New York City Fire Department

New York City Fire Department

Commissioner Thomas J. Drennan has recently made his annual report for 1919 to Mayor Hylan, and a few of the outstanding facts of the activities of the department will be of interest.

The two-platoon system has been established gradually in the department, and by October 1, 1920. will have been fully established. At the close of 1919 substantially 66% of the apparatus in the service was motorized, and when delivery is made of those contracted for, 80% will be motorized. All horse-drawn apparatus has been replaced in the Borough of Manhattan.

The fire loss for New York City in 1919 was $112,488,258, or a loss per capital of $2.08. The number of fires was 13,429, a decrease over last year. 146 persons were injured at fires and 67 persons killed or died from injuries. The attention of the public is called to these four facts as having great significance:

  1. Three-fourths of the fires in buildings in 1919, occurred in people’s homes; that is. in tenements, dwellings, and furnished room and bearding houses. Factory buildings had only about 11% of the total.
  2. The largest single cause of fires last year was the careless use of cigars, cigarettes, and smoking pipes. Over one-fourth of all fires in New York in 1919, resulted from this and two other ferms of easily avoidable carelessness—the careless handling of matches, and children playing with matches and fire.
  3. Three-fourths of the total loss of life in fires last year Occurred in fires in people’s homes, tenements, dwellings, and furnished room and boarding houses. Less than 10% occurred in factory fires.
  4. The largest single cause of these deaths was the ignition of gasoline, benzine, and alcchol vapers, practically always due to a care less or ignorant handling of these substances in people’s homes. Among the other causes of fatal fires were children playing with matches, careless handling of matches, upset ting kerosene oil lamps, pouring kerosene oil on fires in stoves, and similar forms of avoid able carelessness.

The Automobile School and the Fire College, both established in 1911, are continuing their specialized instruction.




The extent of the territory and the vast property interests that the fire, department of the city of New York is called upon to protect in the Boroughs of Manhattan and The Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Richmond, impart to its operations special interest, while its direction involves responsibilities and demands knowledge and experience of the highest order.

The practical direction of the affairs and operations of the department has been for a number of years vested in Edward F. Croker, as chief of department, who has succeeded by his executive management, no less than by his ability and signal success as a fire-fighter and his reputation as a disciplinarian in winning and retaining the confidence alike of the community at large, as well as of the municipal government and the great insurance interests, to whom his capability means so much.

Chief Croker is fortunate in enjoying, in his immediate subordinates, tin’ assistance of experienced firemen of the highest practical attainments, 011 whose conscientious and able assistance lie has learned to rely. In command of the Boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens is Deputy Chief Thomas Lally, a fireman for nearly forty years, while Deputy Chiefs Frank J. Duffy, John J. Burns, Frederic Y. Gooderson, James F. Murray and John O’Hara have won their way to their present positions as the result of a successful apprenticeship in the lower grades. Speaking of the high-pressure water service installed in the business sections of Manhattan and Brooklyn, and more recently in the combustible aggregation of buildings that crowd “Coney Island” in the last-named city, the report says: “It has added immensely to the effectiveness of the fire extinguishing means and facilities of this department, augmenting as it does by 35,000 gallons per minute the volume of water available in the high-pressure zones of the Boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn, thus placing at the disposal of the department, in connection with the fireboat service, a flow of upwards of 100.000 gallons of water per minute.”

NICHOLAS J. HAYES Fire Commissioner New York City.

The rei>orl of Fire Commissioner Nicholas J. Hayes, of the lire department of the City of New York for the year ending December 31, 1908, recently published in book form, makes a volume of nearly 100 pages, in which some pertinent and interesting information regarding the organization, condition and work of this important body, is to be found. The uniformed force of Greater New York on December 31, 1008, numbered 4,241 officers and men. 128 more than at the close of the preceding year. This force, assigned to 47 battalions and forming 13 divisions, was distributed in am stations, fifteen more than at the end of the preceding year, and comprising 171 engine companies, of which 80 are equipped with Amer ioan-LaFrance engines. 30 with the Clapp & Jones make; 8. V S Nott Co.: 6, International; !. Ahrens; t, Amoskeag; 2. Fire Engine Mfg. t 2. Kumsey & Co.; 1, Babcock. Of the 73 hook and ladder companies. 22 have Gleason & Bailey apnaratus, IS American-LaFrnnce, 7 Rutu-ey. tl Scagrave. s International Fire Engine t o. :t l ire Engine Mfg Co., 2 Fire Extinguisher Mfg. Co., 2 Bangor Ladder Co., 2 Fire Department Repair Shops. New York: I Huepner & YVuest, and 1 Jos. S. Smith. There are also 9 hose companies which, with 4 water towers. 3 searchlight engines and a fleet of ten fireboats, constitute the regular firefighting equipment of the greater city, together with several turret deck hose wagons, horse-drawn and automobile, for the high-pressure service and to act as auxiliaries, in conjunction with the fireboats, where fires are near enough to the water front to permit of their use.

During the year 1908, the only new apparatus received by the department were three high-pressure hose wagons for use in the Borough of Manhattan. There were also received 156,550 feet of hose of various brands and sizes for use in the several boroughs for ordinary fire extinguishing purposes, 21,750 feet of which were rejected; and 67,650 feet for use in connection with the high pressure system in the Borough of Manhattan, and 15,550 feet for a similar purpose in the Borough of Brooklyn, of which 5,500 feet for Manhattan use and 2,500 feet for Brooklyn use were rejected for non-conformity with the specifications of the contracts. The rejected hose has been required to be replaced.

For the protection of Brooklyn and Queens, 1,642 officers and men are assigned, their equipment consisting of 72 engines, 2 fireboats, 29 hook and ladder companies and 8 hose companies, the 111 companies being divided into 22 battalions.

The horses owned by the department of Greater New Y’ork on Dec. 31, 1908, were 828 in number, compared with 804 Dec. 31, 1907. During the year, the department lost 01 horses by death, sale or .superannuation, seventeen of those that died having been killed or so badly maimed as to necessitate their destruction, while responding to alarms of fire.

The volunteer system of fire protection is still in existence in two of the boroughs, Richmond and Queens. In the former there are 13 volunteer companies, with a total estimated membership of ass. Queens now has 41 volunteer companies, with 1.700 officers and men. The paid department was extended to Flushing and College I’oint in this borough last year, three engines, two hook and ladder and two hose companies being stationed in these sections.

The department is officered, as to the uniformed force, by a chief, seven deputy chiefs of department, 31 chiefs of battalion. 136 foremen or captains, and 221 assistant foremen or lieutenants. There are in addition 2 chaplains and 6 medical officers, besides engineers of steamers and pilots of fireboats, etc. W ith the staffs of the fire alarm telegraph bureau, the repair shops, hospital and training -table force, etc., and the various bureaux subsidiary to the department, the total force in Manhattan and The Bronx is brought up to 2.984. of whom 2,606 belong to the firefighting force. Of firemen of the first grade there were 1.218: of the second grade. 204; third grade. 331 ; fourth grade, 178, and probationary firemen, 6.

The water front of New Y’ork, the shipping, etc., is specially protected by a fleet of ten fireboats. one of the best equipped stations in the city being located at Bier No. 1. North River.

The names of the boats are: the “Zophar Mills. 183 tons, 575 horse-power: pumping capacity, 3.000 gallons per minute: Clapp & Jones pinups; built and equipped at a total cost of $57,200, and known as Engine 51.

The “New Yorker,” Engine 57: 243 tons: 800 horse-power; pumping capacity. 13,000 gallons per minute: American-LaFrance and Clapp & Jones pumps; cost $98,250.

“William L. Strong,” Engine 66: 338 horsepower : pumping capacity. 6.500 gallons per minute : cost $54,490.

“Abram S. Hewitt.” Engine 77: 649 horsepower ; pumping capacity. 7.920 gallons per minute: total cost, $83,750.

“George B. McClellan,” 650 horse-power; pumping capacity. 6.000 gallons per minute: American Fire Engine Co. pumps; cost. $

“James Duane.” Engine 85; 222 tons: 800 horse-power; pumping capacity. 11.000 gallons per minute; contract price. $118,925.

“Thomas Willett.” Engine 86; 222 tons: son horse-power; pumping capacity, 11,000 gallons tier minute: contract price. $118,925.

“Cornelius W. Lawrence.” Engine 87: 117 tons: 500 horse-power: pumping capacity, 7.000 gallons per minute.

The three last named boats were added in 190$. and the fleet is completed hv two boats specially assigned to the protection of the Brooklyn water front, the “Seth Low.” Engine 123. 92.72 tons: 265 horse-power: pumping capacity, 3.500 gallons per minute, Clapp & Jones pumps.

The “David A. Boody,” Engine 132; 93.57 tons; 240 horse-power; pumping capacity, 6,500 gallons per minute; American Fire Engine Company pumps.

The combined pumping capacity of the fireboat fleet is about 78,000 gallons per minute, equal to that of 130 land engines (allowing an average of (i()0 gallons per minute for each engine), or almost equal to the entire land force of the Boroughs of Manhattan, The Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens. It is within bounds to say that there is now no harbor in the world with fire protection equal to that enjoyed by New York harbor and the adjacent waters, and that the department is fully prepared to safeguard the 153 miles of water-front of the greater city, with its vast shipping interests and its immense store of valuable merchandise.

EDWARD F. CROKER. Chief New York Fire Department.

The total cost to the greater city of this system. according to the appropriations for the year, including transfers, was $8,011,264. of which $7,449,417 was paid out on vouchers certified to by the comptroller, leaving a balance of $561,847. It is also proposed to add to the fireboat service a light-draught boat, for Jamaica Bay, that would prove of great value in the protection of property at Rockaway Beach and the rapidly growing section adjacent to the bay.

The apparatus, hose and equipment of the department. according to the report, are in excellent condition and fully adequate for all purposes. The hose probably holds a leading place in the equipment of every fire department, and the report shows that the total number of lengths of hose in service with companies of the New York tire department, at the date of its compilation, was 6,397. The amount of hose purchased during the current year was 2.169 lengths, much of it for use in connection with the high-pressure service, and 1.528 lengths were condemned, leaving the amount in service at the commencement of the current year greater, by 7 per cent., than at the beginning of the preceding year.

During the year 14.293 alarms of fire were responded to. an increa-c of 440. as compared with the previous vear. Of these alarms 8.642 in volved the extinguishment of fires, the total loss resultant from which was $6,197,893, a decrease, as compared with the preceding year, of $227,334, in spite of the larger number of fires handled.

But the figures give an utterly inadequate idea of tin.’ work the department is called upon to periorm. The report embodies a list of notable fires, tlie first in order, which we quote, affording a faint indication of what is to be done in protecting a city like New York from conflagration. The report, which is of the fire in the Parker building, reads as follows: January 10, 8:02 p. m., Station 361. The fire occurred at Nos. 225 to 233 Fourth avenue, a 12-story brick building, 125 by 150 feet, occupied by woollen merchants. The lire originated on the sixth floor and extended throughout building by stairways, elevator shafts and pipe recesses; damage considerable. Chief officers present were Acting Chief of Department John Binns, Deputy Chiefs of Department Langford and Martin, Chiefs of Battalion Shay, Ross, Skelly, Worth and Norton. The services of 25 engine companies, Search Light Engine Companies 1 and 2, 6 hook and ladder companies and water towers 1, 2 and 3 were required, and the duration of fire was 8 hours. Cause unknown. At 8:12 p. m., 8:13 p. m., 8:38 p. m. and 9:50 p. m., respectively, the second, third, fourth and fifth alarms were sent out. Fireman third grade Thomas F. Phillips, Engine Company 72, and Fireman fourth grade George A. O’Connor, Engine Company 72, were killed in the discharge of their duty at this fire.

The report contains a large amount of tabulated and statistical matter, showing in detail the condition and work of the department, as well as the reports in full of the fire alarm telegraph bureau, the bureau of combustibles, the bureau of the fire marshal, the medical officers, the superintendent of buildings,, and other protective agencies that come within the field of the depart incut’s activity.

As bearing upon the causes of fires and measures. legislative and otherwise, to be adopted for their prevention, the supplementary report of the bureau of fire marshal, which is as follows, possesses particular interest:

“We have been proceeding under section 780, chapter 466, Laws of 1901, against wooden dumbwaiter shafts, and have been issuing orders compelling owners to make same fireproof. The Harlem Real Estate Owners’ Association questioned our power to proceed against owners under the provisions of this section and brought the case to court, where a decision was rendered in their favor. The Corporation Counsel appealed tincase and the decision was reversed by the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court. The action was then taken to the Court of Appeals, which upheld the contention of the Harlem Real Estate Owners’ Association and decided against the city.

“tin account of the dangerous conditions exist ing in premises where the dumbwaiter shafts are not fireproofed and the number of deaths ensuing from the quick spread of fire through same, I would respectfully recommend that an act be introduced in the legislature amending said section and giving the fire commissioner authority to compel owners of houses wherein dumbwaiters are situated to make same fireproof.

“In the investigation of suspicious fires, and those of magnitude or importance, over two thousand witnesses were subpoenaed to headquarters and examined by me, their testimony being taken in shorthand. This testimony was typewritten. when found necessary, to be used in the prosecution of cases by the District Attorney or to he placed on file in this office for future reference.

“I deem it proper to call your attention to several matters which came under observation during the investigation of some important fires of the year. I was informed that in many buildings it is no uncommon thing for the watchman detailed thereto to have no access to the premises of the concerns occupying the different lofts, his patrol being confined to the hallways or other public parts of the building, and his employment being practically for protection against theft. 1 think this a most serious condition of affairs to exist in any business building, as a fire would assuredly have attained great headway before the attention or help of the department could be invoked by the watchman. In one of the recent disastrous conflagrations the conditions as here stated were testified to by the watchman of the building.

“In another case of a large fire the firemen upon arrival had to bore and tear through a wall to gain access to the burning loft, which loft had been provided with an iron door stronglv barred with patent bolts: the delay from these conditions caused, as might be expected, great spread of fire. For this reason provisions for access to premises in time of fire should be kept in mind by merchants and manufacturers, while safeguarding their property against burglary.

“During the year quite a number of fires oc curred in buildings vacated to be demolished, t hese fires were set by boys or tramps in the vicinity, who found entrance to the buildings through broken doors or windows. Owners of such buildings should in a measure be held responsible for damage to surrounding property caused by these fires for their negligence in not boarding up doors and windows secure against access of this type of incendiaries, it is also to be noted that the number of fires of fences, shanties, and in some cases buildings, ignited by sparks or heat from bonfires made by boys in streets or open lots, is on the increase, as are also tires occurring in public school buildings. The attention of school principals should be called to this fact with recommendations that pupils be u anted of the danger of this mischievousness and of the penalties enacted by law for wilful – destruction of property by fire or attempt thereat. In several communications to the department of education 1 have already advocated that a stricter vigilance be kept by teachers and janitors over all pupils at times of arrival and of departure from class rooms.

The cause of many fires in the year was carelessness in connection with the smoking of cigars and cigarettes. It was often found upon examination that occupants of premises made it a custom to smoke while lying in bed or on a couch near curtains; as a result, lire was caused by negligence in disposing of cigar or cigarette stubs.

“1 would also recommend that toilets in factor} buildings be in a place elsewhere than beneath stairways, as fires occurring in them through carelessness with matches or in smoking easily spread up the stairways and throughout the build ing. Also the practice of using kerosene oil for kindling, fires in stoves and the use of inflam mabic oils for cleaning purposes, especially in hallways, should be prohibited. Another cause of many fires is the habit of parents leaving their children alone in their apartments while out on nearby errands. During their absence a lire is liable to be caused by the children playing with matches or with fire at the cost of many lives.

“In conclusion, your attention is again called to the loose methods still in vogue with insur ance companies in the issuance of policies, many agents of the companies giving policies without considering the risk or moral hazard involved. Cases have, time and again, come to my knowl edge where a party having a fire possessed insurance to the amount of three or four times the total value of his property. Fires also happened where several persons have occupied in common one suite of apartments as boarders or lodgers, each holding a policy, and whose effects, representing little or no value, were well covered by insurance. I think insurance officials should exercise a closer watch on their agents in these particulars and issue a policy only after a certified inspection by one of their own examiners.

“I would also suggest for the consideration of all fire insurance companies that a paster notice be printed in rather prominent type of those sections of the Penal Code relative to arson and its penalties to be affixed to all policies issued. I am of the opinion this procedure would serve in a great measure as a deterrent to many criminally inclined and to a great many others entirely ignorant of the laws relating to the crime of arson and its punishment.”

Another officer of the department whose operations tending to prevent fires are of great importance to the city, is the inspector of combustibles, whose bureau, by the provisions of section 727 of the Greater New York Charter, is charged with the execution of all laws relating to the storage, sale and use of combustible material in the city of New York. It therefore devolves upon it not only to supervise the matter of the storage, sale, manufacture and use of combustibles and explosives, including all hazardous liquids and solids, but also to determine the ques tions of locality and the regulation of quantity arising in connection therewith. This bureau also carefully inquires into all complaints of dangerous conditions arising under the provisions of the lawreferred to. and which may he received from state and city officials, from officers of the uniformed force of this department anil from civilian sources, and the cause of complaint, should it appear on investigation to be well grounded, is either abated or removed in accord ance with the requirements of the particular case. During the year covered by this report there were o,4o8 ot .such complaints received and disposed of. I he of 142 officers and members of the

I he names of 142 officers and members of the umioimed mice, inscribed on the roll of merit, or meritorious acts performed during the year 1908, are inciuucd m tne report, which also gives the names ot the following officers and men, to whom were presented, on the recommendation ot tlie board ot merit, medals tor acts of conspicuous bravery and that ot the foreman of the com pally adjudged by the board to have been the nest disciplined during the preceding year:

class a.—Bennett Medal, io fireman first (then second} grade John I. Oakley, at the time ot hook and ladder company 11, lor rescue at lire m premises No. 415 Clinton street, Borough ot Manhattan, February 18, 1907.

Trevor-iv arren Medal, i’o fireman first grade YY illiam Delaney, at the time ot engine company 46, tor rescue at lire at No. 579 East 180th street, March 2.t, 1907.

Class B.—Strong Medal. To fireman first (.then second) grade George L. McKenna, at the time a ssigned to engine company 47, detailed to hook and ladder company 30, for rescue at lire at Ao. 19 East 134th street, Manhattan, on Decern her 26, 1907. v ertheim Medal—To assistant foreman (.then fireman first grade) Y illiam Dugan, at the time of engine company 7, lor rescue at tire at premises Ao. 239 Third avenue, Manhattan, .March 13, 1907. Hurley Medal— To fireman nrst grade James M. Frawley, at the time of engine company 24, for rescue at fire at prem ises o. 130 Barn w street, .Manhattan, April 23, 1907.

Cndassed. i’lie Stephenson (Discipline) Medal was awarded to foreman \ illiam ixehoc, hook and ladder company 21, Manhattan.