Rekindles: April 1996

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

April 1, 1896: BROOKLYN, NY Flames swept through a four-story tenement house on Union Street during the early-morning hours. Arriving firemen were faced with a fully involved building and could do little to rescue those trapped within. After extinguishing the fire, they found that 10 lives had been lost.

April 2, 1896: BRUNSWICK, GA A blaze that started at 11 A.M. on the docks of the Plant Railway system quickly took the life of a watchman before spreading to nearby cotton sheds, warehouses, freight cars and large quantities of stored goods, including thousands of barrels of resins and turpentine. The fire jumped Bay Street and began to leap from one building to the next. Brunswick firemen, realizing they were outmatched by the advancing flames, sent for help from Jacksonville, Savannah and Waycross.

Before reinforcements could arrive, the water supply ran out and efforts turned to salvaging goods from buildings in the fire's path. With the gas and electric works damaged by the blaze, the city was left in total darkness as the fire had burned itself out.

April 7, 1896: CHICAGO, IL The Hotel Louisiana on 71st and Avenue C burned to the ground during the night. It was one of the great World's Fair hostelries, four stories high and covering two acres of ground.

April 7, 1896: YONKERS, NY Sixteen stores along North Broadway were lost as fire communicated between the two-story wooden structures. Volunteer firemen were on the scene quickly and fought the flames that were believed to be incendiary in origin.

April 12, 1896: CLEVELAND, OH The Gehring apartment house on Murison Street filled with smoke and flames at 2 A.M., driving the 40 resident families to scramble for their lives. The fire escapes were soon filled and as firemen arrived the tenants were in a state of panic. No lives were lost and two were injured. The building was a total loss.

April 14, 1896: NEW YORK, NY A clerk working late in the offices at 78 Grand St. smelled smoke and ran to a fire alarm box to get help. Fire was spreading throughout the building, which was filled with one of the city's most valuable stores of dry goods. The alarm box proved defective and valuable time was lost until another box was found. Arriving firemen found the air shaft between the company's two buildings filled with fire. Water Tower 1 was set up in front of the building and was fed by several pumpers but would not raise. The chief ordered a change in tactics and firemen fought the stubborn fire with handlines.

April 14, 1896: PORT JEFFERSON, NY A forest fire, started by young boys playing, burned for two days and destroyed thousands of dollars in timber. The youngsters had tied a friend to a tree and built a small fire around it. Flames were soon out of control and the youths ran for help. The boy was rescued.

April 15, 1896: CHICAGO, IL Two explosions rocked the Chicago Fireworks Co. during the morning. Two workers were killed and the buildings were badly damaged and left blazing by the blasts. Firemen battled the fire under constant threat of further explosions.

April 17, 1896: TURNERS FALLS, MA A blaze that began in the cellar of a market located in a four-story tenement soon filled the apartments above with poisonous smoke. Despite numerous rescue attempts, five children died of smoke inhalation.

April 18, 1896: PHILADELPHIA, PA A fire starting in a coal bin under a train shed went to three alarms as flames spread to a number of Pullman cars and then to the old Pennsylvania Railroad Station at 32nd & Market streets. At the height of the blaze, an iron portico fell from the building onto firemen working below. Two firemen were killed, including Assistant Chief Stager. More than a dozen firemen were injured.

April 29, 1896: CRIPPLE CREEK, CO A thousand people were left without shelter after fire destroyed the business portion of the city. The blaze, undoubtedly arson, started in the kitchen of the Portland Hotel on 2nd Street shortly after noon. A strong wind soon had the flames beyond the control of the fire department. The city was in a state of near panic after the boilers in the hotel exploded. Teams of horses pulled wagons up and down the streets moving what goods and belongings they could as the firemen tried in vain to stop the marching walls of fire. Twenty-five firemen were injured battling the blaze. Damage totaled more than $2 million. This was the second arson fire in the city in two days.


April 1, 1853: The First U.S. Paid Fire Department Is Formed.

The first paid fire department in the United States was established in the city of Cincinnati, OH, on April 1, 1853. (In 1678, the selectmen in Boston, MA, had appointed a fire officer and 12 men who were probably paid by the fire, such as in modern-day on-call departments.)

The Cincinnati paid fire service got its start the way those in nearly all the major cities did: the people and especially the insurance companies were tired of the volunteer firefighters brawling on the way to fires. At times, the volunteers did not even make it to the fireground and spent all their energy beating up each other.

That was the case in 1851, when fire companies were called to a reported fire in a planing mill and failed to make it to the fireground because they were fighting each other at the intersection of two nearby streets. The fight reached 10 companies engaged, while the mill burned to the ground.

The Cincinnati City Council hired Moses Latta to build a steam fire engine. Five thousand dollars was appropriated and on March 2, 1852, the engine was given a public test. The new engine was able to deliver water through six hoses simultaneously and could reach a distance of 225 feet.

The volunteers did not give up without a fight, but this time they did not win and the new paid department was here to stay. This scenario was played out in city after city across the nation.

Paul Hashagen

Compiled by Paul Hashagen