The horses were panicking and could not be moved. One fireman ran to the bells and banged out an alarm the horses knew and they all assembled for a response and were led to safety. Hoses were stretched and the fire was confined to a section of the cellar.

CORNWALL, ONTARIO: APRIL 30, 1910 — Ten lives and $250,000 in property were lost as flames raced through the Rossmore Hotel. The fire apparently started in a staircase by a dropped match and raced upward, trapping 60 people asleep above. By the time those sleeping above were aware of the fire, the stairs were impassable. Numerous people escaped using rope fire escapes or by jumping.

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.