At a meeting held in early January 1896, the Fire Commissioners and the Aldermen held conflicting opinions regarding the best manner of using the $25,000 to be appropriated for the fire department. The Fire Commissioners proposed to purchase a combined chemical engine/hose cart, and a suitable number of horses. There was also talk of the need to improve the alarm system.
At the Fire Commissioner’s Board meeting held on Aug. 6, 1896, it was decided to appoint six men for the Firehouse on Palisade Ave. There were twenty-three applicants for the position, but only seventeen actually appeared for the examination, and only six were finally selected. It would be the duty of the paid firemen to maintain a perpetual watch for fires by day and night and to keep the horses and apparatus ready to go to a fire whenever an alarm was sounded. The original six paid firemen were William W. Baker, Robert Rubenstrunk, William Lorenze, Charles Kleine, Harry Greenhalgh and Simon Stroh. The first three men were assigned to Hope Hook & Ladder Company. The second three men were assigned to Lady Washington Hose Co. Their salary was set at $750. each per year and they reported for duty on September 1, 1896.
It was also decided at the August 6, 1896 meeting that the truck of Hope Hook & Ladder and the chemical engine that was on order would be housed at the Palisade Avenue Firehouse. Since two horses would be provided for each apparatus, an important requirement for appointment as a firemen was being an expert team driver. William W. Baker, who was an experienced team driver and one of the original six firemen, would train the two teams of horses. The alterations to 18 Palisade Ave. were completed and ready to receive the new department in mid-August, 1896.
At a meeting held on August 27, 1896, James J. Mulcahey was made the Chief of the Paid Fire Department. The Chief was appointed at an annual salary of $900 and was provided with a horse and business wagon. He was also to do the work of keeping the electric telegraphic signal system in order, at a further compensation of $600. In 1896, The Telegraph Bureau was located at 18 Palisade Ave. A large number of signal boxes had been placed in position in different parts of the City. The system, at that time, consisted of 38 fire alarm boxes and 40 miles of telegraph wires. Cards were printed showing the location of each box and where the key was kept, since the system required a key to transmit the signal.
At seven o’clock on the morning of September 1, 1896, Chief Engineer Mulcahey called the roll. All men were present. The horses were placed in the stalls and cared for by the men who busied themselves about the house. Several volunteer members of the companies were in the house looking on, while the paid men were endeavoring to train the horses and make them familiar with the new quarters. It was at this time that Chief Mulcahey informed the volunteer members that they would not be allowed in the firehouse after twelve p.m. This caused a little dissatisfaction on the part of the volunteers.
The first test of the new department came just five days later with a fire at 4:00 A.M. on the fifth of September at 30 Palisade Avenue, which caused $10,000 in damages. The horses were trained to perfection. When the bells rang, the stalls automatically opened, the horses left their stalls by themselves and stood under their harnesses which were suspended from the ceiling and so arranged that they were easily placed over the backs of the horses. This entire operation took only about 15 to 20 seconds. The average time for a turnout, in which the men dressed; hooked up the horses to the apparatus; and were responding; was 30 seconds. The men did good work, but the need for additional paid men was raised by some citizens.
Occasionally, the fire horses departed from their good training. Once while they were operating at a fire, the driver had dismounted, and was engaging the chemical engine, when the horse bolted because of a hissing sound coming from the engine. The team ran about seven blocks with the engine before they were captured.
In May of 1897, the Fire Commissioners received a communication from the paid men stating that they had been in the Fire Department for eight months and had never had a night off. They stated that some of the men had families and wanted arrangements made so that they could have a little more time at home. Up to this point the firemen were allowed only three one-hour periods a day for meals and three twelve-hour days off a month.
During this era, the department adopted a different system of fighting a fire. The new system was to brave the smoke and the heat, enter the building, if that was possible, find out where the fire was, and fight it at close range. It replaced the old procedure of deluging the outside of the building with streams of water, while the fire had its own way inside.
In October 1897, five men were added to the department and assigned to the firehouse on Vineyard Ave. Four horses were acquired to pull the two fire apparatus. In 1898, the department issued aluminum fire hats. Most of the firemen liked them because they were light and serviceable. In 1899, the fire department received pompier ladders (scaling ladders). The men also received shorter hours. The new hours were twenty-four hours off, every tenth day, plus three one-hour periods for meals.
Next Article of Series is: ” The YFD in the Early 1900’s “