AT THE TIP OF THE LADDER.
THE FIRE CAPTAIN’S STORY.
“We rolled on the third alarm with truck company No. 21 — the hook and ladder. On the way we could see we were facing a terrible situation. The third alarm had rung within five minutes, which indicated a fire of tremendous extent. As we came down the avenue the dense crowd in the streets due to the [St. Patrick’s Day] parade hindered us at first; the people soon made way. We were ordered to swing into Forty-sixth street [Manhattan, New York] at the south end of the [Windsor] hotel. At this time people were being rescued on the Fifth avenue front of the building; but in all that long, seven-story-high brick wall on the Forty-sixth street side of the building there was but one face that of a woman away up on the seventh floor. The battalion chief in charge of that immediate section of the fire ordered us to send up our ladders at once. The fire by this time had gained enormous headway. Behind the front, in all that section of the building, the flames were leaping upwards. We sent up a 65-ft. ladder, the longest we had; but that reached only between the fourth and fifth stories of the hotel. Up went the rescuers to save that woman’s life, the one human being who seemed to be left alive on that side of the building. After the men had started on the ladder, I went up myself, and gained a foothold for the time being on the ledge of a window on the fifth story. It was fortunate 1 did so. There was little smoke; but the flames were roaring through the hall behind the wall. I had seized two scaling-ladders from the truck, and passed them up to the two men assigned to the rescuework. As soon as they reached the tip of the 65-ft. ladder, one of them climbed to the next two stories by means of these scaling-ladders. Let me now say that, in all my experience as a fireman, I never saw a better rescue, nor do I believe that I shall ever see as good a one as this, if T remain in the department for another quarter of a century. When the rescuer reached the topmost round of the ladder, he began to work with two scaling ladders. One of them lie jammed through the plateglass window on the sixth floor, and, climbing up, he thrust the hook of the other ladder through the window of the seventh floor, where the woman waited in awful suspense. He reached her, and, aided by his comrade, began to carry her down. Behind us blazed the fire. The only path to safety was down the sheer wall of the hotel. It was slow, breathless work, and it seemed to me, sitting as 1 was on the ledge of the fifth-story window, that hours and hours must have elapsed before the rescuer could descend from the seventh to the fifth story with his burden of human life. The strain was intense; but it was only a matter of seconds. Just as they were reaching the point where I was waiting to aid them, the lower rung of the lowest scaling-ladder broke, and the section of theladdcr below it fell to the street. I seized the rescuer and steadied him. There we were on this window-ledge trying our utmost to save the woman’s life, and the truth is that she was not wasting her energies by giving the man who had charge of her any particular aid. In one hand she held a bag of jewels; in the other, her pocketbook. I urged her to give me both the jewel-bag and the pocketbook; but even in that crisis it took me some time t6 convince her that I would give the pocketbook back to her, after she had reached the ground. The jewel-bag she would not let go at all. And all this time she wailed over the pet dog which she had been forced to leave behind, and begged me to go and get it. I told her that she herself must be saved, and helped the fireman who made the rescue to get her upon the 65-ft. ladder, at the top of which we were all working. Then she was carried safely to the street. It is strange that people should occupy themselves with small things, when their very lives are at stake. She was in the gravest danger, and yet she clung to that bag of jewels as though her very life depended upon it. When l handed her back the pocketbook, after my duties permitted me to come down to the street, she was still worrying about the dog. She was so much troubled that f called one of my men and asked him if he would not like to take a trip up and get her pet. He said something that sounded like, ‘Nothing would please me more,’ and darted up the ladders for seven stories and brought down the dog. I didn’t mind that so much, because he was a nice little puppy; but what I cannot get over is that the woman trusted me with her money, but not with her jewel-bag. All of which goes to show that human nature is a strange thing.”—“The Firefighters and Their Pets,” by the late Alfred M. Downes.
San Jo«e. Cal., is setting eighty fire hydrants.