South Carolina Remembers A Promise Made Long Ago

Paul Hashagen describes the keeping of a promise to New York City firefighters made just after the Civil War to return a kindness, “should misfortune ever befall the Empire City.”


Paul Hashagen describes the keeping of a promise to New York City firefighters made just after the Civil War to return a kindness, “should misfortune ever befall the Empire City.” On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, the nation’s attention was drawn to the live TV coverage of the unfolding...


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Paul Hashagen describes the keeping of a promise to New York City firefighters made just after the Civil War to return a kindness, “should misfortune ever befall the Empire City.”

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, the nation’s attention was drawn to the live TV coverage of the unfolding terrorist attack on New York City’s World Trade Center’s “Twin Towers.” In Columbia, SC, the staff of the White Knoll Middle School was riveted to the TV coverage of the original plane crash. Watching live, they and a good portion of America watched a second plane strike the south tower. The staff and the country became numb. Coverage continued as the unthinkable happened – the south tower collapsed, followed by the collapse of the north tower.

The school’s staff was horrified. The principal, Dr. Nancy Turner, was especially haunted by the shots of the smoldering, crushed wreckage of the New York City fire trucks. Turner and her staff were concerned and upset. How should the faculty and students react to the tragedy?

Turner did not want to just raise money for some large charity, she wanted the WKMS (White Knoll Middle School) efforts to be more personal. She called for a full staff meeting. All the teachers, office staff and buildings personnel gathered and waited for their principal’s address. Turner’s idea was just beginning to jell in her mind. The vision of the destroyed fire apparatus became the focus of her plan.

The staff sat quietly as Turner explained her idea – buy a new fire truck to replace one of those that was lost. It made perfect sense to her, but what would the staff think? They were sitting quietly looking at her. A moment of doubt crossed Turner’s mind, so she just asked the staff to consider her idea and get back to her.

Suddenly, a hand shot up in the audience. A teacher stated that she thought it was a great idea and made a motion to enact the principal’s plan. The motion was carried unanimously. Turner was gratified by the vote of confidence as the meeting adjourned.

With a plan now in place certain questions came up: Just how much does a fire truck cost? A call was made to the Columbia Fire Department asking for information on fire truck prices. Eventually, Turner found herself talking to Chief Jack Jansen of the Columbia Fire Department. Her idea was explained and her questions were asked. The chief thought the idea was great and advised the educator that fire truck prices ran from $250,000 for a pumper to $400,000 to $500,000 for ladder trucks. A brief explanation of rigs and their various roles on the fireground was included.

Jansen then told Turner an amazing story that he and Fire Marshal John Reich had been researching for some time. It was a story that only became more poignant with the losses faced by the FDNY.

Late in the Civil War, Union General William Tecumseh Sherman drove his troops through Columbia, the capital of South Carolina. The city was left in smoldering ruins. Block after block was devoured by the flames. One historian, Walder Edgar, described the scene in his book, South Carolina: A History: “When dawn broke, Columbia could see nothing but a forest of broken chimneys and piles of rubble. The business district and portions of the best residential areas were gone.” Thirty-six blocks were consumed. One-third of the city was lost. Only one fire station remained standing, the Palmetto Fire Engine Company on Blanding Street. The city had suffered greatly and was left virtually defenseless in fighting fires.

The next step in the saga was described by A.E. Costello in his New York City fire history, Our Firemen, published in 1887: “The old Volunteer firemen of the city of New York have the honor of being the first to extend the right hand of fellowship to their Southern brethren. In the early part of 1867 the members of ‘Independence’ Hose Company 1, of Columbia, S.C., having had all their equipment destroyed during war, appealed to the Northern firemen for old hose, and such apparatus as they had cast aside, in order to re-establish their old department. Mr. Henry Wilson, who was president of the New York Firemen’s Association, immediately called together the members, and steps were at once taken to see what relief could be afforded them.”

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