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winter to keep their feet from freezing by pouring rum, brandy, or whiskey into their boots. Many a member of the old Volunteer Fire Department had his feet frozen repeatedly in the discharge of his duties. Mr. Zophar Mills, for example, foreman of Engine No. 13, went home several times with frozen feet, ears, and hands; on one occasion he was unable to turn the knob of his front door, and was compelled to ask the help of a passer-by. At the great fire in 1835, which began at nine o'clock on the night of the 16th of December, and continued until four o'clock of the next afternoon, destroying property of the value of $20,000,000, the thermometer indicated seven degrees below zero, and the sight-seers walked about muffled with blankets that had been dragged in bales from the dry-goods stores. Mr. Charles Forrester, foreman of Engine No. 33, asserts that the winters nowadays are unquestionably much less severe than they were thirty years ago: so that putting liquor in one's boots turns out to be an old recipe for keeping the feet from freez
ing. It would be easy to enumerate other signs of the advent of the myth period, and any person who proposes to write the history of the old Volunteer Fire Department of the city of New York—and few histories are better worth the writing — must needs bestir himself if he wishes to tell the facts, especially since, if he is at all familiar with his subject, he will recognize in it several explicit reasons why the charming story of the old firemen's exploits has a natural affinity for the fabulist.
A sufficiently convenient way of obtaining a bird's-eye view of the subject is to listen to two short recitals from the lips of living firemen who were prominent during the good old days of the department. Let them speak without preface. “The pride and ambition of each fire company,” says Mr. Zophar Mills, “were to be the first to reach a fire, and the most efficient in putting it out. We had as much love for that as we possibly could have for anything else. We would leave our business, our dinner, our anything, and rush for the engine. The night I was getting married there was a fire. I could see it, and I wanted to go immediately. But the next morning early, before breakfast, there was another fire, and I went to that. So you may judge how we liked it. If we had a parade, we paid the expenses ourselves. We always paid for the painting, repairing, and decorating of our engines. Engine No. 13, to which I belonged, was silver-plated—the first that was so—at a cost of perhaps $2000. We didn't ask the corporation to foot the bill. I kept an account of my expenses in connection with the Fire Department, and I found that in seven years I had paid, in charity, in clothing, and in incidentals, $3000.
Mr. Pearl Street, near Fulton, on the 1st of W. L. Jenkins, president of the Bank of July, 1834, I had a narrow escape.
America, was a member l - ildin as high, it above th A. ber of Engine Com- building was high, and all of it above the
pany No. 13. Many of its other members were Quakers. There were few roughs' then, as in modern times. Nor were there any salaries, except in the case of the Chief
second story was consumed, leaving only the gable walls standing. Several firemen, after the flames had been extinguished, were ordered to take their hose
Engineer, and temporarily of the assistant engineers. Firemen now are liberally compensated: they get $1200 a year each, and are retired on half-pay, if infirm, after ten years' service. Many and many a time have I worked my breath out while pumping old Thirteen, and lain in the street, and jumped up again and seized the brakes, because there was no one to take my place. The city was not then divided into districts. I once went from this very building [in Front Street, near Wall] to Astoria, in 1841, and saved four frame buildings whose roofs were already burned off. When the alarm sounded I thought the fire was somewhere up the Bowery. I ran nearly all the way to the Hell Gate Ferry at Eightysixth Street, and then crossed the river. “At a fire in Haydock's drug store, in Vol. LXIL-No. 368. –13
up to the second story, and play upon the débris, in order to prevent sparks from flying about, and fire from smouldering. As I stood there, at six o'clock in the morning, with two or three of my men, I suddenly saw one of the high gable walls spread out like a blanket, and coming down upon us. My only chance was to turn my back and take it; there was no time to run. I was knocked flat, of course, by the falling mass of brick, and was forced through the second-story floor, and also through the first-story floor, into the cellar. I remember raising myself on my elbows, and then getting up and walking out, after having gone through two floors with that wall on top of me. Why didn't it kill me ! I don't know. It was Providence—a miracle. Eugene Underhill and Frederick A. Ward, who
stood a few feet from me, and were holding the hose-pipe, were instantly killed. John T. Hall and William Phillips, two other firemen on the same floor, jumped out of a window, and one of them landed upon a fence, and was badly injured. I wore a tin trumpet swung across my back, and my flesh in consequence was black and blue for six months. My cap was not dug out of the cellar until evening. The former foreman of Thirteen, who was on the second story, advising us, was buried standing up to his neck in hot bricks—so hot as to burn off some of his toes, and a brick's length off the calf of his leg. In consideration of his misfortune he was made the first fire-bell ringer of the City Hall. He lived for thirty years after that. Chief Engineer Gulick displayed great presence of mind in the emergency. His first order was to Engine No. 17, which was working near the fire, to take off the tail-screw, let the water out of the box, and then pump air into the ruins. The men were digging all day for their buried comrades, and for the bodies of poor Underhill and Ward, who stood not fifteen feet away from me when the wall fell without warning. We were playing ‘washing down,” as we called it, the object being thoroughly to put out the fire that lingered in the straw, cotton, and
so on. We considered that the fire was pretty much out, and were only giving a few finishing touches. “Thirteen' afterward erected a marble monument to Underhill and Ward in the cemetery in Carmine Street, opposite Varick. On one side is the inscription [Mr. Mills brought out his manuscript copy, and read]:
‘Here are interred the Bodies of EUGENE UNDERhill, aged 20 years, 7 months, and 9 days, and FREDERick A. WARD, aged 22 years, 1 month, and 16 days, who lost their lives by the falling of a building while engaged in the discharge of their duty as Firemen, on the first day of July, MDCCCXXXIV.”
On another side are the words:
‘This Monument is Erected
Eagle Fire Engine Company,
No. 13, in connection with the Friends of the Deceased, to commemorate the sad event connected with their Death, and the Loss
which they deplore.”
This monument can be seen there now. “At a fire at Nos. 142 and 144 Front Street, in 1833, where my office is now, the building was burned, the walls being left standing. On the De Peyster Street side there was a stairway leading up to the rear of the second story. A fireman stood at the head of these stairs, and held a pipe that played upon the smoking ruins. Suddenly the wall began to fall over into De Peyster Street. The fireman ran down the stairs and under the wall, and was crushed to death. But, wonderful to relate, another fireman, a member of Thirteen, Charles Miller by name, who was standing with his back against the wall, and who kept his position, was saved. The falling wall broke off at about fifteen feet above him, and dashed into the street in front of him, leaving him unhurt. He was standing there to keep warm; it was about three o'clock in the morning, drizzling and cold. People generally would not believe such a story as this, but it is as true as gospel. The shock affected Miller for months. It completely unnerved him. He was in a constant tremor. I knew him well, but haven't seen or heard of him these twenty years. He was in the leather business in the Swamp.” Our foreman then was William S. Moore, a grocer in FrontStreet, near Peck Slip—a very nice man of Quaker parentage. He is dead now. “Still another time,” continued Mr. Mills, “I was carried under. At the Jennings's clothing-store fire on Broadway, near Barclay Street, in the year 1854, where eleven firemen were killed, I was on the roof of an extension to the main building. I was not a fireman then, but an exempt, and had gone there to help the men get the hose up. As I was returning to the street, and had got half way down the ladder between the roof and the second story, the rear wall of the main building fell over upon the extension, carrying down perhaps twenty-five by forty feet of it. I went down with it, ladder and all, into the cellar, through two floors. You wouldn't think it possible for a man to live after going through such an experience as that. While clambering to get out I felt a man's thigh as distinctly as possible; the poor fellow was dead, I suppose. Finally I succeeded in climbing to the level of the first floor, and walked through the store into the street by the front door. The first man I saw was Matsell, Chief of Police. I had lost my cap, and the foreman of No. 42 said, ‘Come around with me and I will get you a cap.” While I was gone more of the wall fell, and killed
several firemen who were trying to rescue the others from the ruins. I shouldn't want to go through that again.”
This experience is typical, and every old fireman will recognize it as such. Typical also is the experience of Mr. Charles Forrester:
‘‘I never lost a day in my business. Often I was out with my engine four nights in the week, yet I was at work as usual in the morning. In those earlier times—say previous to 1836—the city was not districted, and whenever there was a fire anywhere all the engines were out in a jiffy. The excitement kept us up, I suppose. One night my company went up as far as Fifty-third Street and Fourth Avenue. Another night I was sitting at home with a bad cold, and taking a vapor bath. The fire-bell rang; I threw off my blankets, and though in a dripping perspiration, ran with the engine up to Forty-second Street and Tenth Avenue. The next morning I never felt better. I was fit to run for my life. What was the inducement? Well, the love of excitement, and of excelling the rival companies. We were fully repaid when we could brag about our exploits, and make our neighbors feel jealous. The only compensation that the law allowed us was release from military and jury duty. But how cold the winters were ! Six or seven feet of snow in Beekman Street in 1836, at the fire in the cabinet-maker's shop : Outside, the building was coated with ice and icicles; inside, it was a raging furnace. We ran our engine on runners—simple runners made of planking six inches wide and sixteen feet long, with the ends turned up. We had steamed the ends and turned them up ourselves. On these runners, planed smooth on the bottom, we placed the engine, wheels and all, screwing the wheels down to them by the aid of simple clamps over the rims. Four men could pull the engine easily on these runners, though it weighed three thousand pounds. We would roll her out from the engine-house across the pavement to the street on broomsticks. Everything was cheap and effectual in those days. I suppose that now hundreds of dollars would be expended to do what we did with so many cents then. In front of the house of Jonathan Thompson (late Collector of the Port of New York), at No. 83 Beek