Their Excellent Work in New York and Other Places.


As the proposed revocation by Fire Commissioner Sturgis of the license granted to the Manhattan Fire Alarm company, which installs an auxiliary fire alarm system, has created no small sensation, FIRE AND WATER, being anxious to set the whole matter in its true light before the underwriters and public, has been at considerable trouble to obtain all the facts bearing upon the subject, so that a right estimate of the controversy may be formed. Particular attention is called to one phase of the question, which does not seem to have been thoroughly grasped by the public, and is certainly ignored by the daily press of the city—namely, that during the administration of Mayor Strong Fire Commissioners La Grange and Ford granted the Manhattan company permission to connect the auxiliary wires with the street boxes, while Fire Commissioner Sheffield opposed it, but finally voted for granting the license. Commissioner Ford died and was succeeded by Commissioner Sturgis. The presidency went to Mr. Sheffield, who, with Mr. Sturgis, ran the board in a way with which Commissioner La Grange did not agree. It was while Mr. Ford was alive that the trial of Superintendent J. Elliot Smith, of the fire alarm bureau, took place, and the former had the case under advisement at the time of his death. As soon as Commissioner Sturgis took his seat at the board, one of the first acts of the majority, Messrs. Sheffield and Sturgis, was to dismiss the charges against Superintendent Smith. It will be interesting at the present time to note what action Commissioner Sturgis will now take with respect to those whom he then protected, and whom, in spite of the conclusive evidence of the defects in the existing fire alarm system brought forward at the Smith trial, he continued to favor. It is to he assumed that at the public hearings Commissioner Sturgis did his best to justify his recent action. The matter is now in Mayor Low’s hands, and he has requested all concerned to file closing briefs. At the public hearings protests were made against the fire commissioner’s action bv Captain J. W. Miller, general superintendent of the Fall River line; YV. H. Brewer, jr., president of the Washington Life Insurance company, and others who had tested the efficiency of the apparatus. It was noticeable that at those hearings the chief supporters of the fire commissioner were the owners of apartment houses, who objected to being required by the fire department to put in any form of interior fire alarm service; from the automatic companies, who entirely disclaimed any desire to connect with the street boxes, but said that at different times they had been refused the privilege of connecting their private circuits directly with the public fire alarm circuits: and from the Montauk company, which did not object to the Manhattan company being allowed to connect with the boxes, but claimed that it had invented a device, not yet in use, but which it desired to introduce.

But if the apartment houses objected to putting in fire alarms, that was no reason why those who wished for and were ready to pay for the Manhattan service should not be allowed to have it. The Automatic company, it is believed, did not desire to pose as opponents of the Manhattan company. In fact. President Cowles admitted that probably it should not* have the privilege it had asked for at various times in the past, and that it had cheerfully submitted to the department’s ruling. The Manhattan company, also, never objected to any privilege asked for by the Automatic company; that was solely for the department to decide. All. however, who had the slightest knowledge of the subject well knew that electrical connections between private circuits and public fire alarm circuits could not be tolerated, since any accident or disarrangement upon the private circuit would immediately throw the entire public circuit out of service.

To argue that it was right to take away the privilege from the Manhattan company because the Automatic company had been refused an entirely different and impossible form of connection—one which they did not ask for—was absurd. The Manhattan company’s license, as accepted by it, is not exclusive, and when any other company invents, perfects, and proves by actual use elsewhere (for the city of New York is not one in which experiments should or can be carried on without hurt to the public service), then the fire commissioner can grant it similar facilities. But to remove its system and deprive its many patrons of its benefits till that other system is perfected would be absurd and unjust.

The objection urged by Commissioner Sturgis that the privileges granted to the Manhattan company involved an improper use of public property disappeared at the public hearings. On three different occasions Mr. Sturgis asked the representatives of various companies whether, if the Manhattan company were removed from the field, they themselves could not supply all its customers by some form of service of their own. They could manifestly do this only by doing precisely what the Manhattan company is doing, or by some objectionable form of connection with the city circuits. Each one, although differing in details, is equally dependent with the Manhattan upon its connection with the public property. During the hearings the commissioner abandoned the portion above referred to, by suggesting that what he proposed to take away from the Manhattan company should be given to all other companies, and this without regard to the fact that the Manhattan company’s form of connection with the public property has been proven to be in the highest degree beneficial to the public service, while it is equally manifest that the form of connection which he suggested the other companies should make is something which no fire alarm expert would pass upon favorably.

The commissioner produced only one, and rather an unwilling witness, in the person of Fire Marshal Freel, whose testimony had any bearing on the subject. The fire marshal’s evidence against the company’s service was very mild, and was carefully qualified. His testimony was intended to show that on one occasion there was, as he thought, a delay in reaching a fire, because the Manhattan company’s service did not indicate the building—an hotei —in which the fire started. But the owner of the hotel wrote to the company giving very strong testimony as to the efficiency of the service at the date named. It was also attempted to be proved that on two occasions the service had failed to work. The company can show that on each occasion the contrary was the case. At the same time the company does not claim that, because up to the present it has had no failures, it may never have one; only that the electrical and physical conditions under which it operates are such as to render it, with due care, more reliable and more free from interruption by accident than any other existing form of fire alarm service. The evidence of Fire Marshal Freel was too weak to enable the fire commissioner to make out a case in his own favor. To have done so the chief of the fire department, any of the deputy or battalion chiefs, any of the company officers, the chief operator of the city’s fire alarm telegraph bureau, or any of the telegraph employes, with the records of the department, should have been called to testify before the mayor that the Manhattan company’s service had ever interfered with, or endangered the public service in any way. Such testimony, however, was not, as it could not be, adduced. On the contrary, the records of the Manhattan company, which cannot be gainsaid, show what its services have been during the past six years, and these the underwriters know to have been of notable value. And right here it may be pointed out that since Commissioner Sturgis began his action against the Manhattan coihpany on January 2, it has sent in seventeen alarms for fire from hotels, warehouses, factories, places of amusement, hospitals and piers. Had it been installed at the Hoboken piers on Tuesday night, where the night watchman had to run quite a distance before he could turn in an alarm, the loss would certainly have been much less. It is also worthy of special note that between the two hearings given by the mayor on the 10th and 14th, an alarm was sent in every day, and in each case with very important results in reducing the loss. One on March to was from the Leyland Steamship line, pier 50, North River; one on the 12th was from John A. Casey & Co., turpentine and oil manufacturers, Brooklyn, and one of March 13 from the J. & C. Fischer Piano company.

Commissioner Sturgis would justify his position by suggesting that the city could furnish fire alarm boxes instead of the Manhattan company. As a former fire commissioner and for eighteen months chairman of the fire alarm telegraph committee, he knows that to do so would cost the city many millions of dollars, and would involve the entire reconstruction of the public fire alarm telegraph system. The Manhattan company alone can furnish interior fire alarm facilities wherever there are city street boxes, and this at reasonable cost. For the competing companies to do the same thing would entail the installation of trunk lines at a cost of many millions.

Commissioner Sturgis makes the most of the alleged monopoly possessed by the Manhattan system. But the Manhattan’s franchise grants no monopoly or exclusive privileges. Its only monopoly (as President Allen points out) is the “natural one which improved methods and perfected appliances may give, and which it has been the policy of enlightened governments everywhere to encourage.” It has not driven the other three companies out of the business, since all of them are doing a larger business today than in 1895. Commissioner Sturgis claims (though he did not so claim at the public hearings) that all the companies should enjoy these privileges, or none; but as it was impossible for electrical reasons that this should be the case, he resolved to withdraw those of the Manhattan company. But that company has run wires only to about 400 out of the 2,000 or more city alarm boxes, and while it would not be practicable for a competitor to connect with these same boxes, there are still 1,600 available, or, as the company itself has done at its own expense in several cases, it would be easy to erect additional street boxes.”

The truth is the commissioner has given no good reasons—no reasons at all—for the line he has adopted. It may, therefore, be assumed that there is something behind it. Some think light was thrown upon it by Attorney Olcott, who defended J. Elliot Smith, late superintendent of the city’s fire alarm telegraph bureau already referred to. FIRE ANH WATER published a complete review of the case at the time. The conclusion then generally reached by insurance papers was that, with Fire Commissioner La Grange in the minority, Fire Commissioners Sheffield and Sturgis whitewashed Superintendent Smith, and that, in ignoring the overwhelming mass of evidence produced at the trial there was a serious error of judgment and neglect of the public interest. The Gamewell Fire Alarm Telegraph company had no knowledge that Superintendent Smith was to be investigated until it was asked to furnish certain information as to the cost of various apparatus and supplies. The company then took an active interest in the bringing to light the evidence on which the Smith charges were based. Its reasons for so doing were perfectly legitimate, since, during the entire period ci Mr. Smith’s control of the telegraph department, he had prevented the Gamewell company from supplying any apparatus, in spite of the fact that the Gamewell company was a New York organisation, composed of wellknown and prominent and representative business men, and that the company had furnished during the past thirty years, more than ninety per cent, of all the fire alarm and police telegraph systems used in the United States outside of New York city. Mr. Smith had insisted that an obsolete type of fire alarm street box, dating as far back as 1869, those of Frederick Pearce, should be installed, instead of the improved and modernised boxes, used in every other city, and nearly all of the Gamewell manufacture, whereas the Pearce boxes of the style of 1869 could not be found in use anywhere outside of New York city. And here it may be noticed that the Pearce company has also an automatic system of its own in use in this city, and is not favorably disposed to the Manhattan or the Gamewell companies. It might, therefore, be that Commissioner Sturgis is influenced by personal feeling against the Manhattan company for what he considers its responsibility in bringing out the facts as to the utter unreliability of the Pearce boxes and the line adopted by Superintendent Smith—facts which at the time caused serious adverse criticism to be passed upon Commissioners Sheffield and Sturgis.


Manhattan and Brooklyn boroughs. New York city: Y’onkers, N. Y.; New Haven. Bridgeport, Ansonia. Conn.; Jersey City. Newark, Paterson, Passaic, N. J.: Reading. Harrisburg, Easton, Allentown, Pa.: Washington, D. C.: Wilmington, Del.; Cleveland. Ohio: Detroit. Grand Rapids, Mich.; Milwaukee, Wis.: Seattle, Wash.; San Francisco. Cal.


A recent fire at the Dock street warehouse of C. J. Webb & Co.. Philadelphia, demonstrated the value of the automatic fire alarm protection furnished by the United Pneumatic Fire Alarm Telegraph company. The operation of the automatic system called the fire department to the warehouse, through the central office of the Pneumatic Fire Alarm company. No. 608 Chestnut street, at 6.10 p. m. At that time the fire had not advanced far enough for the firemen to locate it exactly: but, when it finally did break out in flames, the firemen were on the ground and quickly had the fire under control. This accounts for the comparatively small loss, considering that there was more than $500,000 worth of property in danger.

While trying to remove the live stock from the burning barn of his widowed mother fifteen-year-old Thomas Dunn, of YVestboro, Mo., was caught beneath the falling debris and burned to death. Lightning caused the fire.




On Monday afternoon Mayor Low gave a hearing on the subject of the line of action pursued by Fire Commissioner Sturgis. In opening the hearing Mayor Low stated that the permit granted the company in 1895 was revocable at the pleasure of the fire department, and that it gave the company neither vested right nor exclusive franchise. Commissioner Sturgis, therefore, in his discretion had revoked the permit. He added that the burden of proof lay with the company to show what public good was served by its auxiliary alarm system. Colonel Joel B. Erhardt, for the company, showed that in 1895 the board of fire commissioners, of whom Commissioner Sturgis himself was one, had granted the license to the company after careful and thorough investigation of every electrical, mechanical, and technical point relating to the service. Corporation Counsel Scott had also stated at the same time that it was perfectly legal to permit the company to attach its wires to the city boxes. He added that at the hearing before Commissioner Sturgis the company’s representatives had asked him for his objections to the system or to the renewal of the permit, and that he had replied that he wanted to hear from the company. On the following morning, without any hearing. he revoked the permit. The effect of this. Colonel Erhardt said, would be to destroy the business of the company. He stated that the law required fire alarm boxes or signaling systems in certain buildings and authorised the commissioner to exercise his discretion in the matter of regulating them. He submitted that doing nothing was not exercising a discretion. Referring to the petition which the company was ready to present from all lessees of docks and from the owners of all buildings where it is now installed, asking that the system he continued, he said that, if the commissioner had any complaint the company was readv for the fullest investigation. The system, he said, did not interfere in any way with the wires of the fire department.

Speaking as an individual. Mr. Hall, of the board of underwriters, said that, when this system was first submitted to the hoard, all the members were opposed to it. but, after their experts had investigated it thoroughly, every member favored it. Rebates were granted on insurance wherever auxiliary alarm systems are used. He added that the system of the Manhattan company was exceedingly efficient and that it in no way impaired the general fire alarm system, and that the fact that a merchant had the system in his store gave him a certain amount of credit in his insurance rating. He considered the system of sufficient importance to receive the fullest investigation and one which should not he destroyed by the fiat of an executive officer.

President Stover, of the Gamewell Fire Alarm company, and treasurer of the Manhattan company, spoke at great length as an expert. He described the system of the Manhattan company in technical detail, and said it was the best yet devised. The cost of house signals was $144 a year wlftm the company entered the field in 1895 and now it was supplying buildings at charges ranging from $-0 to $60 a year. He added that, if this company was cut off as the commissioner proposed, the buiness would again he in the hands of a monopoly.

Mr. W. M. K. Olcott. counsel for the Montauk hire Detecting company, said that, if the wires of the city were to he used by private corporations for profit, the right should be sold at auction to the highest bidder. Such a privilege should be made a franchise and opened to the fullest competition He said his company had .000.000 capital, and was willing to pay for a franchise for the use of the citv s wires as they are now used hv the Manhattan company.

Former Congressman Adams, speaking for the Manhattan company, said that no person who had used that system had complained of it nor asked that the permit be revoked. He said the matter had been most carefully investigated by former Fire Chief Bonner, by Mayor Strong and his fire commissioners, and that finally the court of Appeals had affirmed the right of the company to use the wires.

Messrs. Bouvier and Tompkins, representing respectively other two companies of a similar kind in the city, one of which, the Pearce company, has its own system, with its own wires leading into the engine houses, stated that all either company desired was that all the companies should be placed on an equality.

Mr. Stover, in reply, said that the gist of the whole matter was that three other companies in the same line of business wanted the right to use the fire department wires as the Manhattan company uses th£m. He said that if the city wanted to grant that privilege his company would have very little to say against it. He said that the only monopoly enjoyed by his company was a monopoly of some patents on the drivers they used. “But if you open ibis business to any great number of companies (he added), it will not he well done. There is not enough profit in the business.”

Tt was noticeable that during the entire hearing no one appeared in justification of the commissioner’s action in cutting off the Manhattan service, although representatives of several other companies were present to ask that additional privileges to those which they now enjoyed he granted them.


At an interview Mr. Stover spoke as follows:

“We have tried our best to find out what objections the fire commissioner has against our concern, hut he has declined to talk on that point. I have no idea why he has revoked our license. Our system was thoroughly tested by the fire commissioners in 1895. and was adopted as the most efficient signal service then known. It is the best in the market today. Corporation Counsel Scott said that it was perfectly legal to attach our wires to the city boxes. The service is used in nine hundred buildings in the city, and twenty-five hundred boxes are in operation. Eighty-two alarms were turned in last year through the system. In every case several minutes were saved. The company is composed of New York business men. We court thorough investigation, but the ornortunity to demonstrate that the system has no defects has not been afforded 11s. The company has reduced the cost of house signals from $144 a year to $fo. We have several competitors, and. therefore, we have no monopoly of the business.”


Commissioner Sturgis, on being interviewed, said that the exclusive privilege to connect its fire alarm lines with the boxes of the city was granted to the Manhattan Fire Alarm company in 1895 by the board of commissioners under Mayor Strong. This license had enabled the company to form a monopoly and partially to drive out of business three older companies—namely, the Special Building Signal company, the Automatic company, and the Pneumatic company. These older companies, he said, had gone to the expense of building their own underground lines to the department, while the Manhattan company, by special arrangement, was enabled to use. without cost, the entire alarm system of the fire department. The Manhattan company. Commissioner Sturgis added, had further used this privilege for purposes of oppression against many owners of buildings. having succeeded in forcing the owners of buildings to adopt the use of their device, for which they charged the exorbitant rate of $50 a box a year. The actual cost of a box is $2.

The commissioner said that many protests from the companies thus deprived of a fair, competitive opportunity, and from many bodies of citizens both in the lower part of the city, representing large office buildings, and on the East and West sides, representing apartment buildings, had been received. These owners had been sued by the fire department under Scanned at the instance of the Manhattan comoany to force the introduction of its socalled private alarm boxes. Scores of such suits, said the commissioner. are now in the hands of the corporation counsel, who called the commissioner’s attention to the fact and recommended their discontinuance as being a needless, oppressive exaction and reouirement. “The people of the city (Commissioner Stnr eis wound un by saying) need not fear that the revoking of this license will diminish the facilities for sending fire alarms to the department. The Manhattan comoany can either hire lines in the subways or build its own: or if it doesn’t, the service it is furnishing will be furnished by other companies anxious and competent to do it. I stand ready to provide whatever additional city boxes are necessary.”

It is noticeable that Mr. Sturgis, though requested to do so. did not give the Manhattan company these reasors or any reasons at all before revoking its license.