Rekindles: February 2004

Feb. 1, 1904: BROOKLYN, NY

Feb. 2, 1904: KNOXVILLE, TN – Two firemen lost their lives battling a blaze that started in the heart of the city’s wholesale district. The fire began in the six-story Phoenix Building on Gay Street between Wall and Union Avenues. The flames spread to exposures to the north and south with amazing speed. The original fire building collapsed. Lost were Captain William Maxey of Hose Wagon 2 and a former fireman, John Dunn, who had volunteered his services. At the height of the blaze, Chattanooga was requested for mutual aid.

Feb. 4, 1904: STAMFORD, CT – The Town Hall was destroyed as flames climbed high into the cold winter sky. With every hydrant in the vicinity frozen solid, firemen scrambled to halt the spread of the fire to other buildings. Mutual aid was requested from Bridgeport, Greenwich, New Canaan and Port Chester.

Feb. 13, 1904: TOPEKA, KS – Flames destroyed the huge Parkhurst-Davis Mercantile Company building and stock at First and Kansas Avenues. As firemen battled the extending fire, stored rifle cartridges began discharging due to the extreme heat and further complicated the already dangerous fire.

Feb. 14, 1904: MERIDEN, CT – For eight hours, firemen battled a blaze in the Town Hall. The fire, believed to have been electrical in origin, destroyed city and town offices as well as the police headquarters. Six firemen were injured during the operation.

Feb. 16, 1904: SOUTH ORANGE, NJ – A fire believed to have been incendiary in origin swept through the Vailsburg Board Track. Heavy fire spread towards the pavilion and grandstand, which quickly collapsed, taking the life of Pipeman Henry Yung.

Feb. 18, 1904: CHARLOTTE, NC – Fire destroyed the buildings of Greensborough Female College. Smoke was discovered in the dormitory area, sending students fleeing into the night. The flames were beyond control as firemen arrived..

Feb. 19, 1904: BROOKLYN, NY – A dramatic and spectacular fire originated in the Devoe & Reynolds Paint Company on John Street during the early morning hours. Flames reached stored barrels of linseed oil and a huge quantity of paints, varnish and other highly flammable liquids. For three hours, firemen pressed the attack, only to be driven back as the fire consumed the stored liquids and intensified. Four alarms were needed to bring the fire under control.

Feb. 22, 1904: CHICAGO – A fire believed to have been started by an overheated boiler spread throughout the building occupied by the Alhambra Theatre, hotel and apartments on Archer Avenue and State Street. Firemen rescued as many as 50 guests over ladders. When the fire was extinguished and the smoke cleared, the remains of three people were found on an upper floor.

Time Capsule

The firemen of Baltimore faced a monumental fire situation, as a fire in a six-story warehouse became a conflagration that eventually spread to 24 blocks in the heart of the city. Two violent explosions and a strong wind pushed the fire from building to building as frantic firemen struggled to make a stand. Numerous cities sent mutual aid including New York.

A fire that received little national coverage, however, was a devastating fire that swept through Rochester NY. This smaller city suffered the loss of three entire blocks of the retail clothing and dry goods district. Flames that started in the basement of a dry goods company spread to the next building, a similar type structure and within minutes both were fully involved. Arriving firemen made a quick size-up and called for help, requesting mutual aid from Syracuse and Buffalo.

Crowds of spectators cheered the arriving out-of-town firemen as they rushed to back up the exhausted Rochester units. Facing collapsing walls and waves of extreme heat, the bolstered firefighting force pressed on. For seven hours, battle-weary firemen continued the attack until the last of the flames were extinguished.

Both cities and their citizens had the highest praise for the unified firefighting forces who risked their lives to save lives and property in Baltimore and Rochester.

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.