Reminiscences by Ex-Chief Nevins
GENERAL NEWS FEATURES
As noted in these columns a few weeks ago, ex-Chief Thomas F. Nevins, of Brooklyn, has just passed his 75th birthday anniversary, in conversation with some newspaper men a few evening since, he said:
“Yes, we had a lot of close calls and I have had my share. There were many disastrous fires in my time. The Brooklyn theater fire was one of the worst. Kale Claxton was playing there in ‘The Two Orphans.’ There was a slight fire on the stage, and it was supposed that this was put out, but it got into the flies and into the loft overhead. I he flames traveled clear over the ceiling and down behind the galleries. The people who were killed were not burned. They were suffocated, and most of the victims were in the galleries. When 1 reached the theater the firemen were working in the orchestra. It was ⅛ terrible scene. 1 took a man with me into the cellar, and there we found a large number of bodies. The man who went into that cellar with me turned gray before the night was over, for the next morning his hair was white. One of the incidents that the newspapers made a lot of at the time was that the bell on City Hall, which usually sounded the alarm, did not ring.
“Unquestionably the most remarkable lire in the history of the city was that of November 23, 1891. The water supply of the city was cut off at the time, owing to a break in the conduit. Any lire that might occur was liable to sweep over the city, and this was realized, but there was no way to secure water to fight the flames. Fire did break out in two four-story dwellings at 237 and 238 Carroll street, but it was extinguished by the use of water from artesian wells. The buildin the day, and had no sooner been responded to than lire was discovered on Union street.”
Chief Nevins faced a serious situation which demanded immediate and decisive action. Two lines of hose, each 3,600 feet long, were run down to the East River and connected with the fireboat Seth Low. Doubt was expressed as to whether a stream could be sent that distance, but it was a time to take chances. While Assistant Chief Dale was running a third line to the river he discovered still another fire at 63 Union street, and brought this stream of water to bear on this point. This third line from the Set Low (fire boat) was 1,000 feet long. The attempt to throw water drawn this distance proved successful, and all the fires were put out with a minimum loss, thus saving the city from a calamitous conflagration. Aid was asked from the Manhattan fire department, but before the apparatus from across the river responded the fires were under control. This was the dryest time Brooklyn ever experienced, as the lack of water compelled people to use seltzer in making tea and coffee, during the interval required for repairing the conduit.