The Annual Fire Dinner.
A significant occasion in New York Fire Department circles to which we briefly alluded last week, was the second annual dinner of the Veteran Fireman’s Association of twenty years’ active service in the fire department of the city of New York, held at Hotel Brunswick, on Monday, December 12, 1892. Among those present besides the members of the association, were Ex-Chiefs Shay, Bates and Perley, Commissioners Purroy, Robbins and Eichhoff, being the present board of commissioners. Among the earlier commissioners were Messrs. Martin B. Brown and Commissioner Blair. Other guests were Judges McAdam and McCarthy, both of whom briefly addressed the meeting ; Simon Brentano, Alexander Meakim, Capt. Marston of the Twenty-second Regiment, Chief Bonner, and other prominent firemen. Ex-Chief Shay presided. A fire dinner is not exempt from the interruptions incident to the duties of fire extinguishment, and it was only after two third alarm fires, both of which had the effrontery to occur at such an inopportune time, had been promptly squelched, that the dinner proceeded. We believe that President Purroy’s speech will have more than local interest. It is the only occasion on which the commissioner has publicly addressed the department on any other than under official circumstances.
MR. Chairman.—It affords me the greatest pleasure to be present at this social and happy gathering, and for one I am not the least bit surprised at the mingled joy and pride which to-night beam from the face of every veteran fireman seated around this festive board. Philosophers tell us that the only perfect happiness permitted to mortals, on this earth, is that which flows from an inward consciousness of duty well-performed ; and where I may ask, will you find, the wide-world over, any body of men who have conceived a higher sense of the requirements of their noble calling, and who have more faithfully lived up to this ideal, than have the firemen who for twenty years and more, have worn the uniform of the Empire City with such gallantry and honor and credit, that it has become to-day the synonym of discipline and courage wherever the English language is understood. No wonder these men are contented and joyous to-night, for although they possess the modesty which almost invariably accompanies true worth, at the same time they are cheered by the knowledge that they enjoy the confidence and the favor of their fellow citizens.
For more than eleven years it has been my charge to carefully scrutinise every detail of the public existence of these men. and I speak from an intimate acquaintance therewith when I say that whether it he in the exacting confinement and unceasing vigilance which characterise the routine of work in company quarters; whether it be in the fierce rush to duty which follows the midnight alarm; whether it be in the unreasoning obedience to the stern command, which in the face of pelting storm or falling limbers steadily points the way to the roof of the burning building ; or whether it be in that supreme moment of danger when the fireman’s life must he risked in order that a fellow creature’s life may he saved—under these and all other similar instances, the record of the typical New York firemen is one of self-control, self-denial, and self-sacrifice ; and I sincerely hope that the day will never come when those who are officially charged with caring for the welfare of these men, will turn a deal ear to their just and reasonable claims.
In a few days I shall lay down the honorable office of president of the New York Fire Department, and I hope to assume the new responsibilities with which a most generous constituency has seen fit to entrust me. I know I need not tell you how much I regret to have to sever the official ties which have for years so pleasantly connected me with such faithful and worthy subordinates ; but let me say that this regret will be somewhat tempered by my firm resolve that nothing shall be permitted to occur in the future, on my part, which shall tend to break those stronger bonds of sincere friendship which Shakespeare has so forcibly likened to grappling hooks of steel.
Wherever I maybe, my sympathies shall always be with the gallant men of the New York Fire Department, and my poor services shall always, at their command, be ready to be enlisted in helping to better their condition or to advance the splendid service with which they are associated.
The department is to-day in most excellent condition, but of course there are many respects in which it can be still further improved. I want to see these improvements pushed speedily and successfully on. I want to see its present high standard of efficiency maintained, and, if possible, raised, and as the most important step to that end, I want to see its present, capable fearless and upright chief sustained and encouraged in the future, as it has been my very pleasant duty to sustain and encourage him in the past.
And now, Mr. Chairman, one word more in conclusion. We all know that the inspiring motto of this great State is “ Excelsior,”—Higher” It seems to me that in accordance with that noble watchword, there should be no halt in the onward progress of any of its political divisions. Although most public men are now maintaining the strictest silence on the question of agreater New York, I have never hesitated toavow myself as strongly and earnestly in favor of such legislation as will enable the first steps to be promptly taken towards achieving the grand and manifest destiny which is properly before our city; and when this glorious result—which may be retarded. but which cannot be prevented, is finally accomplished, and New York, Kings. Richmond and Westchester counties are united in one mighty commonwealth. I sincerely trust that it will be found that the New York Fire Department, under my successors, has all the time kept even pace with the forward march of current events, enlarging its jurisdiction and extending its efficiency and protection in every needed direction, and that it will be the purest and brightest jewel in the crown of a magnificent metropolis, at once the glory and the pride of modern civilization—the Empire City of the world.
Simon Bretano’s address was as follows;
The business community of the city of New York owes to its fire department a debt that cannot be extinguished.
This debt was contracted concurrently with the early settlement of the city by reason of the establishment and maintenance of a fire depanment devoted energetically and faithfully to the protection of life and property.
During the years from 1658 to 1864 the department made constant progress, and as a volunteer organization was known for its intelligent chiefs and for the self-sacrificing devotion of its members and officers.
But the establishment of the present fire department under the laws of March 30, 1865, marks a distinct advance in the history of fire extinguishment.
This act created a body of men paid for and engaged in the sole and constant occupation, and by constant I mean being on duty twenty four hours out of twenty-four, of the prevention of the loss of life and property at fires.
The skill and training and discipline of the uniformed force of the present department has resulted from the advantages of its legal organization being effected at a period of time when it recruited from the disbanded volunteers the ardent firemen of that time many of whom had a broad experience and excellent capacities for the service, and, indeed, were as proficient as the art of that date and the surrounding circumstances and the equipment at their disposition permitted. The advantages of better methods of organization since the law and the better appliances provided, the constant development of the department in every direction in which its activity and existence is concerned, and its increasing efficiency in the art and practice of fire extinguishment has caused the fire department of the city of New York to attain a standard which is the accepted type and the best exemplification of the fire department of to-day throughout the world. The wide influence of its methods and attainments are practically in evidence in all cities throughout our own and other countries.
The services done by this department have had a direct influence on the commercial importance of this great community. This city has gained no little of its wealth and station among the great cities of the world by the signal ability of its fire department. It is the urgent duty of all communities to maintain such departments, and all cities point significantly to their prudence and administrative ability when they can boast a skilled and well-equipped fire department.
The climatic influence on fires in our country contrasted with others, the countless cities that have vet to be built, the development in every direction of industrial enterprises, all of which factors arc sources of fire, impel the American people to protect themselves through fire departments to conserve this wealth and not to burn it up. Our local department in this respect has done so much that I repeat the business community owes it a debt it cannot liquidate Instead of bewailing this obligation, f shall earnestly hope it will increase, since it can only further evidence the greater skill and constant efficiency of this department. But if I may be permitted to fe«l that I can absolve that debt in a little degree I should like to do so by saying sincerely and frankly how freely this debt is acknowledged.
I cannot dedicate to myself the privilege to acknowledge on behalf of the business community the obligation resting upon it, but f feel no hesitancy in voicing on the part of the entire community the love and admiration cherished for the New York Fire Department.
Just prior to the recent election, when the unoffending party platforms neatly addressed to each voter, came, to our household in ample number, about one month after everybody had determined to vote, there came from the party then dominant and still dominant the declaration of its platform on which it invited the suffrages for its municipal candidates.
Among other things expressed in this statement was the declaration that the police and fire department of the city of New York furnish security to life and property better than that afforded by any other community in the world. This statement, irrespective of any political party which would make it, is true, and I fully believe that this is overwhelmingly the opinion of the fair-minded, the sagacious and the thoughtful of our citizens and inhabitants, whatever their station ot life.
The great capital engaged in this city in its manifold enterrises would never hnd lodgment here unless it were true. The eneficent work of the fire department cannot alone be adequately considered from the point of view of the commercial advantages flowing from it.
Its duties and accomplishments are too broad, in influence too potent in all directions to consider it from this narrow standpoint only. It is, indeed, awakening to observe the allembracing sphere of the duty of this department and how impartially and justly it is performed.
No home so wealthy, none so poor ; no property so great, none so small; no life so treasured, none so vile—nationality, creed, color—no distinction is recognized, none ever made. It recognizes fire and peril to life alone !
The department should feel proud of the fact that almost every important advance in safe building has been made at its direct instigation.
Through it have been enacted laws for the consi ruction of theatres, demanding and affording in this community a safer construction under the law than prevails elsewhere in this or other countries. Through it our hotels provtde for their daily guests a safer abode than that of other cities.
Through it the construction of the tenements hereafter to be built will furnish safe homes to the people who dwell in them. The entire building art of this city and the safe and the more Ornate construction that meets the eye on every hand has been contributed to by the care, the watchfulness and the intelligence of the New York Fire Department as largely as it has been by any other departments and means.
It should be recognized that the art and practice of fire extinguishment is a science.
It calls for an instant and correct judgment to be exercised over facts and circumstances confronting one absolutely without previous notice and knowledge and the successful fireman of to day possesses skill, courage and other attributes as high as those demanded in any other human calling. The American fireman has not only reduced the matter of fire extinguishment to a science, but with the foresight characteristic of his profession he recognized that celerity—time saving—was a cardinal point to be striven for in every step relating to the fire service.
Accordingly we find that twenty-five years ago it took two minutes to hitch an apparatus and leave the house. To-day a company crosses the threshold of its door before the hand that pulled the box is fairly off the hook. The engine companies in this city ready for duty without an instant’s loss of time, represent a pumping capacity of 100,000 gallons a minute.
There can be and there is often massed in this city in thirty minutes twenty-five engines, seven trucks, two water towers, six battalion chiefs, the chief and deputy chief and the insurance patrol, thus bringing together a trained body of 300 men and unexcelled apDaratus.
The advance of the department is shown in this, that in 1865. with the population much less, a city of much smaller area and values unmeasurably lower to protect, we assigned on a first alarm of fire eleven engine companies, whereas today we never assign exceeding three companies. This demonstrates the important fact that more fires can occur in this city at the same time without gravely threatening to exhaust the appliances in hand and the ability of the force to meet it, and in this part of our system we are provided in advance of any other city.
Under such conditions and with such valiant and intelligent force, we shall hope that New York in the future, as in the past, will enjoy the same freedom from serious fires. We hope further that the greater New York to come—and it is coming soon—will forever find in its fire department that great instrumentalily for good in the city service that it is to-day, and that to all posterity the fire department of the city of New York may rest secure in its fame, its glory and its strength.