THE NEW YORK DYNAMITE SQUAD.
According to the New York Tribune, all was peaceful in the firehouses in New York one Sunday about noon, when suddenly the gong struck “5 5—5—267—2.” The men dropped everything and slid down to the apparatus floor and made ready to fight a blaze. Then they counted the taps again: “5—5—5—267—2.”
“What in the name of”-queried one.
“What kind of a call is that, anyway? I never heard it before!” exclaimed another.
Men looked at officers and officers looked at men, and both sets looked a bit foolish. Not a man really knew what was expected of him in response to “5—5—5—267—2.” I he call fell on ears that knew it not.
“I’ll call up headquarters,” said one, who rushed to the telephone.
“I have been with this department twenty years,” said another, “and I never heard that call before.”
“It seems to me,” said a gray-haired man, “ ’way back, about the time of the big Chicago fire, there was such a call—‘Jim,’ get the assignment book.”
‘I he horses arched their necks and strained at the reins, while the men hunted in the assignment book among the special calls for “5—5—5—267 —2.”
“Mere it is, page 211, ‘The Sappers’ and Miners’ Corps.’ ” exclaimed one.
“Well, I’m blowed! I may be a sapper, but I’m no miner.” said another. “Do they expect us to tight a fire down a coal-cluitc? There are no mines in New York.”
“Assistant foremen in the first, second, third and fourth battalions report at Bowery and Great Jones street,” was read from the book.
“How does tinsappers’ and miners’ squad dress? [Joes it carry miner’s lamps?” was asked.
“Hustle out, it’s the dynamite squad; there’s serious trouble ahead,” said the foreman.
Some of the officers got into their rubber boots, turnouts and fire-hats and went with such speed they bad no breatn left to report to the chief with. Others sauntered up in dress uniforms, as if the sappers’ and miners’ corps call were to a lodge picnic.
“Where’s the fire?” asked one.
“ There is no fire. ‘I bis is simply a test to see if you know the call for the dynamite squad,” was the reply.
In talking the matter over, one of the older firemen said; “The sappers’ and miners’ corps has been a dead letter for thirty vears. Few firemen would know a stick of dynamite if they saw it. Kach year an appropriation of $2,000 is asked for to pay an instructor in dynamiting; but the board of estimate and apportionment has always cut it out. Today’s run was only useful in showing how long it takes to collect the assistant foremen at one spot.”
“I was a member of the first sappers’ and miners’ corps in New York.” said a fireman. “This corps, or dynamite squad, was formed right after the Boston and Chicago fires—about 1871-72. I remember the United States government was getting ready to blow no Hell Gate, and there was a big expert here to look after the job. The city got this expert.a Frenchman, named Striedinger —to teach the sappers’ and miners’ corps how to use explosives. I ll never forget the professor and bis lessons. He talked to us firemen about explosive powders, gases, dynamites, nitroglycerine and other blowing-up things. To make us experts like himself, he gave practical experiments, and that was where the fun came in. One day in the old fire ball, in Mercer street, the professor laid just a speck of nitroglycerine on a steel template. He then bit it with a hammer, and there was a ‘boom We heard yells and saw a scared lot of clerks running into the street from the room below. The plastering of the ceiling had come down on their heads when the hammer struck the nitroglycerine, and caused a panic. “1 believe that professor could blow up anything. Why, he would take a big wooden cracker box, put an Argand burner in it and stick a bellows through a le in the side of the Ivax. He would light the gas and throw in a handful of ampowdered stuff coal dust, flour, buckwheatanything he happened to fancy. When the class was ready, he would work the bellows and the top of the 1)0x would fly up with a jerk. To show us what force this explosion had. he would ask one of the firemen to stand on the cover of the hox. The man always up and ready to do this was a daredevil, ‘Plug Jacobus. All the older members of the department remember ‘Plug’—afraid of nothing that lived or didn’t live, and up to all the tricks in the calendar. He loved to stand on the lid and go up with it. One day the professor used buckwheat, and whether he used too much or it was a stronger explosive I don’t know. We was all a-watchin’ ’Plug’ standin’ there on the lid doing a ‘Jim Crow,’ when all at once—boom!— out he flew right into the middle of the class, his heels making a dent for keeps in a fireman’s face.
1 never eat a buckwheat cake without thinking of the time ‘Plug’ tried to hold down the lid and took a flyer. The professor had a house built on Ward’s Island to show us how to blow up buildings. ‘Fbe first day our lesson was on blowing off the roof. A political contractor had built the shack, and, when the professor blew off the roof, it blew the entire house into smithereens, and several of the sappers’ and miners’ squad wore their faces in cotton hatting for a while, as the splinters struck home. We did not tr.y any more roof-blowing. Another experiment be made was on the ruins of Hale’s piano factory, at Thirtyfourth street and Tenth avenue. The walls and chimneys were still standing, and the professor showed 11s bow to raze them by dynamite. The walls came down with a bang; but some thousands of dollars’ worth of neighboring windows blew out. That stopped such experiments. When there was a meeting of the Association of Fire Chiefs in New York, the professor had 11s all out to show how to blow tin a hundred-foot chimney left standing after a fire in Faber’s pencil factory. ITc put cartridges at the bottom of the chimney, covered them with sandbags and used a blasting machine to set off the explosion. Up went Mr. Chimney in the air. and we all hurrahed. Then I’m blest if it didn’t settle back right on the verysame base it was on before. The professor used a double dose of dynamite the second time and made a sure-enough wreck of the chimney. Once he took us under the Fast River at Flood rock, and showed us the cartridges in place ready to blow up Hell Gate. That was the only place where ‘Plug’ did not want to hold down the explosion. | thing the name scared him. Tt was great to see the nrofessor make a clean hole, one that looked as if it had been drilled, through a brick wall. He would take a dynamite cartidge aliout the size of a cigar, hang it on two nails fastened in the wall and touch it off. The hole would be there, but the rest of the wall would be uninjured.”
After the great tires of Chicago and Boston in 1871-72, the citv of New York organised the corps, under Chief Shay. On December 10. 1873, Julius H. Striedinger. a European expert, was appointed instructor of the corps at a salary of $2,000 a year. According to regulations governing the city’s fire department, it is today composed of assistant foremen in the 1st, 2d, 3d and 4th— A, B, C, D—battalions, who report at Bowery and Great Jones street on being summoned by the call given above. The borough of Brooklyn has a similar corps under similar regulations. On the occasion of that call being turned in on the Sundav morning referred to. the assistant foremen responded with remarkable promptness. This corps may still he called out to do actual work, if required, even although there may bo those who consider that the use of dynamite in blowing up buildings to stop a fire to be useless in large cities, except, perhaps, in the ease of low or frame buildings. The process, it is claimed, was not a success at Baltimore or San Francisco, and was thought to have been more destructive to surrounding buildings that the fire itself. The charter of the city, however, allows the mayor and the fire commissioners, jointly or severally, to order the use of dynamite to blow up buildings in order to stop a fire. The charge of the sappers’ and miners* corps has been committed to the fire commissioner, and. according to the rules and regulations of the fire department, a deputy chief, skiled in the use of explosives, should he over it. That the law exists was shown bv calling the assistant foremen together. How far the law is in other respects to he or not to he a dead letter rests with the fire commissioner. As at San Francisco or Baltimore, the question may he raised anv day as to whether dynamite can he used with safety to blow up steel-skeleton skvserapers. Tt is urged that the explosive can no longer he employed. in conseouence of the fact that in the business sections of all large cities there are to he found numbers of gas and water pipes aand electrical wires, all of which, being underground, would be altogether destroyed by the downward force of a dynamite explosion. It is also contended that in blowing up these high bmldines. not only would other fires be started, hut the dynamitards also would themselves be exposed to the danger of being overtaken bv fire, which in the time necessary for getting everything in readiness for the explosion, would make rapid progress towards them. These steel-skeleton buildings, it is pointed out. cannot he treated like ordinary brick structures, any one of which collapses when its supporting walls are scattered. In the case of the former, as was shown at San Francisco, it was next to impossible to blow them up. Dynamite, if used, may break through the floors; but, it is claimed (questioning the instances at San Francisco), it is just as likely to leave the columns and girders untouched and to destroy adjoining buildings.