EARLY BROOKLYN AND ITS VOLUNTEER FIRE DEPARTMENT


EARLY BROOKLYN

SETTLEMENT BY THE DUTCH IN 1636 WALLABOUT, GOWANUS, " THE FERRY, AND BREUCKELYN THE VILLAGE CHARTERED BROOKLYN IN THE REVOLUTION FIRE ACT OF 1768 FIRST FIREMEN APPOINTED, 1772 FIRST FIRE COMPANY, 1785 THE FIRST ENGINE FIRST FIRE DEPARTMENT ORGANIZED, 1788 CHIM NE INSPECTORS THE SECOND ENGINE INCREASE OF THE DEPARTMENT

THE FIRE-BELL VILLAGE INCORPORATED 1816, AND NEW COMPANIES ORGANIZED JOHN DOUGHTY, THE FIRST CHIEF ENGINEER BANNER PRESENTATION, 1826 THE CITY INCORPORATED, 1834 CONSOLIDATTON ACT, 1855 FIRE COMMISSIONERS APPOINTED, 1857.

The extension of the Department under this act was very slight; but the legislative establishment was a decided gain, and the town authorities were greatly benefited by this beginning of a duly constituted Department which could expand as the requirements of the future might require. The men chosen as firemen at the first town meeting held after the passage of this act, on April 1,, 1788, were: Stephen Baldwin, captain; Benjamin Baldwin, Silas Betts, Thomas Havens, Joseph Stevens, Gilbert Van Mater, John Doughty, Jr., and John Van Cott.

The most common cause of fires in those days was foul chimneys, and under the powers conferred on them by the act of 1788 the freeholders, in 1789, instituted the office of fire or chimney-inspectors. It was made the duty of these officials, of whom there were two, annually chosen, to inspect the chimneys in the fire district every six weeks, with authority to order foul chimneys cleaned and imperfect chimneys cemented within six days after notice, on penalty of ten shillings fine for neglect of such order. And, to make the order self-operative with the easy-going citizens of that day, it was further provided that if a chimney should take fire and blaze out at the top, the owner or occupant of the' building should be fined twenty shillings with costs of suit. This acted like a charm. The fact of a fire brought its fine, and no assertion that the chimney was clean could stand before such evidence of the real state of the case. So completely did this rule effect what it was designed for, that during the following year no persons were fined for foul chimneys though the inspectors first appointed under the rule, namely, John Van Nostrand and Jacob Sharpe, seem to have been vigilant and faithful.. .

In 1789 the firemen, too, were brought under a rather more strict control. At the annual meeting of this year it was resolved " that the firemen shall meet on the first Monday in every month, at an hour before sunrise, under the fine of four shillings for every neglect." This action was found to be necessary on account of the lax attention to their duties to which the firemen had become habituated under the infrequency of fires, and they were in danger of regarding their positions as places of honor without corresponding responsibilities. The consequence was that they turned up at the engine-house only on the occasion of a fire, and it not infrequently happened that their apparatus, through neglect, was not in a condition for effective use. Their presence at the engine-house at least once a month secured their adherence to the principle, " In time of peace, prepare for war"—which in their case meant, " In time of quiet prepare for fire"—and it also brought them together in that social intercourse which has proved so valuable an element in the history of the volunteer fire organizations of this country, developing a spirit of comradeship of the highest utility in a service where men are called on to work together in the presence of danger, and sometimes to risk death for each other.

Those who were distinguished by being chosen as firemen during the very early years, when the honor was the most coveted, were:

1789 John Van Nostrand, captain; Theodorus Hunt, Nehemiah Allen, John Doughty, Jr., John Dean, Daniel Hathaway, and Joseph Carwood.

1790 John Van Nostrand, captain; Thomas Everitt, David Dick, Burdette Stryker, Nicholas Allen, Peter Cannon, Abiel Titus and John Garrison.

1791 John Van Nostrand, captain; Thomas Everitt, John Garrison, William Furman, John Doughty, Jr., David Dick, Thomas Place and Nicholas Allen.

1792 John Van Nostrand, captain; John Garrison, Nicholas Allen, Burdette Stryker, John Doughty, Thomas Everitt, Abiel Titus and Benjamin Dick.

1793 John Van Nostrand, captain; John Garrison, Nehemiah Allen, Burde Stryker, John Doughty, Thomas Everitt, Abiel Titus and Theodorus Hunt.

The recurrence of the same names at these repeated elections, yet with annual changes, so that the ranks of the firemen were seldom identical one year with another, indicates that while in the main the inhabitants availed themselves of the experience of the firemen who had already served, there was such competition for the places that a certain degree of rotation in office was the established rule. Little by little the restrictions of new rules were imposed on the firemen, and that a high degree of discipline was not maintained is evidenced by the fact, that as late as 1791 it was found necessary to uphold the authority of the captain of the company by imposing a fine of two shillings for absence from duty in defiance of the orders of that officer.

It was not wholly on the efforts of the firemen that the community relied for the extinguishment of fires. -Then, as later, it was the custom for all good citizens to lend a hand in these emergencies, forming a line from the engine to the nearest well and passing water to the engine in buckets, of which twenty-four, the property of the town, were kept at the engine-house, which stood on a lane leading off from Front Street, near the present Fulton Street, then known as the Old Ferry Road. It was a very small territory that these primitive firemen had to protect. The entire district comprised in the fire limits contained only seventy-five buildings, all between Henry Street and the Ferry, and these were occupied by not more than three hundred and fifty persons, including about one hundred slaves—fifty-five families altogether. In a district so sparsely settled and slightly built up—all outside of it being open country—there was naturally little call on the firemen for active duty and notwithstanding the regulations requiring the men to report at intervals at the engine-house and keep their apparatus in good order, the general disuse into which the engine fell did more to deteriorate it than almost any amount of lively running and operation. So it became apparent, in 1794 that a new engine must be obtained to replace the old one, and at the town-meeting of that year it was decided to raise a fund by subscription for the purchase of a new machine. It took seven months to raise the money but during that time the sum of £188 19s. 10d. was obtained, and with that amount at his disposal, the president of the Village Trustees, Joshua Sands, ordered of Hardenbrook, the builder in New York, a new and more powerful engine, embracing all the improvements of the day. In about four months this engine was delivered, and was put to a public test in the presence of the inhabitants, called together in special meeting for the purpose, and its performance was so satisfactory that it was by vote approved and accepted. On this occasion a new office was created, that of treasurer of the Fire Department, and John Hicks was chosen the first incumbent of the office.

After a few years' operation under the then existing charter, it became apparent that it would be necessary to extend the fire limits; and steps were taken toward that successive enlargement of the field of operations which has gone on ever since, as the city, year after year, outgrew the provisions that had been made for its protection. A petition was sent to the Legislature, in pursuance of which an act was passed, on March 24, 1795, enlarging the fire limits, authorizing the increase of the number of firemen to thirty, and confirming the town's action in creating, the year before, the offices of treasurer and clerk of the Fire Department. The town authorities were also empowered to require the inhabitants to supply themselves with fire-buckets, and to fine them for omission to do so. These provisions were incorporated in the action of the town at the next annual meeting in April of that year, at which the full number of thirty firemen was chosen, and each householder or owner was ordered to supply himself with two fire buckets, under a penalty of ten shillings for failure to do so. The consequence was that over one hundred buckets were added to the facilities the town had for fighting fire, one-half of which were in the hands of private persons and the rest were among the apparatus of the Fire Department. The extent of the fire limits was now such that the earlier expedient of communicating the outbreak of a fire by word of mouth was no longer sufficient, and the need of a fire bell was obvious. The funds for the purchase of such a bell were procured by a subscription authorized at the town-meeting of 1796, and the sum of £49 4s was raised, which was put into the hands of the clerk of the Department, with instructions to get as big a bell as the money would pay for.

Then came the interesting question as to where the bell should be hung. The desire to be aroused from peaceful slumbers, even in so exciting an event as an alarm of fire, was not prevalent among the rather sleepy Dutchmen who inhabited Brooklyn one hundred years ago; and it was found very difficult to get the consent of any one to have the bell ring out its wild alarms on or near his premises. Finally, however, consent was obtained from Jacob Remsen, who lived at the junction of what is now Fulton and Front Streets, to have the bell erected over his venerable stone house, which stood at that time very close to the water s edge. And Mr. Remsen himself was engaged to attend to the ringing of the bell—an arrangement which spared him from being awakened by the ringing of the bell, for it made him the awakener of others. He was further compensated for his services by being granted all the privileges and exemptions conferred on firemen by the original act of the Legislature creating the Department. The bell remained over Remsen's house as long as the latter stood. The march of improvement necessitated the removal or the pulling down of the house in 1816, and after that the bell was rung from Middagh Street, near Henry, until 1827, when it was again moved to a vacant lot where the Eastern Market was subsequently erected, and when that building was put up the bell was hung in the cupola of it. There it remained, long after the building was used for religious services instead of for a market, the town by that time having outgrown so inconsiderable a bell. In 1846, while the City Hall was building, an alarm bell was temporarily hung in a structure conveniently near the hall.

The original act of the Legislature creating the Fire Department had opened the way to extend its operations by successive additional acts, another of which was passed March 21, 1797, directed more especially to the question of burning chimneys, for the better prevention of which the inhabitants and freeholders were empowered to appoint not less than three nor more than five men, with full authority to control the chimneys of the village and to enforce their orders concerning the same by stringent rules and fines. In May following, Henry Stanton, John Doughty, Martin Boerum, John Van Nostrand and John Stryker were appointed under the provisions of this act, and as soon as they had organized, a few weeks later, they enacted on the subject of fines to be imposed for fires resulting from carelessness in respect to chimneys. A list of all chimneys was prepared and kept in the Chimney Register, and the facts concerning the burning of any of them were likewise entered in this book, as well as the fines imposed and collected. The record for nine years in this book showed a total of fines of £20 7s which, as directed by the act, was set apart for lighting the streets. By this same act, the force was increased by five firemen, the special duty of whom it was to look after the chimneys of the town. About this time, or a little before, the apparatus of the Department was increased by the addition of another engine, which was named Neptune No. 2. No further increase in the number of engines was made until 1810, when Franklin No. 3 was organized--in both instances the number of firemen being increased to man the additional engines.

Little by little the Department grew in numbers, in apparatus, in efficiency, and in importance; so that, when, in 1816, the village of Brooklyn was incorporated, it was the obviously proper thing to do to give the Village Trustees full authority to make their Fire Departmert what in their judgment it should be. As soon as the incorporating act was passed, therefore, they promptly organized two new companies, each composed of thirty men, increasing the total number of names on the roll of the Department to ninety-five. They also provided for the choosing of four fire-wardens. The Trustees of the village under whose administration these changes were made were the first Board of Trustees the village had, chosen under the provisions of the incorporating act of 1816. They were: Andrew Mercein, John Garrison, John Doughty, John Seaman and John Dean. They appointed a day for the election of firemen and fire wardens, and on June 2, 1817, the following persons were elected:

Washington Engine No. i.—Abraham Remsen, Samuel Watts, William Foster, Jonathan Morrell, Daniel Spinning, John Murphy, William C. Smith, Barardus Dezendorf, John Rogers, John M. Robins, William Jenlcins, Jerome Schenck, David Anderson, Charles Hewlett, Ezekiel Raynor, Simeon Richardson, Samuel Shotwell, Gold Silliman, Jacob Brown, John Ablert, James Flecker, Abraham Boerum

Neptune Engine No. 2.—Joseph Moser, Jeremiah Wells, Stephen R. Boerum, John D. Conklin, Elias Combs, Edmund Bumford, Stephen S. Voris, Winant P. Bennett, Samuel S. Carman, Parskall Wells, Nicholas Covert, Cornelius White, Daniel Hodges, Henry Wiggins.

Franklin Engine No. 3.—Elijah Raynor, Jacob Garrison, William Morris, William Thomas, Isaac Nostrand, James Titus, John Birdsall, George Storms, Cornelius Van Hone, Robert Millard, Morris Simonson, George Fricke, Samuel Carman, Aaron S. Robins, Ancel Titus, John Trapple, Michael Trapple, John Patchen, John Simonson John R. I Latham Andrew Demarest, Sylvanus White, Joseph Place, John Titus, George Haviland, Richard Stanton, Thomas Burrough, James Boyd, Edmond Cope, Joshua Rogers

Fire-Wardens:—John Hannen, Isaac Moser, John Moon, Noah Waterbury.

It is interesting to note, as indicative of the quality of the membership of this early Fire Department, that the John Murphy whose name appears in the roll of Engine No. 1, was the father of the late Henry C. Murphy, whose conspicuous services at home and abroad to his city and his country made him, perhaps, the most distinguished citizen of Brooklyn in his generation.

The interest of the firemen in the dignity of their organization increased with the growth of the Department, the effect of a larger enrolment alone conducing to the development of an esprit de cords. Consequently, as they saw their Department growing more important, they desired to add to its importance, and to this end, in 1816, they suggested to the authorities the propriety of creating the office of Chief Engineer, and this was done, the choice being referred to the votes of the firemen themselves, who unanimously conferred on John Doughty, one of the most experienced of their number, the honor of being the first Chief of the Brooklyn Fire Department. This -year, also, for the first time, the expenses of the Department, which hitherto had been met from fines imposed on delinquent firemen and careless householders and contributions - from the firemen, were provided for out of an appropriation included in the tax estimates, and the amount was three hundred dollars. This appropriation, while exceeding the average annual cost of the Department for the twenty-two years pieceding by only sixty dollars, was expended so judiciously as to leave an unexpended balance at the end of the year.





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