REMINISCENCES OF CHIEF ELI BATES
Especially written for FIRE AND WATER ENGINEERING.
Eli Bates joined the volunteer fire department of New York city on the 29th day of April, 1846, when he became a fireman of Guardian engine No. 29. There was no salary attached to the position. The chief engineer started with a small salary in the volunteer department under James Gulick, 1831-1836, John Riker, 1836-1837, Cornelius B. Anderson, 1837-48, Alfred Corson, 18481857. Then came Harry Howard, 1857-1860, and John Decker succeeded Howard with two threeyear terms, i860 to 1866. Then the paid department was inaugurated, Elijah Kingsland as chief. In 1846, when 1 joined, Cornelius B. Anderson was chief. 1 joined as an able-bodied fireman of Guardian company No. 29 at 14 Amos street, where West Tenth street is now. We had the old hand gooseneck engine, a single side lever engine, manned with about twelve men. A company was allowed thirty men. The fire-alarms were sent in by ringing district bells, the city hall bell or a market bell; the bell at Centre market was a district bell. We had a good deal of fuss about the district bell at one time. There was a bell at Prince and West streets, the old watchhouse, where the Eighth precinct station stands; but it was not a district bell. At certain hours the roll was called, and, if a district bell rang and you did got respond, you were fined. We could locate the fires only by districts. In the lower part of the city they changed the districts. There were five at one time, and then they made six of them south of Thirty-second street, and that remained so up to the time of the paid department. North of Twenty-second street we had a first and second district, divided by Sixth avenue, one on the East Side and one on the West Side, which made eight districts all told in the city. There was no northern boundary. Third avenue and Sixty-sixth street was known as Yorkville, and above Sixty-sixth street was Harlem. In the volunteer department I was a private member in 1846, and until about 1852, when I was made assistant foreman of that company. I was in that company sixteen years. Then in May, 1855, I was made foreman of the same company. I was foreman of that company for seven years until 1862, when I was elected assistant engineer in the fire department, and remained in that position until the 6th of September, 1865, when I was appointed district engineer in the paid department, pt a salary of $1,200 a year. That was the first time I got any salary as a fireman. The paid department was formed in 1865. History will tell you regarding the riots in 1863, and I have often thought myself what a fortunate thing it was that we did not have a paid department, because the paid department had some power. During the riots of 1863, they were burning everything down. During the riots some of the fire department members stayed in the houses and were on guard night and day. The riots up on Third avenue were so bad that the police were helpless. The fire department was called out to assist in the suppression of these riots. The first steamer was No. 18 engine, in Ludlow street, in 1858. There was a steamer back in 1840, which ran from Hanover square. It was what they called the Hodges engine, built at the Phoenix Works, Wooster and West streets. The next steamer, and the first steamer that we ran permanently, was in Hanover square, with the assistance of some of the Volunteers. George P. Hope, 28 Hose, backed him up, and the first steamer to do permanent work was Manhattan No. 8. I cannot go back to the year 1835, when the big fire occurred in New York. No. 8 was built by Lee & Lamed Novelty Works, of East Twelfth street, New Y’ork. That was the first steamer that ran permanently. Then we got a steamer for 29 engine from the same manufacturer in 1859, and ran it until the end of the volunteer department. The Lee & Larned engine had a Cary rotary pump. Some time after that, an engine builder in West Broadway, between Leonard and Worth streets, built a steamer, with a capacity of about 4,200 gab, and that was given to 31 hose, in Duane street. The first Amoskeag that came here was an old-timer called the Champion, U-tank, single pump. That was about t86o. She was run out of the watchhouse and did great service on Church street, between Murray and Warren streets. She showed her qualifications at that fire. There is no question that was the most reliable engine for many years. T was assistant chief from the first of May. 1862, until the 6th of September, 1865, John Decker being the chief. Decker went out in 1865, and Elijah Kingsland came in after him, and I was still assistant chief under Kingsland. No. 1 engine was organised on the 31st of July, 1865, and no other company was organised until September or October. Kingsland was then appointed chief. The assistant engineers were all appointed on the 6th of September as district engineers, Perley and all of us. One engine was bought on the 31st of July, and Kingsland was appointed chief in August, and that was all the paid firemen there were until September. The chief engineers of steamers in the volunteer department had been paid from i860, as the engines were introduced. Kingsland was succeeded by Perley, and I was assistant to Perley. The Shaler board introduced some changes, and dropped the assistant engineer business. On the 4th of January, 1869, the Shaler administration made a change in the title of officers of companies, the chief engineer being known as the chief of the fire department, and the district engineer was known as the battalion chief. The fire department was under State government until the Tweed charter came in. The four commissioners who ran the department in its beginning were Charles C. Pinckney, Martin B. Brown, Philip W. Ams and James W. Booth—Booth remained for only a short time. They were the commissioners when we got the first engine, No. 1, in 1865. Booth drew out after a few months. I was appointed chief on the 19th of May, 1873, and held on until the 1st of May, 1884. When I was appointed, the salary was $4,500; when Kingsland was appointed, it was $3,500. In the first establishment of the paid department, a private only got $600 a year; engineer of steamer $900; assistant foreman, $750; foreman $800; and district engineer $1,200. Later on it was increased a little, and Kingsland got about $3,500, and Perley, as assistant engineer, received $2,000. I11 1886, Charles O. Shay, who succeeded him, had his salary increased to $5,000. 1 got a raise of $200. My salary was put up to $4,700. There was an increase in the pav of all of the firemen. I retired on $4,700, and Shay retired on $5,000. The Bowery theatre burned four times in seventeen years, and on the 25th of April, 1845, it burned the last time. There has never been a fire in the Bowery theatre since that time. The old walls have always stood, except that the rear walls have fallen out. They are 2-foot walls. The fire spread north and south; but the rear walls have never fallen out. Some of the notable fires were those in Barnuttl’s museum, first on the corner of Ann street and Broadway, which burned on the 13th of July, 1865, when John Decker was chief of the volunteer department. There were quite a number of steamers in the department at that time; I think there were some 30-odd steamers when the paid department came in, which was just about the time of Barnum’s fire. The commissioner of the paid department came in power about the last of March, 1865, and the houses and apparatus were turned over to the Metropolitan commission. The first Amoskeag that the paid commissioners bought was in July, 1865; hut the volunteer department had three Amoskeag engines at the time. The last service performed by the volunteer department was on the first of November, 1865. At the time of the inauguration of the paid department, there were thirty-four engine companies and thirty-three hook and ladder companies organised. The department had $600,000 the first year. The apparatus of the volunteer companies was owned by the city. The Crystal Palace first burned on the 5th of October, 1858. I was working on the southeast corner of Fifth avenue and Forty-second street on the third story as a bricklayer, when the fire occurred, at about 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Just as soon as I saw there was a lire, 1 got off the scaffold and started down Forty-second street. Just as I got to the fire, the flames burst out through the building, which was a skeleton structure covered with giass, and standing back 150 ft. from the sidewalk. It was full of inflammable stuff. There was a lot of rubbish in the storeroom, where the fire occurred. In twenty-three minutes the building was entirely demolished. A contract for an electric fire-alarm was made with a man named Robinson; but it was never put in use. The first system of the new .fire-alarm boxes went into operation south of Fourteenth street on the 28th of March, 1870, and on the first of January, 1871, north of that. In July, 1842, the Croton water was introduced into New York city, and the celebration of the event occurred in October, 1842. The first Eureka hose was introduced in 1875.