Rekindles: October 2003

Oct. 3, 1903: WISCONSIN - A catastrophic month of severe weather started off with a storm described by newspapers as a "hurricane" that swept across the state from the Mississippi River to Lake Michigan. Especially hard hit was St. Charles, MN, just...


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Oct. 3, 1903: WISCONSIN

Oct. 7, 1903: KANSAS - A twister swept across Greenwood and Coffey counties, killing three people and injuring more than a dozen others. Fire departments were stretched to their limits. Hamilton and Aliceville were practically demolished. Reports of severe damage also came in from Topeka and Joplin, MO.

Oct. 10, 1903: STATEN ISLAND, NY - Severe weather in the form of wind and rain caused flooding that proved dangerous to firemen. Floods caused a short circuit and fire in a Richmond Terrace pump room, knocking out water to the island's north shore. Firemen were working in a flood with no hydrant water and were forced to fight the flames by drafting the flood waters.

Oct. 11, 1903: PATERSON, NJ - Rain-swollen streams and rivers surged over their banks and rushed through populated areas, destroying businesses and sweeping people away. Firemen raced to a river's edge, where they set up rope systems and pulled out victims as they raced by. One civilian life-saver, a local athlete, made several rescues before being swept away himself.

Oct. 11, 1903: OYSTER BAY, NY - The huge storm system that hit New Jersey was battering Long Island when flames broke out in a vacation home filled with people. Fleeing the fire the family - the parents, four sons and an infant - had to face torrents of rain and strong gusts of wind as they fought their way to a nearby barn. Before firemen could arrive, the flames had spread to several nearby homes.

Oct. 11, 1903: PRINCETON, NJ - Former President Grover Cleveland was quickly surrounded by students and local residents as the cry of "Fire!" was sent out from his home. Volunteer firemen raced their hose cart at top speed to the house and quickly brought the blaze under control.

Oct. 16, 1903: ABERDEEN, WA - A wind-driven fire caused more than $1 million in damage to the old wooden town. The wooden structures were built on top of wooden foundations and soon the entire town seemed to be ablaze. Despite the best efforts of firemen, the fuel load and wind soon had the best of them. Four lives were lost and nearly the entire Main Street area of the town was destroyed.

Time Capsule

OCT. 24, 1903: NEW YORK CITY - EXPLOSIONS CAUSE HARLEM SUBWAY TUNNEL TO COLLAPSE

New York City firemen responded to an explosion and collapse of a subway tunnel at 195th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue in upper Manhattan. The section of the tunnel where workers were blasting through solid stone collapsed, trapping scores of men under tons of stone. After the charges were placed, an electrician entered the tunnel to string wires and was followed by a gang of workers. Moments later, three separate blasts were heard and the tunnel filled with dust and flying stone. Ladder Companies 14 and 23 were quickly at the site and began to dig out the trapped men. At least six men were killed and numerous others suffered critical injuries.


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.