Rekindles: January 2002

100 Years ago

Jan. 1, 1902: NEW YORK CITY – A fire broke out in a basement storage room of Keith’s Theater, a building that adjoined the Morton House Hotel on 14th Street in Manhattan. Chief Edward Croker transmitted a second alarm upon his arrival as firemen plunged into the dense smoke and pushed a hoseline down the stairs into the cellar. In the hotel next door more than 300 guests were evacuated as the rapidly spreading fire threatened the exposed building. As the dense smoke became even more intense a third alarm was sent in. Despite the acrid smoke, firemen attempted to breach a wall to allow stream penetration to the seat of the fire. One by one, the firemen dropped unconscious and were pulled out by their comrades, but the battle continued. Eventually, the spread of the flames was halted and the stubborn fire was extinguished.

Jan. 2, 1902: HARRISON, NY – The factory of the Moosehead Silk Company was destroyed by fire with a loss of more than $50,000. A loss that could not be calculated was the death of John Farrell, a Mamaroneck fireman, who was thrown from a hose wagon and run over during the response to the blaze.

Jan. 4, 1902: CHICAGO – An undertaker’s supply plant caught fire and raced through the five-story structure. Flames erupted from the paint shop and swept upwards. Despite the efforts of firemen, the building was a total loss.

Jan. 4, 1902: OMAHA, NE – A fire in the Douglass Printing Company spread to an electrical-supply house and a steam laundry shop before extending to the Karbach Hotel. Guests, clad in their nightclothes, were in a wild panic as they spread the smoke and flames, with many jumping from fire escapes and upper-floor windows.

Jan. 8, 1902: PITTSBURGH – The first pneumatic aerial ladder truck in the United States was tested in Pittsburgh on this day. The aerial, composed of steel tubes that telescoped into each other, was forced into the air by pneumatic pressure. With the pressing of a button, the tube – with a man attached to the end – was shot 80 feet upward in a few seconds. A person was then removed from a window and lowered to the ground, and the ladder was quickly ready for another ascent. The aerial was purchased at the Paris Exposition, where it won first prize.

Jan. 10, 1902: JERSEY CITY, NJ – City firemen descended on a briskly burning building at 107 Chandler St. At the height of the blaze, a number of dazzling explosions caused firemen and spectators alike to run for cover. It was quickly learned that the cause of the blasts was from signal rockets stored in the building and firemen again pressed the attack.

Jan. 16, 1902: KALAMAZOO, MI – A half-block-long, five-story brick building that housed a buggy manufacturer was the scene of a spectacular late-night blaze. During the firefighting operation, an explosion rocked the structure and toppled an exterior wall that narrowly missed several firemen.

Jan. 19, 1902: BARCELONA, SPAIN – A massive boiler explosion in the nearby village of Puente de Vilumara took the lives of 60 men, women and children. The blast took place in a mill that employed many men who were enjoying a meal break just outside the plant with their families. Arriving firemen and rescue workers were faced with several collapsed structures with numerous people trapped and injured. More than half the village was left in rubble.

Jan. 21, 1902: COLUMBUS, OH – A four-story brick building occupied by a grocer, a leather company and a hat maker was destroyed by a fierce fire that swept through the large structure. A wall collapse badly injured four firemen.

Jan. 25, 1902: JERSEY CITY, NJ – A fire in the flooring of a clerk’s office in police headquarters proved to be stubborn and smoky. Several firemen were injured, one seriously, during the operation. The blaze was believed to be caused by mice gnawing on a box of matches.


A rear-end collision of two trains in the darkness of the Park Avenue tunnel proved dangerous to passengers and the firemen responding to save them. The crash occurred at 8:24 A.M., when the engineer of one train failed to see a signal. His train sped into the tunnel and collided with a train stopped inside. Arriving firemen were forced to enter the tunnel through a narrow passageway into nearly pitch darkness. The hissing throb of the damaged steam engine added to the urgency of the situation as firemen worked their way deeper into the tangled cars and began chopping out the trapped survivors. Many firemen were guided to those trapped simply by their cries for help inside the dark trains. With a possible explosion threatening, firemen led away those who could walk and cleared away debris to free those trapped. Walls of train cars were breached by hand with axes to allow access to the injured. The street near the tunnel entrance quickly filled with fire apparatus and a steady stream of ambulances as firemen freed scores of injured passengers. Several trapped and dying persons were given the last rites by an FDNY chaplain as firemen struggled to extricate others pinned nearby. In all, 15 people were killed and 100 were injured, 40 of them seriously. Acting Battalion Chief Thomas Freel and Lieutenant William Clark were cited for their extraordinary bravery and leadership during the rescue operations.

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.