THE INDIANAPOLIS FIRE DEPARTMENT.
ON March 6, 1891, the fire department of Indianapolis was reorganized under the terms of the new city charter on a non-partisan basis, and the fire and police forces were placed under the same management—that of the department of public safety. The political element was equalized and thirteen firemen were dismissed so as to keep the balance even between the Republican and Democratic parties. The rule is now to fill all vacancies from the same parties politically as that from which the vacancy occurred. The second annual report of the board ol public safety showed great improvements in the fire department in the direction of increased efficiency combined with a more economical adminisrtation. The pay roll for the year amounted to $92,152.29 for 123 men. whose field of operations lay over a very large extent of territory. Even now the whole fire fighting force of the city (whose population is about 106,000 and within whose fire area are many factories, business houses, churches, schools, and handsome residences, besides a large number of frame buildings) amounts only to 145 men, of whom seventy-three, including the chief, are Democrats and seventy-two Republicans. Their equipment consists of eight engines in service— two extra first-class engines having been purchased during the past year, with another extra engine now being constructed; three hook and ladder trucks and one aerial truck; three chemical engines; twenty-six chemical extinguishers; thirteen hose wagons, one hose reel, and 22,650 feet of serviceable hose (besides 2,000 feet second rate not reliable), eighteen wagons in service—one four-wheeled reel in resetve; and a C hampion water tower. There are 182 Gamewell fire alarm signal boxes in service, besides the watch tower, from which the men gave 140 alarms during the year, many of them for fires in dangerous locations, where a little delay would have resulted in bad fires. During the past year two additional hose companies and an engine company have been put in service; four new engine houses and a hose house have been built. I here are 166 cisterns, ranging from 700 to 2,000 barrels capacity many of thqm connected with the water mains—-as ( Irn-f Barrett hopes all will soon be. In addition to the regular ap propriation for the maintenance of the fire force a special appropriation of over $30,000 was asked during last year to establish, equip, and man the new engine houses. There are still a few sections of the city without the best fire protection; these, however, will be looked after during the present year. The number of alarms during 1896 was 571; loss, $337,974.04; insurance. $1,340,060. The water works system is so efficient as to be of immense assistance to the fire department. At all times, when called upon, sufficient water has been furnished, and the fire pressure is never less ihan 100 pounds in the centre of the city. The steam fire engines are not called upon to throw a stream at more than one fire in twenty to which the department is called; the hydrants being relied upon to supply power and water. The total expense of running the city’s fire department last year, exclusive of the $30,000 appropriation mentioned above, was $165,613.89. During the year Chief Webster was retired from the service and First Assistant Chief Barrett was appointed in his stead, with Edward Coots and Gustav Evarts, both men trained in the department,as his assistants.
The department has more than once been called upon to fight fires in which much valuable property was at stake. At some of these fires unfortunately valuable lives were also lost. As has been already related, Chief Glazier met his death (the first accident in the history of the fire department of the city attended with fatal consequences to a fireman in the discharge ot his duty) on March 11, 1873. by’the falling of a wall.
Seventeen years later anti on the sevent enth day of the same month occurred the Bowen-Merrill tire—the crowning disaster to the establishment, where the km was $200,000, twelve firemen were kilted, and sixteen, including the present chief, Thomas Barrett, seriously and dangerously injured by the collapse of the roof of the building. Of these one died from his hurts and several were ever afterwards incapacitated from doing heavy duty. This horror stirred up a generous sympathy for the surviving relatives of the dead firemen. Subscriptions poured in from all quarters—from London and elsewhere in England—and of the sum thus contributed,amounting to $52,433.49. the greater part was used to purchase annuities for the widows and orphans of those who were killed. Another fire, accompanied with greater loss of life, and more terrible in its horrors, because of the helplessness of the victims, was the burning of the Surgical institute, which was filled with helpless cripples, many of whose lives were saved by the firemen at great risk to themselves. As it was, nineteen of the inmates perished.
That was but one typical instance illustrating the bravery of the Indianapolis fire department, whose morale stands on the highest plane, whose members are all in earnest in their duty, obedient to their chief and officers, and loyal to each other So faithful are they in their service and so efficient in their work that it may well be questioned whether any other city in the United States can boast as good a department for so small an outlay; and here may be quoted the report of the board of public safety which claims that “ more improvement has been made in the fire force during the pa=t year than in any previous year in its history.’