Fire at Height of Hurricane Endangers New London
One Million Dollar Loss and Sixty-Seven Buildings Burned Toll of Great Blaze in Connecticut City
Courtesy of Hartford Times
THE most devastating fire in the history of New London, Conn., roared through the central business and waterfront sections of this famous old whaling port, picturesque and aloof as a landmark of early America, during the height of the hurricane that swept along the New England coastline on September 21.
The fire started shortly after 4:30 p.m., almost simultaneously in the three story brick wholesale grocery plant occupied by the firm of Humphrey & Cornell, on Sparyard Street, which runs easterly from Bank Street to the waterfront docks, and in the plant of the Putnam Furniture Company on Bank Street.
An entire block of business establishments was leveled along with a number of waterfront blocks, entailing damage estimated at $1,000,000. A total of 67 buildings were either totally or partially destroyed. Among those entirely gutted by fire were Humphrey & Cornell, grocers; Putnam Furniture Company, Sisk & Co., manufacturers of pharmaceutical supplies; F. H. & A. H. Chappell Company, coal and lumber dealers; Les & Chappell, wholesale paint dealers; Plautt-Cadden Company, furniture warehouse; Easton-Wilson Company, hardware dealers; McCarthy Coal Company, Nassetta Brothers, manufacturers of window frames; Thompson’s Garage and 30 automobiles and Veterans of Foreign Wars Building.
Fire Station Destroyed
The two story brick fire station, occupied by Niagara Engine Company No. 1, was destroyed with a loss of 2,000 feet of 2 1/2-inch hose, stored on racks in the basement. The Niagara Station, located in the path of the flames on Bank Street, was the city’s oldest fire house. It was built in 1863, during the latter part of the Civil War.
At the time of the fire, the apparatus was out of quarters, aiding in combating the flames. Equipment for receiving alarms was also consumed in the fire.
From its start on the shorefront, the fire worked its way two blocks inland to Bank Street, the city’s main thoroughfare. New London firemen, left to battle the fire at first, with its roster of 22 paid men and a few volunteers, fought valiantly against a wind that was blowing from the southwest at a force of 70 miles an hour.
Summons Help by Automobile
When Chief Thomas H. Shipman arrived on the scene, shortly after the alarm was received at Headquarters on Union Street, he immediately ordered a general alarm and directed Switchboard Operator Joseph Sheehan to request aid from nearby towns. On the first alarm Engine Companies 1, 2 and 5 and Truck Company 1 responded.
On the general alarm Engines 3, 6 and 7 and Truck Company 2 responded. Operator Sheehan, unable to contact outside help by telephone, owing to all wires being out of commission, left his switchboard in charge of an assistant and sped by automobile to the town of Waterford, three miles south of New London, to summon aid. The Jordan Fire Company, Goshen Volunteer Company and Oswegatchie Fire Company No. 4, of Waterford, responded with men and apparatus, but were handicapped enroute due to the roads being littered with falling trees and debris.
The Goshen Fire Department, located across the Thames River from New London, also responded to the fire.
High Winds Spread Fire
Due to the gale and high winds, efforts of the firemen proved futile in preventing the spread of the flames from the waterfront. Quick thinking on the part of Chief Shipman stopped the progress of the fire from going to the south end of the city, when he ordered firemen to enter a three story brick building in the path of the flames and break all fused heads in the sprinkler system, thus allowing the building to become flooded before the fire reached it. This formed a water curtain and stopped the fire from its journey southward on Bank Street.
Before the force of the wind had abated, fires broke out in many sections of the city, adding horror to an already appalling situation. Fire Companies were made almost helpless by the condition of the streets. In desperation the firemen and civilians fought to control the flames, which might have meant destruction to this Connecticut seaport town and shore resort.
National Guard, Sailors and Marines Help
With the crippled communications available, frantic calls were sent to Governor Wilbur L. Cross, asking him to send a unit of the National Guard to protect the city against pillage and maintain order. Sailors and marines from the United States Naval Base, at the north end of the city, aided in the fight against the fire and helped in keeping order in the frightstricken city.
The fire was brought under control at midnight, after eight hours of continuous pouring of water into the buildings. City officials were high in their praise of Chief Shipman and his men, for their work in keeping the city from total destruction. Seven firemen were injured, none seriously.
Hose and Apparatus in Service
The department used 22,000 feet of 2 1/2-inch cotton rubber lined hose. Twenty-one lines were laid into the fire. The sizes of nozzles were 1 1/4 and 1 1/8, with average hydrant pressure of 65 pounds from 16-inch mains.
Apparatus in service was as follows :
Four Seagrave pumpers, three of 750-gallon capacity and one of 600-gallon capacity (Jordan Fire Company); three American-LaFrance pumpers, one 1,000-gallon, two 750-gallon (Groton Fire Company and Oswegatchie No. 3); one Ahrens-Fox pumper, 900-gallon; one Buffalo pumper, 600-gallon (Goshen Fire Company); one 75-foot Seagrave aerial ladder truck, one city service Seagrave ladder truck, one AmericanLaFrance hose wagon carrying 1,000 feet of 2 1/2-inch hose and 300 feet of 1 1/2-inch hose.