100 Years Ago

HILLSDALE MANOR, NJ: Aug. 1, 1909 — The fire alarm sounded at noon, sending Hillsdale and Park Ridge volunteer fire department members from seats in church. The reported location was the Hillsdale Manor Silk Mill, a long, hard pull for both departments. The firemen were faced with a lost cause on arrival as the flames had already begun to crumble the structure. The cause of the blaze was thought to be tramps cooking inside the closed mill.

OSAKA, JAPAN: Aug. 1, 1909 — A fire that started a day earlier in a knitwear factory was still raging out of control. Four employees of the Court of Appeals were killed as the wall of fire closed, trapping them in the court. The city's two steam fire engines responded, but a strong northeast wind blew the fire across the tightly packed wood buildings, igniting them one after the other. In all, 12 people lost their lives, 177 were injured, and 11,365 houses and buildings, including eight schools, 20 temples, four banks, and 11 bridges were destroyed. This fire became the impetus for the creation of the Osaka Fire Department with four fire stations and two branch stations being established.

ATLANTA, GA: Aug. 2, 1909 — A young woman traveling to New York City from Union Station stopped to eat lunch and came too close to a man lighting his cigar, causing her fancy hat to ignite. Within seconds, her finery was ablaze, causing a fire alarm to be transmitted. This brought two fire companies, a hose cart and a score of willing men to her assistance. The fire was quickly doused, but her hat was a total loss. Her train was held until she regained her composure.

NEW YORK CITY: Aug. 8, 1909 — Six firemen narrowly escaped death while battling a blaze in a four-story brick building at 45 Mercer St. in Manhattan. Battalion Chief McKearney and Fireman Johnson were making their way up the exterior fire escape when a blast of flame burst through the windows, showering them with hot glass. Both men were clinging to the fire escape until conditions could improve when the chief realized something was wrong and began shouting orders into the smoke-filled windows. Inside the burning structure, a stairway collapsed. McKearney and Johnson scrambled down the fire escape from the fourth to the third floor. The chief kicked the window in and both men plunged into the boiling smoke. Moments later, they reappeared, each carrying an unconscious fireman. One by one, they removed the unconscious captain and four of his firemen from certain death.

WASHINGTON PARK, NJ: Aug. 12, 1909 — A fire that began in the kitchen of the park restaurant spread to nearby structures with amazing speed. The flames leaped from building to building until 15 were in flames. A small panic occurred among the 3,000 people picnicking in the park as smoke drifted across the park grounds sending many to flee for safety. Fireboats from Philadelphia responded and helped to control the huge blaze.

ROCHESTER, NY: Aug. 15, 1909 — Five fires were discovered within two hours, raising fears that arsonists were back at work in the city. A man was seen running from a burning Railroad Street building before the fire extended to several other structures, including the commission house, the Wayne County Driers and the Packers Fruit Co., which were gutted. A bottle thought to contain gasoline was found in a Jay Street residence that was set on fire. Police were investigating.

BURLINGTON, NJ: Aug. 17, 1909 — Bridget Roe, an 80-year-old woman, rushed through the flames burning a neighbor's house and dragged a flaming carriage from the kitchen. She doused the fire and pulled, unharmed, a 4-week-old infant from beneath the smoldering covers. As this was happening, a 10-year-old boy, Tommy Dugan, raced to the second floor and dropped a 2-year-old girl to his brother standing below. Mrs. Roe then directed men to form a bucket brigade and had the blaze under control before firemen could arrive.

DECATUR, IL: Aug. 22, 1909 — A score of businesses were destroyed and a dozen others were damaged as fire swept along East Main, Merchant and Water streets. The fire burned from 1 A.M. until sunset. Decatur's three engines were hard pressed and an additional engine was sent from Springfield. Collapsing walls buried hundreds of feet of hose, further complicating firefighting efforts.

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.