Rekindles: March 1999

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.

March 3, 1899: JERSEY CITY, NJ - Two passenger trains on the Pennsylvania Railroad collided shortly before 9 A.M. on the trestle at Railroad Avenue and Brunswick Street. Apparently a car on one train jumped the track and derailed onto the next track just as another train was approaching. One train's engine was severely damaged and the firebox was broken. A gas tank on a Pullman car ruptured and escaping gas came in contact with hot coals from the firebox, setting fire to the damaged wooden freight cars. Arriving Jersey City firemen evacuated 250 people from the train and battled a fire that had spread to four cars.

March 4, 1899: MORGANTOWN, WV - An early-morning fire swept through the mechanical engineering building at West Virginia University. Firemen, forced to keep a safe distance due to reports of stored explosives, could do little to stop the flames. The well-known mechanical hall, filled with models and machinery, was a total loss.

March 7, 1899: NEW YORK CITY - Firemen battled blazes on two separate ships as they entered the harbor. Fireboats met each of the ships as they approached the city. The first fire was aboard the steamer Leona, which had just left port, but returned filled with heavy smoke. The ship returned to her berth, hatches were opened and flames belched from below. Eight fireboat streams were needed to extinguish the fire. The second fire in the late afternoon was on the steamer Jamestown. That ship was entering port and signaled a fire on board. It was escorted to a berth by a fireboat. Land units operated hoselines and the ship's steam system to extinguish the fire in her hold.

March 7, 1899: DENVER - Flames broke out in the dust room of the Hungarian Grain Elevators during the evening. Frozen hydrants hampered fireman as they battled the blaze. More than 300,000 bushels of wheat valued at $180,000 were destroyed by the fire.

March 9, 1899: MINEOLA, NY - A fire caused by a carelessly discarded match destroyed a wing of the C. Raoul Duval residence at Wheatley Hills during the afternoon. The owner, away in Europe and soon to be married, was having the home remodeled. The fire threatened to spread to the main portion of the building, but the volunteer firemen of Mineola, with the help of Westbury, were able to halt the flames.

March 11, 1899: RIDGEWOOD, NJ - An exploding oil lamp started a fire in a shoemaker's shop in a row of one-story wooden buildings. The Ridgewood Fire Department responded with its new chemical engine, but the advanced fire conditions were more than the firemen could handle. A call for aid went out to the Paterson Fire Department as the spreading fire threatened to destroy the entire village. To create a fire break, 500 citizens and firemen used ropes to pull down the local newspaper building. Twelve structures were destroyed by the blaze.

March 12, 1899: SPOTSWOOD, NJ - The Enterprise Hook and Ladder Company responded to a fire, believed to be incendiary in origin, in the Bernheim, Dryfoos and Herrmann shirt factory. Within an hour, the factory burned to the ground, the flames fed by oil-soaked floors. More than 100 people were put out of work by the loss. While taking up, another alarm was given and firemen raced to a fire in a section of woods on the other side of town. The moving body of flames was threatening to spread to nearby homes as firemen and most of the townspeople (who had followed from the other fire) joined forces. For two hours, they battled the flames and saved the threatened homes.

March 12, 1899: CHICAGO - Fire broke out in the eight-story building at 211 Jackson Blvd. in the center of the wholesale district. A large section of wall collapsed without warning, sending firemen running for their lives. Falling bricks and flaming debris caused no injuries, but did severe damage to the adjoining building setting it on fire.

March 13, 1899: SALISBURY, MD - Lumber Mill No. 1 in the lower section of the city caught fire during the morning igniting a blaze that involved five million feet of lumber and railroad freight sheds. Mutual aid calls went out to Wilmington and Pocomoke City for additional engines. The fire was battled for more than eight hours before it was brought under control.

March 21, 1899: OMAHA, NE - A gasoline stove exploded in a third-floor rear room of a hotel located in the Patterson block at Seventeenth and Douglas streets. Many woman attending a meeting were cut off by the flames and rushed to the front windows. As many as 20 women, with flames igniting their clothes, were forced to jump from the third-floor windows prior to the arrival of firemen. Two were pronounced dead and many were in critical condition. A fireman was reported to have been overcome by smoke and fell from a ladder, sustaining life-threatening injuries.


March 8, 1899: One Bad Day For America's Bravest

Across the country firemen faced major fires in a number of cities. As always, firefighters had to overcome not only the flames but the weather and the fire-damaged structures in which they have to work.

The first fire occurred in Lyndonville, VT, as flames swept an entire city block. In Bennington, VT, flames destroyed a knitting company factory. In New Britain, CT, frozen hydrants hampered firemen as they fought to contain a blaze that broke out in a dry-goods store during the early-morning hours.

An afternoon fire was caused by an overheated stove in St. Joseph's Catholic Church on East Seventh Street in South Boston. Firemen battled valiantly but the structure was gutted. In Passaic, NJ, a fire of incendiary origin leaped from a barn to a house and some other nearby buildings as firemen found themselves with no water as the closest hydrant was more than a half mile away.

During the afternoon, a large 41/2-story commercial building in Boston caught fire. The structure on Charlestown Street in the North End of the city housed a dozen firms. The building was loaded with various flammables as desks were manufactured there; a lumber supplier had offices and stores there as well. A number of carpenters and electricians had offices as well, adding to the fire load.

After the fire was knocked down, District Chief McDonough and Enginemen Tague, McLaughlin, Hefferman and Connolly were at work overhauling in the attic of the building. Suddenly, the roof collapsed on the men, burying them. Other firemen rushed to the area and dug out their comrades with their bare hands. Luckily the chief and his men only received minor injuries.

Firemen were very happy when the clock struck midnight. March 8, 1899, was a tough day to be a fireman.

Compiled by Paul Hashagen