How New York Fought Election Fires
Perhaps no city in these United States is the scene of as many bonfires on the night of Election Day as is New York. For years it has been traditional to store away tons of wood for days in advance in preparation for Election Night. This year, however, Chief McElligott requested and received the aid of the Department of Sanitation in the form of eighty-six flushing trucks.
It was the first time that the Street Cleaning Department aided the Fire Department in that manner. The trucks were assigned to the neighborhods that have been notorious for their bonfires and for gang bravado. To each flusher was assigned a policeman and a fireman. The latter was required to wear his fire hat. Trucks were driven by Sanitation Department chauffeurs.
There were 1,670 bonfires in New York on Election Night, although the election from the standpoint of political importance embraced chiefly one local important contest. Of the 1,670 bonfires, 870 were extinguished by flushing trucks, 271 by hose wagons, 206 by pumpers, 177 by police and 146 by firemen on street patrol.
Lieut. William J. Fealy, Supervising Engineer of the Fire Department was in the field supervising the work of the flushing machines. He reported that in some instances the fiushers revisited the same locations as many as six and seven times and extinguished as many fires during the course of the evening. The worst district was in the East Harlem section of Manhattan where the denizens of that locality usually celebrate such an event. Tenement district in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Bronx boroughs showed the greatest bonfire activity. It is estimated that approximately $100,000 in street paving repairs was averted by the activity of the flushing trucks. It likewise indicates that hundreds of bonfires were extinguished without fire alarm or responses by fire apparatus.
To cope with this annual emergency, the Fire Commissioner suspended the two-platoon system for the evening. The platoon that ordinarily would report at six o’clock in the evening, came on at 5 instead. Each engine company comprising a pumper and a hose wagon was split into two units for the emergency—the hose wagon responding on telephone call for bonfires, the pumper being reserved for straight box alarms. The last due engine company, truck company and battalion chief were relieved from responding on first alarm, as were deputy chiefs, rescue companies, towers, and fireboats. Firemen were assigned to unoccupied commercial and residential buildings to prevent hoodlums from raiding the premises for firewood. The high pressure fire service was maintained at seventy-five pounds from 5 o’clock until midnight, thereby eliminating the necessity of many starts and stops of the pumps.