NEW ORLEANS, LA., FIRE DEPRTMENT.
ON the disbandment of the Volunteer fire department in 1891, the first step towards the establishment of a paid department was the appropriation by the city council of $247,000 to defray the annual cost, and $155,000 for the purchase of apparatus. This was finally approved on September 23, 1891. when an ordinance was signed appointing a board of ten fire commissioners to be elected by the city council, two commissioners at large to serve seven years, the commissioner of police, to serve ex officio; the other seven to retire one each year, succeeded by a commissioner chosen by the city council. The mayor of the city was to be ex officio president of the board. The commissioners were to appoint all the officers and employes of the department as constituted by the Ordinance; but all the officers and employes of the fire department in the seven districts were to be retained in their positions, as far as was practicable, with Thomas O’Connor as chief of the seven districts, and each of the other district chiefs as district, or assistant engineer. By Ihis section,a very just and deserved personal tribute was paid to the individuals in the service of the old department, and the best possible recognition was given to the Firemen’s Charitable Association in respect of the quality of the men it had selected to do the work. The remaining sections of the ordinance followed very nearly the regulations already in force with the old department.
The new commissioners began their work in December, 1891. A special committee of the city council appraised, and took over the apparatus, etc., of the old department, which was in such excellent condition as to enable the association to make a very favorable settlement with the city. The first open meeting of the new commissioners was held on Decernber 7, 1891, and the business transacted consisted mainly of the election of officers and men of the several companies—a process which was repeated at successive meetings till the force was complete. At noon on December 15, 1891, the fire bells in the city struck a special signal, on which the new captains stepped into the engine houses, and took possession of them and their contents in the name of the city. From that moment the Firemen’s Charitable Association ceased to exist as the exponent of the fire department of New Orleans. The people and press of the city gave the old department an apfectionate farewell, and dwelt kindly on the memories of the glorious past.
But the Volunteer department was not to be allowed to pass tamely off the scene. A cyclone storm of wind and rain accompanied by the tragic death of a volunteer fireman, was the setting prepared by Nature for this dramatic close of the long career of the old department, which had one last call of duty to fulfil before its departure from the sphere of its former labors and triumphs. The members had industriously cleaned up every piece of machinery in their houses on the night of December 14, and were sitting up recalling old times and speculating on the new regime which was to be inaugurated on the morrow, when suddenly at 1:40 a. m. of that morrow an alarm was sounded from box 14, calling the engines to No. 56 South Peters street. A fearful storm of rain and wind was raging; but the engines rolled out, fully expecting to find the fire had been quenched by the torrents from the heavens It was not so. however, and the men found a fierce blaze. The operations of the extension ladder were interfered with by the mass of electric wires overhead. Columbia No. 5 was the first to get to work. A pipe was advanced by Pipeman Matthew Hannan, who asked Chief O’Connor, his old friend and associate, to hold the pipe while he changed his headgear. The chief did so, but, as he held the nozzle, the stream came in contact with a live electric wire, and suddenly he was nearly thrown from his feet by a violent electric shock. As Chief O’Connor was dragging the hose across the sidewalk to the door of the building, he narrowly escaped fresh and possibly fatal contact with the dangling and broken wire as he passed under it. Just then Hannan, who was about to take the hose, came in contact with the wire, and, with an exclamation of agony, he fell dead, striking, as he fell, the body of Chief O’Connor, who received a second shock through Hannan’s body. As soon as possible, the lifeless body was freed from the death-dealing wires, which were at once cut down. The poor scorched body was removed and cared for, while the other men were for the moment unnerved and panic-stricken by the dread of a like fate lurking in the fatal wires. They soon recovered, however, and got the fire under, only to be recalled in an hour or two by a second alarm from the same box to another fire a few doors above, where again the wires, together with the exhaustion of the men, interfered with the work, which, nevertheless, was accomplished. The deceased fireman’s memory was duly honored at the time, as well as afterwards, at the last annual meeting of the Firemen’s Charitable Association on December 26, 1891, when the con” nection of the Firemen’s Charitable Association with the fire department of New Orleans ceased.
(To be continued.)