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Brooklyn Daily Union - August 26, 1876

How the flames were fought in the early day-a curious leaf in local 
history-Interesting sketches and reminiscences of the fire "Laddies" for 
nearly a century.

The first fire company in Brooklyn was organized on April 30, 1785, at the 
Widow Margaret MOSHER's "house of entertainment," on the old ferry road (now 
Fulton street), near the present ferry house.  At this time over ninety-one 
years ago, what is now the third city of the Union was then only a mere 
hamlet, with a population, within its fire limits, of less than three hundred 
all told, of whom about one-third were negro slaves.  

This pioneer company was limited to six members, the first members appointed being:
Henry STATON, Captain
Martin WOODWARD, who were chosen to serve for one year.  At the meeting 
at the Widow MOSHER's it was resolved that 150 pounds should be raised by 
taxation to purchase an engine which the firemen should "regularly play, 
clean, and inspect, on the first Saturday of each month."  A company having 
thus been organized, a committee of freeholders and residents engaged Jacob 
ROOME, of New York, to build an engine for them, and ROOME, who had just 
begun the business of an engine builder in New York, all the engines used in 
this country having been previously imported from England, a few months later 

THE FIRST FIRE ENGINE which was ever owned or used in Brooklyn.  It was a 
dumpy-looking wooden box, about eight feet long, three feet wide, and two 
feet six inches deep, and was mounted on four small solid wheels like those 
of a child's go-cart; it was bolted together with iron and was almost wholly 
without beauty or symmetry.  It was capable of holding about one hundred and 
eighty gallons of water, and was filled by means of buckets, suction hose 
being then unknown.  The machinery was incased in a smaller box in the top of 
which was a gooseneck to which a three-quarter inch pipe was attached, but 
without any leading hose, so that the engine could only be worked with effect 
when very close to a fire.  Twenty-four leather buckets were provided for 
citizens to use in passing water to the engine which could throw a stream of 
water only sixty feet horizontally, through a three-quarter inch pipe, or 
only about one-quarter the distance to which the steam fire engines now in 
use are capable of, throwing a larger and more effective stream.  This 
pioneer engine was, however, the pride of the firemen and the admiration of 
the villagers, who gave it the distinguished title of Washington No. 1.  The 
position of fireman was eagerly sought as one of respectability and honor, 
and in 1787 nine citizens were appointed firemen and compelled to obtain 
licenses, for which they paid 4 shillings each, the fees thus received being 
applied towards payments of the current expenses of the company.  

In 1788, the position having previously been without special privilege, 
perquisite, or exemption, the Legislature was petitioned for authority to 
reorganize the department on a more extended basis, and give its members the 
privileges that were enjoyed by the New York firemen, who were exempt from 
serving as overseers of the highways, jurors, constables, or militiamen, 
except is cases of invasion or imminent public danger.  In 1789 two 
inspectors of chimneys were appointed, on account of a growing frequency of 
fires from foul chimneys.  In 1793, the old engine having worn out, a new and 
more powerful one was built at a cost of 188 pounds 9s. 10d., which was 
subscribed by the residents in sums ranging from one shilling to two pounds 
each.  The first general reorganization of the department was made under an 
act of 1795 providing for an enlarged fire district, the appointment of 
thirty firemen, and requiring each householder to keep two leather buckets 
ready for use at fires.  A fund of 49pounds 0s. 4d. having been subscribed 
for purchasing an alarm bell, a bell was bought and placed on the old 
stone-house at Fulton and Front streets, then owned and occupied by Jacob 
REMSEN, who thereafter in consideration of his services as bellringer, was 
allowed the same exemptions that were enjoyed by the firemen.  When REMSEN's 
house was torn down in 1816, the bell was taken to the corner of Henry and 
Middagh streets, where it remained till 1827, when it was transferred to a 
vacant lot bounded by Bridge, Gold, Sands and Prospect streets, whence it was 
finally removed to the old Eastern Market.  

The Department continued to grow with the populace til when the village was 
incorporated on April 12, 1816, with a population of about 5,000 there were 
three fire engines - Washington 1, Neptune 2, and Franklin 3.  Soon afterward 
the department was again reorganized, and a Board of Trustees and ninety-five 
firemen appointed.  The office of Chief Engineer was created at the same 
time, and the firemen elected John DOUGHTY as the first Chief Engineer of the 
Department.  Mr. DOUGHTY's successors up to the present time have been 
Messrs. William FURMAN, J. F. L. DUFLON, Burdett STRYKER, Peter B. ANDERSON, 
Israel D. VELSOR, William H. FUREY, John CUNNINGHAM, and Thomas S. NEVINS, 
the present Chief of the Paid Department.  No salaries were paid to the 
firemen, and the strict economy with which the Department was operated is 
shown by the fact that its average expenses for the twenty-two years, from 
1794 to 1816 inclusive, were only $240 per annum.  Much trouble had always 
been experienced on account of the falling walls of burning buildings, and 
although an independent hook and ladder company had been organized in 1812, 
another was established in 1816 with fifteen men, who carried their hooks and 
ladders on their shoulders, as they had no truck.  In 1818 this second 
company had thirty men and authority was given to buy a truck for $150, and 
to build a house for $200.  During the previous year it had been ordered that 
householders should keep an additional number of leather buckets ready for 
service, according to the number of fire-places in their houses, and it was 
customary on an alarm of fire for these buckets to be thrown into the street 
to be picked up for use at the fire by others, who were required to return 
them to their owners under penalty of a fine for neglecting to do so.  At the 
same time it was provided that the firemen should war uniform hats.  The 
first fatal fire after the original organization of the Department, was on 
August 21, 1822, when Walter McCAW, a member of the hook and ladder company, 
was mortally injured by slipping on a hook which he was working, at a fire 
which consumed a building filled with naval stores under the Heights.

A Widow and Orphan's Fund was started soon after the first fatal fire, and in 
the same year, by subscriptions for the benefit of the family of the deceased 
firemen.  This fund which still exists has since been increased from time to 
time by the proceeds of entertainments till it now amounts to about $75,000, 
the interest on which is applied to the relief of more than one hundred 
beneficiaries, the widows receiving two tons of coal each every winter and 
from $8.75 to $16.25 in money, while the orphans receive $5 each per month 
till they attain the age of fifteen years, when they cease to be stependiaries.

Old Lafayette Engine Co. No. 5 was organized in 1825 by the residents of the 
neighborhood of the old Military Garden, who secured a headquarters for their 
engine and company in the extension of a house owned by the late Rev. Evan M. 
JOHNSON, at the junction of Fulton and Washington streets.  Soon afterward 
the tenants of the house informed their reverend landlord that they intended 
to vacate their dwelling which they were afraid would be burned by the 
firemen because they "got their engine out on the sidewalk so often, and 
scrubbed, walked around, and inspected it so much."  The Dommie succeeded in 
retaining his tenants, however, whose fears he convinced them were groundless.

The first parade of the department was on July 4, 1826, when it was presented 
with a banner by the Brooklyn Fire Insurance Company, and the day was 
observed by the villagers as one of festivity.

Among the old-time firemen, in addition to the Chief Engineers already 
mentioned, were many citizens who have since distinguished themselves in 
other spheres.

Tax Collector William A. FUREY was assistant foreman of Constitution Engine 
Company No. 7, Front street, near Bridge, which was organized in 1828, and 
which was noted for its hospitality to all visiting firemen from other 

Comptroller and ex-Mayor POWELL, in 1832, joined Neptune Engine Company No. 
3, which lay in Middagh street, near Henry street, and of which Gamailiel 
KING was foreman.  In 1833 Mr. POWELL was Secretary of Eagle Engine Company 
No. 4, which lay at the corner of Front and Fulton streets, and of which 
William VORIS was foreman.

The Hon. Joshua M. VAN COTT was foreman of the first hose company, which was 
organized in 1835, which had a painter's old hand-cart for its hose carriage, 
and kept it in a wooden shed until it was provided with better quarters at 
Fireman's Hall.  Mr. VAN COTT and Mr. POWELL were also noted militiamen, Mr. 
Powell being Major of the old Sixty-fourth Regiment in 1844, and Mr. VAN COTT 
being Adjutant of the regiment at the same time.

President Frederick S. MASSEY, of the Paid Fire Department, City Works 
Commissioner Wm. A. FOWLER, and other well-known public officials were 
members of Pacific Engine Company No. 14 (now No. 5) in Pierrepont street, 
which was organized in 1846.  This company was always a "nobby" organization. 
 It purchased it own engine at a cost of $1,000, and in 1851 it bought its 
own engine-house for $2,000 and furnished it handsomely.

County Judge Henry A. MOORE was assistant foreman of Brooklyn Engine Company 
No. 17 which was organized in 1848.  This company had its old hand engine 
blown into the river by an explosion of saltpetre a the burning of THORNE's 
stores in 1860, and it 1861 it was provided with a steam engine, which was 
the first one used in the city.

The Williamsburgh volunteer Department, which was known as the Fire 
Department of the Eastern District of Brooklyn, after the consolidation of 
Brooklyn.  Williamburgh and Bushwich in 1854, has a peculiar history. The 
first regular engine companies in Williamsburgh were Washington No. 1 and 
Probation No. 2.  In 1835 John LUTHER was appointed as the first Chief 
Engineer of the Department.  In 1836 a public cistern or reservoir (such as 
were also used in the Western District) for supplying the engines with water, 
was constructed at the junction of South Second and Fourth streets.  In 1839 
the engines were sold at a Sheriff's sale to satisfy a judgment held against 
the city by Abram MESEROLE, who afterward rented them to the village for six 
years at $150 per annum.

Immediately after the first two companies were organized the villagers 
divided themselves into two factions, known as the Northsiders or friends of 
Washington Engine Company No. 1, and the Southsiders, or friends of Probator 
No. 2, and the rivalry between these two factions was so bitter that they 
were constantly fighting each other, and often had regular pitched battles.

The Eastern District Volunteer Department had in 1869 one Chief Engineer 
(John w. SMITH, who is now Assistant Chief of the paid Department), four 
assistant engineers, 610 enrolled members, three steam engines, three hand 
engines, ten hose carriages, and three hook and ladder trucks.

The Western District had at the same time, one chief (the late John 
CUNNINGHAM) and seven assistant engineers, 1,743 enrolled members, fifteen 
steam engines, two hand engines, thirteen  hose carriages, and six hook and 
ladder trucks.

The Paid Fire Department was organized in September, 1869, under a 
legislative enactment of the previous May, providing for an appropriation of 
$175,000 to pay for organization and for maintenance until January 1, 1870, 
and for $250,000 per annum thereafter.  The first Board of Commissioners were 
Fred. S. MASEY (President), Hugh McLAUGHLIN, Anthony F. CAMPBELL, and William 
A. BROWN.  They found a volunteer department consisting, in Both Districts 
together, of 2,336 members,  eighteen steam engines, five hand engines, 
twenty-three hose carriages, and nine hook and ladder trucks.  They selected 
from among these thirteen steam engines, and six hook and ladder trucks and 
manned them with companies of nine men each, and thus organized the paid department.

The Department as now organized has seventeen steam engines and five hook and 
ladder trucks in active service, manned by about 200 men all told, and 
operated at an annual expense of about $350,000.  These facts, in connection 
with the fact that Brooklyn now has a half million inhabitants, and over 65, 
The buildings worth, with their contents, more than $500,000,000, give ample 
illustration of the past and present means and methods of the local fire men.

Transcribed by Cherie Sampson
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