THE LATE CHIEF WEBBER.
In an address delivered by Captain William Brophy, of Boston, before the memorial meeting of the Massachusetts Fire Chiefs’ club, the speaker spoke of the late Chief Webber, of the fire department of that city, as the “very embodiment of the ideal American fireman and a rare and splendid specimen of self-reliant manhood, with sinews and muscles as well knit as those of a trained athlete, and a mind capable of immediately grasping the difficult problems that instantly present themselves to the chief of a fire department at the scene of a fire. His great power of endurance (added Capt. Brophy), his unquestionable bravery and devotion to duty caused him to do and dare more than any man holding his position should or could attempt to do for any great length of time, yet he did it to the end of his career as the head of the Boston fire department. Long and weary hours of arduous duty, exposed to summer heat and winter blasts, the blinding, stifling smoke had no terrors for him, and he was always found in the thickest of the fight, leading, not following, those under his command where danger was ever greatest.” In 1863 the deceased chief joined Tremont No. 7, of the volunteer fire department, and on its disbandment in 1864 formed one of Dearborn engine No. 1 company, the first in Roxbury to be equipped with a steamer. In 1867 he was promoted to be assistant foreman, and in 1870, after the annexation of Roxbury to Boston, he was made foreman of engine company No. 14, on Centre street—a position which he held for four years, when he was made permanent foreman. In May, 1880, he was transferred to engine company No. 3, with better pay, but more arduous duties in a district where lumberyards and planing mills, etc., abounded. He brought his company up to the highest pitch of efficiency, and maintained the strictest discipline, settling all difficulties in his own quiet, sensible way, “without resorting to the practices of the small-sized military martinet. He could be and was a comrade in hours of leisure, but an officer all knew better than to disobey.” While captain of this company he was ofteh called on to act as district chief, and in 1884, when there was a vacancy in the position of chief of district No. 8, he was appointed to fill it. Soon after, when Chief Green was appointed a fire commissioner, and there was a difficulty over the question of his successor, each commissioner for some time casting his vote for his own candidate, District Chief Webber was unexpectedly appointed by a unanimous vote. Capt. Brophy proceeds: “The commissioners little dreamed what a wise selection they had made, for from the date of his entering upon his duties, on October 17, 1884. began one of the most notable and brilliant careers ever entered upon by the chief of any fire department in this country. The wiseacres and friends of the unsuccessful candidates, however, shook their heads, and predicted the utter failure of the new chief on the occasion of his first ‘big fire.’ Their opportunity came when fire was discovered in Waterman’s mill in Charlestown. All the friends of the above named candidates and some of themselves, together with the regular sidewalk committee, were on hand, every one ready to gloat over the predicted failure of the new chief in this, his maiden effort in handling a ‘big fire.’ The entire board of fire commissioners was also present, eagerly watching every movement of the man of their choice, and with no little anxietv as to the final result. But there was no room for criticism by the most unfriendly disposed, and the general verdict was, that the fire was handled in a masterly manner, and even the wise ones admitted that he ‘might do!’ ” One notable fire which he handled was on Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1886. It was a stubborn one, and called for several alarms. While the chief in his accustomed fashion was trying to force his way into the heart of the fire, so as to determine the best point of attack, he came near losing his life. He succeeded in reaching the second floor, where the smoke was terribly thick—so thick that the light in his lantern was extinguished, and, in groping his way. he stumbled over the body of a man lying on the floor. He picked it up, and succeeded in reaching the door, which had closed and fastened behind him when he first entered the room. By a superhuman effort he burst it open, and fell with his lifeless burden on the stairway. He soon revived, and returned to duty, but the man he had borne from the room perished. Another notable fire was aslo on a Thanksgiving Day—that of 1889. It is still fresh in the memory of the citizens and members of the fire department of Boston and the cities and towns of all New England as well. The instantaneous and masterly manner in which Chief Webber grasped the situation, formed his plans and disposed of the force at his command is still the talk of the firemen of the country. “He was the coolest man on the ground; he sent in the second, third and general alarm in quick succession, then directed messages to be sent asking assistance from surrounding cities and towns, and quickly made the best disposition of his forces possible to hold the fire in check until the arrival of the assistance asked for. And well did he perform his task. By his splendid exatnpl he inspired the men under his command to deeds of daring and almost superhuman effort that have never been equaled in any city in the country. He received a highly flattering and commendatory letter from the fire commissioners and the mayor of the city, and was hailed by the people of Boston as the saviour of their lives, property and homes. But all that did not turn his head; he continued right along as usual with a single eye to his duty and a full realisation of the great responsibility resting upon him.” Amid all the change in the membership and organisation of the fire commission he remained at his post undisturbed, and retained the confidence of the people until March 21, 1901, “when, without warning or ceremony, he was retired on the ‘munificent’ pension of $1,700. from which no benefit can now be derived by his faithful helpmate in life, who shared his joys and sorrows, and now mourns his untimely end. That splendid physique, that iron constitution, those nerves and muscles of steel could no longer stand the constant strain that had been put upon them; he needed rest, quiet and, above all, sympathy, but neither was accorded him in the spirit in which they should have been. He should have been given leave of absence for an unlimited time, if necessary, with his full pay, with the assurance and hope that he would soon be able to resume active duty. No such well deserved treatment was accorded him. but, like an old horse that ceased to be longer useful, he was turned adrift to die, and, a broken-hearted man, broken in heath, spirit, mind and body, he knew that his life’s work was suddenly brought to an end, and that every avenue for useful employment for him was closed, with no opportunity to exercise mind or body. There could be but one result from the sudden ending of such an active career. Slowly the ravages of disease undermined his failing health. In less than three years the end came.