Rekindles: May 1999

If a significant fire or other emergency occurred 100 years ago in your community, or if your fire department's 100th anniversary is coming up, please drop us a line for possible inclusion in "Rekindles" in an upcoming issue.

May 3, 1899: NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - A severe lightning storm driven by gale-force winds rolled through town, causing much damage. Lightning struck a fireworks factory on Codwise Avenue and caused a major fire to develop. The entire fire department was called to the scene. Brands driven by the high winds threatened the entire area, but firemen were able to confine the fire to the factory itself.

May 3, 1899: MORGANTOWN, WV - Another electrical storm caused major problems for firemen when lightning struck an oil tank in the Standard Oil yard. The blazing tank was located in the middle of 25 others and more than 100 firemen worked to contain the fire.

May 7, 1899: POTTSVILLE, PA - The powder plant of the Pottsville Water Co. in the Indian River Valley exploded after tramps started a fire nearby. The magazine contained 1,200 kegs of blasting powder and 50 kegs of rifle powder, for a total of about 14 tons. The blast broke windows in nearby Pottsville and debris was propelled more than a half a mile. A second explosion leveled the plant.

May 25, 1899: BROOKLYN, NY - A fire was discovered at about 2 A.M. in a planing mill just behind a home in the Greenpoint section. A man awakened his wife and children and removed them from the house, then ran to find a policeman to turn in the alarm. The homeowner and the cop returned to the house on Eagle Street, ringing doorbells as they passed. As they approached the home, they were startled to see the size of the spreading fire. The fire was racing through piles of finished lumber and had jumped into a stair-building factory next door prior to the arrival of the first engine. As firemen battled the fire, flames jumped the street and continued to spread from one wooden home to the next. Two blocks of tenement houses and factories were turned into ashes in a matter of hours. Fifty families were left homeless, but no one was killed.

May 26, 1899: CONEY ISLAND, NY - After just returning from a small blaze, Coney Island firemen were called out to an alarm at the foot of Kensington Walk. Upon their arrival, the firemen were faced with an advanced fire condition and a hydrant stretch of more than 1,500 feet. Before 300 feet of hose could be pulled, the hotel across the street burst into flames because of the radiant heat. Additional alarms were sent in, but the fire was still growing. Ten engines from Brooklyn were sent to help battle the fire. More than eight blocks of the resort area were burned to the ground. Seventeen people were injured, including some who had to jump from windows to escape the spreading fire front.



It was 2 o'clock in the morning when New York City Fireman John Fredenberg of Ladder Company 14, driving the chief's buggy, was first to arrive at a cellar fire in a tenement house at 38 E. 126th St. in Harlem. Hysterical family members told him that two children were trapped inside. Without a moment's hesitation, Fredenberg went into action.

Upon reaching the roof, the fireman - with the help of civilians from next door - pried open the scuttle cover. Fredenberg attempted to enter the top floor through the hatch, but was driven back by heat and thick smoke. He then reached down inside and pulled up a metal ladder that led from the floor to the roof and brought it to the front of the building, where he lowered it over the side. With the civilians holding the ladder in place on the side of the building Fredenberg descended and entered a window. Searching under a heavy smoke condition the fireman found a boy unconscious in bed. Retracing his path he carried the child to the roof of the building.

Dizzy from the thick smoke and unable to locate the second child on the third floor Fredenberg scrambled down the stairs and began another search on the floor below. The smoke from the growing fire in the cellar was becoming so thick it was necessary for the fireman to seek a window and gulp some fresh air from outside. Plunging back into the smoke he groped on hands and knees until he located the second boy unconscious on the floor.

Fredenberg carried the child up to the third floor and searched for the ladder to the roof. With the child in his arms he climbed to roof and handed the boy over before he collapsed from smoke inhalation and exhaustion. Both children recovered from their encounter with the dense smoke thanks to Fredenberg's heroic actions. The following year, Fireman John Fredenberg was awarded a medal for his bravery.

Compiled by Paul Hashagen