THE NEW YORK FIRE PATROL
History and Description of the Organization—Under Direction of The New York Board of Fire Underwriters—Duties do not Conflict with those of the Fire Department
THE history of fire prevention and fire protection in New York City is a long and interesting one. and the activities of the Insurance Patrols of particular interest therein, inasmuch as the work of the Fire Patrol is so closely allied with that of the municipal fire department, together with its splendid record in saving lives and property, all of which enters so deeply into the general welfare of the public at large.
First Corps Organized
With the rapid extension of the city limits and its increase in population, the number of fires kept pace, and it was finally resolved by the insurance companies to organize a special service to secure them from the losses arising from damage by water, and in the charter of the New York Board of Fire Underwriters granted in 1867, authority was given to organize a corps of men who were employed to enter burning buildings, and secure, as far as they >vere able, the property contained therein.
Their duties were not to bring them in conflict with the regular fire department, whose efforts they were to facilitate as far as possible. But they were to direct their attentions primarily to the removing of valuables from imperilled places, and their preservation from saturation or the harmful effects of smoke. The service then took the name of the Fire Patrol. It had previously been known as the Insurance Patrol, and the Fire Police, and had its headquarters in Marion and Dutch Streets, an illustration of which is shown herewith.
Endeavor to Be First on the Spot
When a patrol apparatus starts for a fire it usually carries 25 to 30 covers, or oiled tarpaulins as they are known, but in case more are required, arrangements are made to forward them with dispatch. In the event of a large conflagration, suggesting the need of an increased force on the scene, the Patrols of all the districts, with equipments, can be called into requisition. As can readily be inferred, the Fire Patrol has to work with despatch. The choice and discipline of the men all tend in that direction. Alarmed, in common with the fire department, the patrol’s effort is to be first upon the spot, and have the covers spread and movable property secured before the hose lines are operated. Besides spreading the covers over merchandise and furniture, the patrol has also to release the buildings from water. When apartments are deluged they are on hand to give the flood outlet, and when cellars, containing stores, are filled with water, as sometimes happens, they have to use the pumps with which they are provided, to empty them. Besides, the fire patrol’s care, is to look after all portable articles of value, in order that they may be removed to a place of safety.
With the introduction of sprinkler systems, water towers and the high pressure service, it can readily be imagined the tons of water descending like a miniature Niagara, would play sad havoc with the contents, were not the tarpaulins spread quickly and efficiently. In structures filled with costly fabrics, dry goods, upholstery, works of art and generally valuable stocks, the damage prevented is inestimable.
Loss Ratio Kept Down
The loss ratio of New York City is considerably kept down by the operations of the Fire Patrol, and the records of the past few years indicate very plainly to what a large extent the efficiency of the Fire Patrol has contributed. During the year 1915, Fire Patrols of Greater New York responded to 10,860 alarms, spread 31,085 stock covers over contents, and applied 1,472 roof covers to buildings, as a temporary repair, until the roofs could be repaired permanently. The total hours of service performed at fires was 7,636. In addition to attending the above number of alarms, the members of the force investigated 10,628 verbal reports of losses at which no fire apparatus had been in attendance.
Old New York Fire Patrol
Much interesting information has been collected concerning the company organized over a hundred years ago, to render service to the city similar in character to that now given by the Fire Patrol. These details were made available, however, largely through efforts of the late Wm. M. Randall, Secretary of Committee on Fire Patrol of the New York Board of Fire Underwriters (April 14, 1866, to February 9, 1900), to obtain accurate data concerning the work of the famous company which rendered excellent service to the city as far back at 1803.
Mutual Assistant Bag Company
A copy of the rules and regulations of the Mutual Assistant Bag Company of the City of New York, shows that in 1803 the organization was composed of about sixty-five members. Members of the company were distinguished by a round hat with a black rim and white crown bearing the letters “M. A.” surrounded with an ellipsis. Each member was provided with two bags made of Russia sheeting or other equally serviceable cloth, three feet long and about two feet wide, marked with the owner’s name and the initials of the organization. This curious outfit was made necessary by the requirements of Article III of the regulations, which describes the duties of members at fires as follows: “Upon an alarm of fire every member, with his hat and bags, shall repair to the house or store most in danger belonging to any of the company, and endeavor to the utmost of his power to save their effects by carefully conveying them to some convenient and proper place, and to prevent the embezzlement of the same; and in case no such house or store belonging to any of the company be in danger then each member shall give his assistance where he deems it most proper.”
The Fire Police, Insurance Patrol and Fire Patrol
The Fire Police, Insurance Patrol, and Fire Patrol, under each of which names the salvage corps of the Fire Underwriters have been known, was organized in the latter part of the year 1839, although four years preceding that date—viz:—in the month of May, 1835, the Association of Fire Insurance Companies employed four men, at a salary of $250 per year each, “whose duty it was to attend all fires and protect the interest of the Fire Underwriters by preserving property exposed to fire and damage thereto by water.” In November, 1839, the Association of Fire Insurance Companies employed forty men as a Fire Police Force for duty in the Fifth Fire District (the mercantile district) as a night patrol. The men selected for the service were members, or past members, of the Volunteer Fire Department.
Covers for the protection of merchandise from water were first introduced during the year 1845, six having been purchased during the year.
One Company in 1853
In 1853 the organization was confined to one company located in Dutch Street, near Fulton, and later moved to 41 Murray Street. It was divided into two sections, on duty alternate nights. A small hand-drawn wagon was kept in the Dutch Street headquarters, stored on the top floor of the building during the day. It was lowered to the streets each evening at 7 p. m. and hoisted back again at 5 a.m. Between these hours the Fire Patrolmen were on duty. This old wagon was nick-named the “Pie Wagon” as it was similar to the wagons at that time used by the piemen in the city. On the wagon there was carried in addition to the six covers, six water buckets, and four brooms. The patrolling was confined to streets east of Broadway, south of the present line of Chambers Street.
Patrol No. 2 was organized in 1855, and was stationed under the Marion Street Bell-tower. Later it was moved to No. 174 Elm Street, and in February, 1873, to 31 Great Jones Street, on April 29, 1907, occupying its present location at No. 84 West Third Street. There was a force of 24 men, one-half on duty on alternate nights. This was the first two-platoon system on record. Upon the organization of the second company, the streets patrol was extended on the line of Broadway and other adjacent streets. In 1858 a day force consisting of two men was appointed at each patrol quarters, which was a nucleus for such volunteer aid from the regular attaches as presented themselves for duty, and they were compensated for services performed.
“Mary Ann” Comes Into Service
The steam-pumping engine for drawing water from cellars was introduced in the year 1864, previous to which time metal hand-pumps had been used. The famous “Mary Ann,” built by the Silsby Engine Co., Seneca Falls, New York, displaced this earlier and more primitive steam-pumping engine in the service, July 1, 1881. This engine is still stored at the old quarters of Patrol No. 6, in the Bronx. The hand-wagon in use by Patrol No. 1 had a capacity of 30 covers, that, of No. 2 for 20 covers. No. 1 had a supply of 53 covers and No. 2 of 19 covers—a total of 72 covers, in good and indifferent order.
As the volunteer Fire Department had been disbanded and a paid department substituted during the year 1865, with improved fire apparatus (steam power) drawn by horses, the services of the patrol were in a measure of little account. This was speedily rectified by the substitution of horse-power for man-power, and the use of wagons of sufficient capacity for men, covers and utensils.
Patrol No. 3 Organized
On February 1, 1868, Patrol No. 3 was organized, and located at No. 115 West Twenty-ninth Street, in property belonging to the fire department; later removed to No. 104 West 30th Street, and on September 10th. 1895, occupied the present quarters at No. 240 West 30th Street, which was considered, at the time, the finest lire house in the city. The command was restricted to the territory lying between Twenty-third and Fifty-seventh Streets, from river to river, with authority to extend its operations above the limit named, in the event of emergency.
During this year (1867) the Board of Fire Underwriters was chartered by an act of the Legislature. The Fire Insurance Patrol was organized, October 3, 1850; reorganized October 1. 1866; and again December 15, 1869, when it was given the name of the New York Fire Patrol.
In 1869 the first statistical record of the operations of the Patrol was made, exhibiting a total of 607 fire alarms attended for the year, 628 1-3 hours of service performed, 2.040 covers spread, $2,699,484 insurance involved and $887,438 loss sustained.
In 1870 a radical change was made in the Fire Patrol service by the abolishment of the system of a double line of officers and men for duty on alternate nights, and in lieu thereof, a permanent force at each station was established, with a reserve corps of auxiliary men for night service. During the winter of 1874-1875 when telegraph wires were broken down, a mounted Patrol was employed at night to patrol the streets.
Additional Patrols Organized
In 1876, Fire Patrol No. 4 was organized for service above Fifty-ninth Street. It was originally located in East Ninety-fourth Street near Lexington Avenue. An illustration of the original house is shown in this article. Subsequently the New York Board of Fire Underwriters erected a building for the use of the Patrol at 113 East 90th Street. In 1882 a regulation uniform was adopted for officers and men. By 1891 the number of buildings in the Harlem section of the city had increased so rapidly that it warranted the formation of an additional company for the protection of the large amount of property within its area. Fire Patrol No. 5 was therefore put in service, at its present location, No. 307 West 121st Street, February 1, 1892, under the command of Lieutenant Edgar D. Smith, to respond to fire signals in the territory north of 110th Street.
Patrol No. 6 was organized and put in service December 2, 1901, and located at No. 838 Courtlandt Avenue, Borough of Bronx, and on October 15, 1913, moved to the handsome three-story fire-proof building at 276-78 East 156th Street, illustrated herewith.
Patrol No. 7 was organized and put in service September 3, 1906, located at No. 133 Norfolk Street, Captain A. Sidney Johnston in command, and Robert Campbell, Lieutenant.
On October 15, 1866, the Committee created the office of Superintendent of Fire Patrol, with general powers over the entire force, and also to take charge of the Committee’s office, practically filling the position of Secretary. In October, 1867, the office of “Secretary of the Committee” was adopted. On November 18, 1867, Captain John Cormvell, Patrol No. 1, was appointed Superintendent at a salary of $5,000 per annum. He was therefore the first uniformed chief officer of the department. He was succeeded by Monmouth B. Wilson, appointed October 25, 1870; Captain Abram C. Hull, March 26, 1885, and Captain Frederick’S. Groves, May 2, 1899. On May 26, 1910, he was appointed as Superintendent of the Fire Insurance Salvage Corps of Brooklyn, which duties he fulfilled in addition to his previous ones. On August 1, 1912, he was retired on a pension, and J. O. Schwank was appointed Superintendent of both departments.
The organization of the Uniformed Force, as at present constituted, consists of the Superintendent, ten Captains, eleven Lieutenants, fifteen Sergeants, one Engineer, two Cover-menders, one Store-keeper, one Record Clerk, one Chief Mechanician and two hundred and thirty-five members of all other grades. One Lieutenant is in charge of the members detailed to the office of the Superintendent, who are included in the foregoing figures. A sufficient number of men are assigned to each station to maintain two full details, between the hours of 5:30 p. m. and 5 :30 a. m.; at other hours only one detail is generally maintained. In the office of the Superintendent, an efficient force of uniformed members, detailed to clerical duty, maintain a cross index, of rendered Fire Reports, showing at a glance the number of fires, by street locations, that have originated in or caused damage to any real property in Great New York, together with an alphabetical checking system on the names of persons, firms or corporations who have unfortunately, or otherwise, been interested as occupants of premises where fires have originated. About two hundred and fifty thousand cards are in use in these indexes and some cards show as many as 25 fires.
The Superintendent issues every morning a fire bulletin showing the fires of the preceding twenty-four hours with the time, location, occupants, cause, if possible to ascertain, how far the fire spread, number of Patrolmen left to watch, and on what individual losses. The first of these printed bulletins were issued on April 17, 1888. The members are thoroughly schooled in the making and care of covers, operation of jumping covers, scaling ladders, care and operation of fire extinguishers, operating of sprinkler systems, and means of restoring temporary service, locating sewer pipes, and gas-meters in buildings, gaining entrance to buildings, etc.
By the spring of 1916 the entire system had been motorized.
In addition to covers, there is carried on each piece of apparatus Jumping-covers, Scaling Ladders, Extension-ladders, Brooms, Shovels, Hand-lanterns, Coverlifting Poles, Fire-hooks, Piercing Pole, Cotton-hooks, Lockbreakers, Door-openers, Crow-bars, Screw-wrenches, Sprinkler-heads, Wooden Scoops, Sponges, Marline, 75 feet of rope, Sprinkler-record book of respective districts, Padlocks and Fire Extinguishers.
The covers are made of 250 brown drill, 18’ x 12′ in size, treated with linseed oil, and equipped with grommets. They are made by members of the department, assigned for the purpose, as necessity arises. Total number of covers allowed are 4,000 stock and 500 roof covers, distributed among the various patrol houses.
The “Mary Ann” was replaced in July, 1915, with a gasoline pump of 1,800 gallons capacity per minute, an illustrated description of which appeared in our issue of April 23.
The service is therefore complete in all essentials and prepared for almost any ordinary emergencies, and its motto is: “Always ready.”
There are insurance patrols in a number of other cities of the United States whose organization is similar to that of the New York Fire Patrol, and which are under the jurisdiction of the Board of Fire Underwriters. These cities include the following:
Newark, N. J.
New Orleans, La.
St. Louis, Mo.
Kansas City, Mo.
San Francisco, Cal.
St. Paul, Minn.