100 Years Ago

BROOKLYN, NY: NOV. 3, 1909 — Three firemen were seriously injured while battling a blaze in a three-story tenement in the Williamsburg section. While a family was being rescued over a portable ladder, a 35-foot wooden ladder was raised to the roof and Firemen Carlton and Roessler of Engine 113 and Fireman Derby of Engine 121 started to the roof with a hoseline. As the trio reached the second floor, the ladder broke and they fell 30 feet to the ground. The men were rushed to the hospital with critical injuries.

NEWBERN, NC: NOV. 6, 1909 — An early-morning fire in the boiler room of the Norfolk & Southern Railroad's plant swept through the complex, destroying nearly everything in its path. Two locomotives, two passenger coaches and three freight cars were burned, as were several buildings. Only two structures, the paint department and a storehouse, were left standing.

PLYMOUTH, PA: NOV. 6, 1909 — A fire of unknown origin broke out in a mine-squib factory owned by John R. Powell. Some 140 women and girls were working in the plant when powder and powder squibs ignited, causing a series of explosions and a fast-moving fire. Many women had narrow escapes and one woman perished in the blaze. The fire eventually extended to Powell's home across the street.

BROOKLYN, NY: NOV. 9, 1909 — A cigarette dropped into the elevator shaft of a comb factory on Columbia Street touched off a blaze that killed nine people. It was just after 9 A.M. when the flames began inching their way from the shaft to stores of highly flammable celluloid. A terrific explosion occurred, followed by waves of heat and dense smoke. Iron bars covering almost every window blocked the workers' escape routes. Firemen, police and construction workers from a nearby site worked frantically to clear the windows and free the trapped employees.

BRONX, NY: NOV. 9, 1909 — A butcher working late in his Villa Avenue store, in the middle of a row of seven three-story frame buildings, went to get change for a customer from his in-wall cash register. As the register opened, he found the cash in the rear of the tray in flames. Attempts to salvage the money failed and the butcher ran from the shop crying "Fire!" The fire, which apparently began in the cellar of an adjacent building, burned out that building and spread upward. Firemen were faced with a running cockloft and roof fire that consumed the entire top floor of each of the seven buildings. Thirty-five families were left homeless.

OSSINING, NY: NOV. 11, 1909 — A wild panic raced through the audience watching motion pictures at the Olive Opera House when smoke began to pour into the auditorium. The crowd of 500 men, women and children hurried to the tight exit, only to find their way blocked by the throng of people. Many opted for the fire escapes as the employees attempted to get a fire hose into operation and douse the burning film in the projection room. Arriving firemen found the smoky fire had burned itself out and that the building's fire hose did not work.

JACKSONVILLE, FL: NOV. 13, 1909 — The Colonnade Hotel, one of the best-known resorts in the state, was destroyed by an incendiary blaze. Fireman Richard Middleton was so seriously injured that news reports indicated he would likely perish. The resort, located at Seabreeze, was left in ashes with damage estimated at $100,000.

CHICAGO, IL: NOV. 17, 1909 — General Frederick Dent Grant (son of President U.S. Grant) and his wife were rescued by firemen when their home on Dearborn Avenue caught fire. Firemen extinguished the blaze and also saved many valuable items, including swords and his father's traveling desk from the Civil War.

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.