Rekindles: November 2002

Nov. 1, 1902: NEW YORK CITY

Nov. 2, 1902: LARCHMONT, NY - Members of the Manor Fire Department were routed from their beds at five in the morning by an alarm of fire in the business section of town. Upon arrival, a grocery store was filled with flames that were extending to the Larchmont Casino and several nearby wooden structures. Help from the New Rochelle Fire Department was requested. Despite severe radiant heat, firemen made a stand and stopped the blaze. A large section of the business area was lost and a dozen families were left homeless, but no lives were lost.

Nov. 2, 1902: ST. PIERRE, Newfoundland - A conflagration swept the governor's house, the government building, a court house, a cathedral and numerous other buildings on this island off the south coast of Newfoundland. The town was the center of the French cod-fishing industry.

Nov. 2, 1902: ELIZABETH, NJ - An early-morning fire raced through the second and third floors of a planing mill on New Point Road. Lost in the blaze were several expensive machines, scroll saws and lathes. The fire, incendiary in origin, caused the injury of one fireman who fell from a ladder.

Nov. 8, 1902: CAMDEN, NJ - A fire of unknown origin destroyed a large cork-manufacturing company, a chemical company and a liquor manufacturing business. Flames also extended to a nearby ship and a dozen wood-frame buildings. Losses were estimated at $150,000.

Nov. 13, 1902 : KINGSLAND, NJ - A quick-moving fire in the Columbia Hotel trapped several guests. One man, a guest, is credited with saving a woman trapped on the blazing top floor. The man wrapped the woman in a blanket and started down the smoke-filled stairs. Unable to advance through the suffocating atmosphere, he was forced out onto a porch roof. With the woman still in his arms, he jumped to the ground and unhurt took the woman to a neighboring home.

Nov. 22, 1902: ASHLAND, WI - The Wisconsin Central Railroad ore dock was destroyed during an afternoon fire. As the flames were being battled the structure collapsed, burying many firemen and railroad workers. Several badly injured firemen were rescued from burning debris. A large portion of the structure fell into 20 feet of water taking men with it. Reports indicated that several men, including firemen, may have been killed.

Time Capsule


On Nov. 11, 1902, the men of the FDNY were called to operate at one of the most unusual and spectacular fires the city had witnessed in some time. A fire started in the wooden enclosures surrounding the yet-unfinished Williamsburg Bridge. Flames were sweeping upward, and despite the brave efforts of bridge workers, the fire was raging out of control. As fire department units arrived, flames were closing in on the two towers. There were reports of a worker missing, and Battalion Chief Guerin ordered two companies to attempt to find the man.

Firemen under the command of Captain John Howe of Ladder 6 crawled their way up the steaming tower. Showered continuously by half-molten metal and flaming debris the firemen advanced. After an arduous climb, they reached the top of one of the tower sections only to find that they had become cut off. The ladder they had just used was burning, as was the ladder above them. They were stranded with no means of escape.

Chief Guerin and the men of Ladder 18 scrambled to get another ladder in place. Below in the river, the crew of the fireboat Boody, using a rope rifle, shot a line up to Howe and his men. A larger rope attached to its end was pulled up by the firemen. They tied off the end and tested its strength.

The large crowd that had assembled to watch the fire, burst into cheers as Howe and his men climbed down from their dangerous perch. Some of the men escaped over the ladder placed by 18 Truck, and others climbed hand over hand down the rope from the fireboat. The firefighting was then continued with great difficulty. Hoselines were stretched up to the top of the 365-foot towers, only to break under their own weight. Footwalks fell in flames to the street below, scattering firemen and causing teams of horses to bolt from the fire trucks.

After many hours of back-breaking and dangerous work by the firemen, the flames were finally extinguished. Building engineers were now concerned about the strength left in the steel cables, used for the major support. Firemen accompanied the engineers back up the weakened structure on their inspections.

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 history of the New York City Fire Department, and other fire service history books.