Chief Engineer Harry Howard (1822-1889)
Chief Engineer Harry Howard (1822-1889)

        Harry Howard was one of the most celebrated firemen of the 19th
century.  He rose from very humble beginnings to Chief Engineer of the
Volunteer Fire Department.  His association with the fire department
began while a young teen, as a runner for the Peterson Engine Company
No.15, located on Christie Street.  In 1841 he became a full fledged
member of the company. Later, in 1850, Howard joined Atlantic Hose 14. 
The following year he was elected Assistant Engineer.  He reached the
top in 1857 serving as Chief Engineer for three years, with a salary of
five thousand dollars a year.  Chief Engineer was the highest rank in
the NYC's Volunteer Department in 1857 with many of the same duties as
today's Fire Commissioner.  The Chief and his 18 assistants were elected
by ballet by the members of the department.  At the time of Howard's
leadership this comprised of about 4000 men.  One of his major acts as
Chief was to establish bunk rooms in all the firehouses in the city.

        Chief engineer Harry Howard suffered an attack of paralysis on a way to
a fire on July 1857.  The attack left him permanently disabled and
somewhat embittered.  It  was officially deemed the consequence of
severe fire duty.  After his retirement from the Volunteer Fire
Department he held an office in the Department of Public Works.

        Howard witnessed the Great Fire of 1835 while a boy and his
recollections are instructive about that major fire and firefighting of
the time: "I was about thirteen years old, and not being of sufficient
age to join the Department, was one of the lads known as runners.  The
runners used to do lots of good work, such as pulling on the ropes and
working the breaks*.  I recollect it was in the evening, and that it was
a big fire, and I couldn't stay at it long as I wanted because my boss
always made me come home at ten o'clock.  I was an indentured boy for
eleven years ... I recollect that when the fire broke out the old bell
on the Dutch Church corner of Fulton and William Streets rang as I hand
never heard it ring ... The fire was around Wall Street and Exchange
Place and spreading fast.  There was great excitement. Yes there wee
lots of stories about the fire, such as a house being saved in the
middle of the burned district, and of a man being blown over five or six
blocks and coming down safe.  To be respectful you have to listen to
these yarns, but you ain't obliged to believe em."

Information and photo provided by: Peter of the New York City Fire Museum!


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