Rekindles: September 2001

Sept. 2, 1901: CHICAGO

Sept. 9, 1901: JERSEY CITY, NJ - Two attempts were made during the night to burn the three-story frame house at 54 Ferry St. John Conway, chief of the Jersey City Fire Department, was the owner of the three-family house. Kerosene was poured on the stairs and oil-soaked rags were found burning in the cellar. This fire was quickly extinguished. An hour later, more paper was found burning in the cellar. Another arson attempt had been made on the structure six months earlier.

Sept. 9, 1901: BROOKLYN, NY - The Oriole Bathing Pavilion in Coney Island caught fire during the afternoon in the laundry room and extended quickly. Arriving fire companies were severely hampered by poor water pressure and a second alarm was transmitted. Units from Sheepshead Bay and Gravesend were dispatched and the water-pumping station was notified and increased system pressure to the maximum. The firefront threatened to spread the entire length of the block, but the effective actions of the firemen held the flames to the original structure and several small adjoining buildings.

Sept. 10, 1901: SALT LAKE CITY - A two-story brick building housing the Oregon Short Line Railway Company and the Mine and Smelter Company was destroyed by a fire that began in the cellar. The flames worked their way to a small store of dynamite that exploded, blowing out the south wall and seriously injuring five firemen.

Sept. 10, 1901: BROOKLYN, NY - A paint- and oil-fed basement fire in a nine-story brick and stone building on Nevins Street between Flatbush Avenue and Livingston Street required four alarms to control. Wave after wave of firemen pushed into the noxious smoke and eventually they were able to contain the fire to the basement and first floor of the building. Damage was estimated at more than $75,000.

Sept. 11, 1901: NEW YORK CITY - Five firemen were overcome by gas and foul smoke during a basement fire at 862 Broadway. The cellar was occupied by an antiques dealer specializing in silks and embroidered rugs. With no ventilation available, hoselines were pushed in waves. Team after team took their turn advancing foot by foot until they were unable to move any more and were replaced by fresh men. Five men were dragged out, lined up unconscious on the sidewalk and administered to by a department doctor.

Sept. 12, 1901: OAKLAND, NJ - Three explosions rocked the American A.E. and Schultze Powder Company at 1:30 P.M. Five people were killed and numerous others were injured. The first explosion, caused by the boiler blowing up, started a series of events that led to the detonation of stored smokeless powder. Arriving firemen dashed into the smoldering ruins and extinguished spot fires among the stored explosives. As the fires were extinguished the injured were dug from beneath collapsed walls and given first aid.

Sept. 27, 1901: PHILADELPHIA - Fire roared up the rear of a seven-story building at 531 Arch St. The building, owned by the Paxson Company, a funeral supply house, sustained considerable damage. Flames leaped from floor to floor and also destroyed the occupancies of a straw-goods company, a bookbinder and an upholstery company.

Time Capsule


An apparent arson-for-revenge fire in Chinatown took the lives of three men as flames swept through 10 Pell St. The fire started in a second-floor restaurant just after 7 A.M. and spread rapidly. On the floor above the fire was a meeting room and sleeping area of the Chee Kung Tong, or Chinese Freemasons. Several members of the Tong were meeting in the office at the time of the fire, discussing their testimony in an upcoming trial against a rival Tong accused of murdering members of the Freemasons.

As the smoke and fire spread people poured out of the building and the adjoining structures also filled with smoke. The scene began to develop into pandemonium as excited people jammed the smoke-filled street. A man jumped from a third-floor window just as the first apparatus, Ladder 9, rolled in. A third alarm was transmitted upon arrival and laddermen scrambled up the fire escapes and entered the blazing building over ladders, pulling numerous people to safety.

One rescue team, led by Captain John Howe, had to be protected with a hose stream directed against flames raging from windows adjacent to the rescue. Despite the heroic efforts of the firemen, three men perished in the blaze. An immediate investigation of the fire commenced despite the usual secretive nature of the Tongs and their members.

Paul Hashagen, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is an FDNY firefighter 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 recently published history of the New York City Fire Department, and other fire service history books.