Fire-Fighting In Indianapolis
The history, of fire-fighting in the city, of Indianapolis should be divided into four chapters, each of which would represent a different and distinct epoch, and each succeeding one showing the progress made over its predecessor. Beginning with the crude and imperfect appliances incident to the village, there followed in natural succession the better methods in use in towns, then the still better methods of a small but ambitious city, culminating in the best modern methods required in the metropolis of a great State; a metropolis filled with factories, teeming with commercial enterprises, crowded with costly public and private edifices and great blocks, into which are gathered vast accumulations of property.
This history began seventy-two years ago in June, 1821 soon after Indianapolis was cut out from the heart of a thick forest. A few settlers had arrived, and the first government sale of lots had been made, when the fathers of the village came together and took measures for protecting their log cabins and rough board houses from fire. These measures were on the primitive plan that still prevails in villages, and was scarcely entitled to the name of an organization. The president of this pioneer company was John Hawkins, long since deceased; the secretary was James M. Ray, who lived to see Indianapolis a city of ninety thousand inhabitants. This company operated with buckets and ladders. It was not until 1835, fourteen years later, that better protection came in the shape of a hand engine, a machine that the honest villagers looked upon as a mechanical marvel, a superlative achievement in the field of invention for the extinguishing of fires. The bucket and ladder company did not pass out of existence, but was handed over to young men and boys, the older members forming the Marion Fire Company. This company was brought into existence by the completion of the Indiana State House in that year, an edifice in brick covered with gray plaster, which was thought to be a great architectural triumph, heralded to the world as a close copy of the ancient Parthenon at Athens. The State House was the depository, of public records, and the General Assembly which met there saw the necessity of securing some better protection from fire for these valuable documents than the inefficient appliances then existing. The Treasurer of State was authorized by resolution in due form, "to procure twenty-five buckets and a sufficient number of ladders" with which to reach the roof of the Capitol, and also to pay half the expense of a fire engine, the citizens of Indianapolis developing to pay the other half. So the " Marion Engine, Hose and Protection Company " was organized, with Caleb Scudder as captain. In September, 1835, the engine was received and placed in the hands of the stalwart young firemen. It was not entirely new, having already seen some use. For that day, however, it was a good machine and did valuable service. A small frame house stood on the north side of The Governor's Circle, as it was then called, now Monument Place, and in it the engine was placed. A second story was afterwards built on this house and this upper story was long occupied by the Common Council.
A PREDICTION AND WHAT CAME OF IT
In 1851, this engine house was destroyed by fire, and though the machine and most of the belongings of the company were saved, the city records, kept in the second story, perished in the flames. The fire was considered of incendiary origin, and it was strongly charged that some one connected, with the Marion Company had applied the match. This charge had an apparently good foundation. The members of the company had long been in an ill humor at being lodged in such ramshackle quarters, and intimations had been made that it would certainly burn on some fine night, as it did.
After the fire the company secured better quarters, and in 1855 a brick house was built for the Marion Fire Company on the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and New York Street, now Fire Department Headquarters. In 1858 a fine " side-brake " engine was bought, but had little service, and in April, 1860, was sold to the little city of Peru for $2,130.
It was in 1849-1850 that the Volunteer Fire Department became one of the institutions, in fact the institution, of the town. No young man could expect political place, business success or social recognition unless he was a member of a fire company. No public demonstration could hope for success unless it found favor with the fire boys, who were the autocrats of everything in sight. Lads of from sixteen to twenty ears old belonged to the " O. K. Bucket Company," from which they developed into full-fledged firemen. The leather buckets were trundled to a fire in a crate wagon, while the boys ran and yelled like Indians at a massacre. As the buildings were nearly all small and rarely exceeding two stories in height, these bucket monkeys did fairly good service, and saved property after the fashion of the chemicals of today by putting out what the newspapers call " incipient conflagrations " little fires which when they are suffered to get a start soon become big ones. The fealty of a volunteer fireman to his particular company was of an intensity that can scarcely be comprehended today. It was like the loyalty of a Highlander to his chief and clan. Great rivalry existed among the several companies, and the department began to make itself felt in the politics of the town. Jealousies of a bitter character were engendered, and when the members of one company came against those of another the tug of war was imminent. The rivalry of getting first water " led to a series of fires that carried dismay, to the property holders and filled the insurance men with alarm. It began to be remarked that detached frame buildings were exceedingly liable to burn and that when they did burn one or another of the companies would be on the spot with first water with suspicious alacrity. The winning company never failed to boast of its achievement and the vanquished companies felt in duty bound to regain their reputation at the earliest date possible. So one fire followed another in quick succession.
One year these burnings were exceedingly, numerous. It was believed that they were inspired by the injudicious offer of two prizes by the insurance men. One of these prizes was a silver trumpet, the other a silver pitcher, to the companies getting first and second water on the greatest number of fires during the year. During those twelve months scarcely an old, unoccupied or isolated frame building in the town escaped the flames. The insurance men saw that their offer worked to their detriment, and instead of making the boys more active and efficient to save property had the effect of endangering good property by the destruction of light and comparatively worthless buildings. This encouragement to arson was never repeated.
One of the favorite pranks of the volunteers was to wash out houses of bad repute. This they did not so much from a desire to improve the morals of the town as to give vent to their superabundant and overflowing deviltry. For several years nearly all the mischief that took place in the town was laid at the doors of the volunteers, the survivors of whom it must now be said are among the most staid and respectable of citizens, and while there may be a twinkle in their eye when any of these ancient escapades are referred to would be only too quick to reprimand any repetition of such pranks by the present generation.
THE GALLANT VOLUNTEERS
The halcyon days of the volunteer Fire Department in Indianapolis were in the period comprised in the years 1851-1860, after which the old system passed away to be succeeded by the more orderly and business like methods of the paid Fire Department. The members of the various volunteer companies, as elsewhere remarked, were the bone, sinew and brains of the community, and many of them in the stirring times of war achieved high position in civil and military life.
One of the early captains of the Marions was the venerable James Blake at a ripe old age, he was honored by every one. He was a well-known figure during the War, and was attached to Governor Morton's staff with the title of Colonel. When the boys came marching home again to re-enlist, or at the close of the War to be mustered out, Colonel Blake's duty was to receive them and, assisted by citizens, to escort them to the State House yard, where they were given a rousing welcome home, their gallant deeds applauded and the hospitality of the city extended in a feast to Which the boys in blue never failed to do full justice.
Another of the captains of the Marions was the late Berry R. Sulgrove, for many years editor of the Indianapolis Journal, a man of great talent and prodigious memory. Among the captains who survive are John Coburn and Joseph K. English. Captain Coburn was a gallant soldier, Colonel of the Thirty-third Indiana Volunteer Infantry, who came out of the War a Brigadier-General. He also represented this District in Congress for several terms. In those days there was a special organization in which each fire company was represented. This was called the Indianapolis Fire Association, and Mr. English was for several years its president. Another well-known captain of the Marions was Thomas Buchanan. Among the surviving members of this company are Henry Coburn, John D. Morris, Hiram Seibert, James Ferguson, James Bolton, George Northway, Charles E. Brigham, H. G. Garner, Samuel Wallace, Aaron Clem, John Gray, Howard Stretcher, Milton Sulgrove, George H. West, Col. N. R. Ruckle, recently Adjutant-General of Indiana (who was the last running officer, assistant director, of the company), and General Fred Knefler. The last named was a pipeman, and the dashing fireman became the Colonel of the Seventy-ninth Indiana Infantry, one of the best regiments that ever marched to the front, and that won imperishable fame at Mission Ridge.
"SHANGHAIS " AND " WOODEN SHOES"
The Independent Relief Company, the next oldest following the Marion, gave to the city and State a number of distinguished men. Among these are Hon. Byron K. Elliott, the foremost member of the Indianapolis bar, who for many years sat upon the Supreme Bench of the State, and who is honored for his learning and probity. Judge Elliott has long been distinguished as an orator, and he can doubtless attribute the beginning of some of his readiness in speech to the practice he obtained in the breezy meetings of the fire boys along in the fifties. Among the other surviving members of the Relief are Dr. George Sloan, chemist and pharmacist; James McCready, ex-Mayor of the city, a handsome old gentlemen, who when younger was declared to bear a strong resemblance to the great Napoleon; William Mansur, Alex Graydon (now of St. Louis, Mo.), E. S. Tyler, Paul Sherman, Taylor Elliott and E. F. Norwood. Hon. John C. New, ex-Consul General at London, was long a member of this company.
Another company, the Invincibles, largely composed of Germans, was organized in 1854. Many of the members of this company were Turners trained in the school of athletics, founded by the great German teacher and patriot, Jahr. The Invincibles were thoroughly in earnest, and had no superiors as firefighters. Their machine bore the name Victory," a name which their Teutonic tongues could not frame to pronounce, and while calling themselves the "Inwincibles" changing their v's to w's they always called their tub the " Wictory."
The other companies in a spirit of pleasantry called them, in allusion to their nativity, the " Wooden Shoes," but it was remarked that this application of footwear was entirely metaphorical, for the German company were fleet footed young fellows and were seldom last at a fire. They were game to the backbone, and retorted in suitable nicknames for all the jibes and quips that the other companies sought to put upon them. The company was not exclusively German in its makeup, but had many native-born Americans among its members. The Relief company was credited with being somewhat aristocratic, and had been called the " Silk Stockings." The Invincibles did not recognize that name but called their stylist competitors "The Shanghais, " that ungainly style of barnyard fowl having just then come into fashion.
The men of the Victory would stand up to their necks in water, pumping away at their tub singing:T'row, Wictory, t'row,T'row, Wictory, t'row,The Shanghai boys has got no wasser,T'row, Wictory, t'row!"
The Reliefs attempted to put an additional feather in their caps by electing as captain, Jacob Bisbing, who had been an active member of the Marion Hose, of Philadelphia, one of the famous companies in the days of the volunteer system. Mr. Bisbing was captain of the Reliefs for several terms. He was for many years a well-known police officer of this city, a very large, and at one time, a very powerful man in fact, the typical fireman of the olden time. Charles Richmann and Joseph W. Davis have both been captains of the Invincibles.
"SPIRIT OF '76" AND "WESTERN LIBERTIES"
The Southside company, known as "The Spirit of Seventy-Six," had in its membership a number of citizens who still survive to tell of those days of glory. Among these are John Marsee and Thomas G. Cottrell, both of which were for many years members of the City Council and stanch friends of the Fire Department. Frank Glazier was also a member of this company, as was also his brother, the late Chief Glazier. Frank Ingersoll, long a member of the paid Fire Department, received his training in this company.
The "Western Liberties," whose house occupied the site of the present Sixes, was the West Side company, and its admirers and adherents were warm and steadfast. W. O. Sherwood ("Deck"), Michael G. Fitchey, at present building inspector, and Isaac Thalman were members of this company.
With all its crudities, its lack of discipline, its interference in political affairs and its general wildness and disregard for the rights of others, it must be admitted that the Volunteer Department was a good preparatory school for those who afterward became members of the paid department. The Volunteers under the new system soon became amenable to discipline, and the dash, enthusiasm and spirit that had characterized the Volunteers gave tone to the new system. The zeal of the Volunteer has always been encouraged in the paid department and has led the men on to deeds of noble daring and devotion to duty that have rarely been equaled and have never been excelled by any Fire Department. It is a fact worthy of notice that the discipline of the paid Fire Department of Indianapolis has always been easily maintained and that the few jarring and inharmonious elements incidental to political machinations have been set at rest by the establishment of the force on the present nonpartisan basis.
FIRE CISTERNS BUILT
In 1852, ten fire cisterns were built. Before this time the engines had for the most part to depend upon wells for a supply, of water. It is scarcely necessary to say that this was a very precarious reliance. It took but little time for the suction pipe even of one of these little hand engines to draw a well dry. On many occasions water would have to be passed in buckets along a line of men and poured into the tub of the engine, from which it could be squirted upon the fire. It was rare indeed that more water was not thrown upon the crowd or upon competing firemen than upon the flames. Twenty-four men were usually required to man the brakes of one of these old fashioned machines. This crew would work until they had pumped out about all their wind, when another four and twenty would take their places. The chief duty of the captain was to cheer the men with frequent exhortations of "down on 'er boys! down on 'er!" Next to the captain the most coveted place was that of pipeman, a position sought after with great avidity, and one which the holder had to maintain by force of arms.
At this period no public celebration of any kind was complete without a parade of the red-shirted volunteers. The Fourth of July was especially their day. The machines were decorated, and as they went in parade through the town, the firemen in resplendent uniforms were the admired of all beholders.
Following the Marion, the next company organized was the Independent Relief, the quarters of which were on the west side of Meridian Street, about a quarter of a square south of Washington Street. The engine was named the " Friendship," the hose company was " The Hand-in-Hand," and the motto, " Friendship and Relief go Hand-in Hand." Another company was the " Western Liberties," on West Washington Street, where the No. 6 Engine House now stands. A fourth company was the Invincibles," composed largely of Turners, whose engine house was on the east side of New Jersey Street, half a Square north of Washington Street. A southside company was located on South Street, immediately east off the present St. Vincent's Hospital.
There was no central tower or place from which to sound the alarm in those days. Every man was an alarm unto himself and to his entire neighborhood. It is safe to say that no such thing as a still alarm was known in the good old volunteer days. Everybody yelled and all the bells in town rang and rang in most bewildering clamor. All the engine houses, with one exception, had bells. This exception was the Western Liberties, which for a long time awoke the echoes on an iron triangle of monstrous proportions, the vibrations of which set teeth on edge for half a mile about. The last company organized was that of the "Rovers," located on Indiana Avenue. It was only in existence for a few months, disbanding in June, 1859.
During the five years preceding the breaking out of the War of the Rebellion, Indianapolis enjoyed great prosperity and unusual growth. It was getting to be a city, and ready for something better in the way of fire protection than the hap-hazard volunteer system. The increase in value of buildings in 1858 was estimated at $600,000 and the total taxables were $10,475,000. The volunteer companies were getting to be an annoying quantity in politics. Their influence was exerted in all municipal affairs in a exceedingly arbitrary and tyrannical way. The conflicting interests of the companies in setting forward this man and that as candidates kept the town in turmoil. The companies were always quarreling with the City Council, and at last, in August, 1859, the Council declared the volunteer system must go. The proposition was to establish a department with steam apparatus under the pay system, which, as Miles Greenwood, the first Chief Engineer of Cincinnati, had remarked, "neither drank whisky nor threw brickbats."
PAID DEPARTMENT ORGANIZED
The paid Fire Department, organized in the fall of 1859, had no steam engines until several months later. The hand engines were continued in use, but taken to the fires by horses. The brakes, as before the change, continued to be manned by volunteers; these came from among the bystanders, who were, for the most part, ex-members of the service. The payroll was not an extensive one. The drivers were on full pay, while the hosemen, who had other means of livelihood-their attendance at fires being a side issue were paid about $15 a month for their services.
The office of Chief Fire Engineer was created April 24, 1846. The first chief of the paid department was Joseph W. Davis, who held that position in 1861-62-63. The salary was only $300 a year, but the position was looked upon as one of great honor, and that it could be made the stepping stone to an elective office to which a more remunerative salary was attached.
Preceding Mr. Davis, and under the volunteer system, the chief engineers were Thomas M. Smith, 1846; Joseph Little, 1853; Jacob Fitler, 1854; Charles V. Purcell, 1855; Samuel Keeley, 1856; Andrew Wallace, 1857; Joseph W. Davis, 1858; John E. Foudray, 1859.
The first steam fire engine arrived and was put into service March 31, 1860. Indianapolis then, for the first time, began to be recognized as a city. It was a Lee & Larned rotary engine, and when in operation shook and puffed amazingly. While the citizens were very proud of the new machine they never could divest themselves of the apprehension that it might, at some unlucky moment, go to pieces. This engine was stationed at the house on West Washington Street, now No. 6. It was not the proper location for that time, as it was far away from the business portion of the city, and it is supposed the engine was placed there by councilmanic influence, the Councilman most interested being the owner of a woolen mill near by. The two hand engines that were still in service were captained by Charles Richmann and Wm. O. Sherwood, both of whom were afterwards at the head of the paid department, and the Hook and Ladder company was in charge of Wm. W. Darnell.
In August, 1860, a third-class Latta steam engine was bought and placed in the Marion Engine House, as it was then called, now Headquarters, on Massachusetts Avenue and New York Street. Charles Curtis was appointed Engineer, the Engineer of the first engine having been Frank Glazier. The Latta engine came from Cincinnati, which was the birth-place of the steam fire engine, and Indianapolis, small as she then was, enjoyed the distinction of being among the first places in the world to have modern fire fighting machinery. In October, 1860, a Seneca Falls engine was purchased. This was stationed on South Street, between Delaware and Alabama, with Daniel Glazier as Engineer. In 1867 a second Seneca Falls engine was bought, and G. M. Bishop was made Engineer. In 1869 the department consisted of three steam engines in actual service, five hose reels, one Chief Fire Engineer, three Engineers, one Superintendent of Telegraph, two Watchmen on the tower, one Hook and Ladder man, three firemen, six drivers, twelve hosemen, fourteen horses and seventy-eight cisterns. There were only forty-five signal stations and numbers.
THE MAN ON THE TOWER
In 1863 the City Council placed a tower on the three story building then known as the Glenn Block, the site now occupied by the New York Store building. In this tower was placed a watchman, whose duty it was to look over the city and give alarm should any fire break out. The block, as none of the surrounding buildings (and in fact few in the city) was more than three stories high, gave the man on the tower a comparatively elevated position, and he rendered good service. A bell was placed in an open framework immediately in the rear of this block and the alarm was rung by means of an apparatus connecting it with the tower. The city at that time was divided into nine sparsely settled wards, and for five years the tower man striking the number of the ward vaguely designated the location of a fire. The wards were so large that the firemen with the indefinite information thus given would frequently have a long search for the fire after they got into the district where it was supposed to be. The first man appointed to the position of Watchman on the tower was Charles Rhodes. Another was Milton S. Huey.
During the war, when Confederate prisoners were confined at Camp Morton (afterwards the State Fair grounds, and now Morton Place), the man on the tower had special orders to keep his field-glass leveled on this prison camp, two miles and more to the north of him. The city was kept in a constant state of apprehension by frequent rumors of conspiracies for the release of these prisoners, and of threatened outbreaks, on which occasions it was popularly held that it would be the purpose of the prisoners to set fire to the city, which they would then pillage, and in the meantime murder all the inhabitants. At the first appearance of danger it was the duty of the watchman on the tower to sound the signal, whereupon the citizen soldiery were to assemble at the armory and get their guns and munitions of war. It was struck more than once in the feverish days in 1863, when the Confederate raider John Morgan invaded the State. He was supposed to be advancing on Indianapolis, but as the telegraph lines were cut there was great uncertainty as to his movements, and the rumor that be was within a few miles was enough to almost incite a panic. As to the prisoners, the firemen had orders to keep a close watch upon the hose and engines, as in case of an outbreak at Camp Morton there would, in all likelihood, be an attempt by the Confederates or their sympathizers, after they had fired the city, to cripple the department by cutting the hose or injuring the engines. For a year or more every member of the department carried a revolver for use should any need therefor arise.
The Latta engine, still held in affectionate remembrance by the old firemen, was continued in service until I876. It was a matter of sincere regret to many when it was at last retired from the service. Three engines were all the city had in use until after the year 1873, when three new engines were bought.
DEATH OF CHIEF GLAZIER
The present fire headquarters were completed in 1873, a year ever memorable in fire annals, as it brought the first accident attended with death to a fireman in discharge of his duty. This was the death of Daniel Glazier, March 11, 1873, at a fire at the Woodburn Sarven Wheel Works, on South Illinois Street. Like Braidwood, the great chief of the London Fire Department, he met his death by the falling of a wall. He died in the prime of manhood, mourned by the whole city. He was born at Uniontown, Maryland, July I, 1835. His parents removed to Indiana and located about six miles southeast of Indianapolis, in the spring of 1838. He became a resident of Indianapolis in 1850, and was connected with the paid fire department from its organization. He left a widow and five children. The chief, with one or two others, had entered the second story of the burning factory for the purpose of getting the water more immediately on the fire, and while thus engaged the wall fell. The City Council, Board of Trade, Board of Underwriters, and his own brave companions, passed touching resolutions of respect for his memory and condolence with his relatives and friends, and his funeral cortege was the largest and most imposing, up to that time, that the city had ever known. The business houses along the line of the procession were closed, and many of them draped in mourning. Seventeen years later, and in the same month occurred the tragedy of the Bowen-Merrill fire, in which twelve firemen lost their lives, and many wounded.
The men were not uniformed until 1874. In that year a uniform was adopted, and the force has ever since been in uniform. Previous to this at fires the men were ordered to wear leather hats, both as a means of protection to their heads and faces, and as a distinguishing mark.
The Indianapolis Fire Department of today is connected with a system of water works begun under Chief Glazier, who was killed, as before stated, while in the discharge of his duty in March 1873, at the burning of the wheel works at the corner of South Illinois and Garden Streets. He had then been chief for two years and ten months. There had been many examples of daring by gallant firemen while in the discharge of their duty, and there had been many a brave rescue of lives at the peril of their own, but he was the first to meet death in this city while at work upon a fire. Several had been more or less seriously injured prior to this event, and subsequently, but there was no other death by accident until the appalling disaster of March 17, 1890 when twelve gallant firefighters met their death, and several were badly hurt, by the fall of the Bowen-Merrill building. This great catastrophe awakened the people of this city to the hazardous calling of the firemen, and gave the men of the force a tenderer place in their sympathies than they had ever before held.
A plan to supply Indianapolis with water was proposed in the spring of 1860 by a Mr. Bell, of Rochester, N. Y., but the uncertainties of the impending war prevented any decisive steps being taken, and nothing came of it.
The insecurity of the protection from fire was felt by every one, and in 1864 the company owning the Central Canal made a proposal to the city which, like the previous tender, came to nothing. In the fall of 1865 the subject was revived by a recommendation of John Caven, then Mayor, who suggested Crown Hill as a suitable situation by reason of its elevation, for a reservoir. It was not, however, until November 1866, that anything was done in this all important matter. In that month a charter for a water supply company was granted to R. B. Catherwood & Co. Material and labor were then at exceedingly high prices. A few feet of pipe were laid along North Street, and again the people were doomed to disappointment, for the project died.
A SYSTEM OF WATER WORKS
It was not until the fall of 1869 that the matter was again revived, and in January 1870, the City Council granted a charter to the Water Company of Indianapolis to build works for supplying the city with water. It was provided that the works should be of the Holly system, that fifteen miles of pipe should be laid before the year 1871, and that, in addition to the requisite supply for cisterns, the works should furnish the necessary quantity of water under sufficient pressure to extinguish fires.
The president of this company was James O. Woodruff, who had recently come here from Auburn, N. Y.; Alex C. Jameson, secretary; William Henderson, treasurer. The fifteen miles of pipe were laid in that year, the area at that time supplied being one mile square. Everybody rejoiced, as well they might, after so many years of waiting. The Holly system, as is well known, does away with reservoirs. It forces, by means of immense pumps, the water directly from its source. Connected with this first fifteen miles of pipe were two hundred hydrants. The cost of the system up to this point was about $350,000.
Chief Glazier's successor was Charles Richmann, who had been Chief in the earlier history of the department. He served but a few months, until 1874, as a Democratic Council had been elected, and he belonged to the adverse party, and the Office of Chief was then, as it continued to be until 1874, a political one. Michael G. Fitchey was chosen as Mr. Richmann's successor, who, after two years, a change in the political complexion of the council having taken place, was himself succeeded by William O. Sherwood, an old member of the department. Two years later, Mr. Sherwood gave way for John G. Pendergast. The new chief was the first chosen who had not seen fire service either in the volunteer or paid department, and there was some dissatisfaction that an outsider should have been honored with so responsible and exacting a position. The discipline of the department, however, was maintained, the men being loyal to duty. Mr. Pendergast soon felt that he had the hearty support of the force, and having it, he was enabled to give good service. The department was improved in a number of respects during his term. He was succeeded in January, 1882, by Joseph H. Webster, who served as chief continuously for seven years, going out of office January 1, 1889, his successor being Frank L. Dougherty, who was chief for two years, when, January 1891, Mr. Webster, under a popular demand untainted by partisanship, was again called to the office. This choice was confirmed in March 1891, after the passage by the Legislature of the new city charter, Mr. Webster being re-appointed by the Department of Public Safety as the head of the fire force.
The fire department was not materially enlarged or strengthened, its additions having been made slowly, and all that it got having been grudgingly given, until after the great fire of March, 1874. The people of Indianapolis had long indulged in the pleasant security of her broad streets, and the fire of this date was the first to destroy this delusion. This conflagration burned the Talbott block, at the northwest corner of Pennsylvania and Market Streets, the Vajen Exchange block and the Wright block, adjoining on the north, and then the great wings of flame, spreading across the wide street, attacked the Sheets' building (now the Denison House), on the east side of Pennsylvania Street. This building, then well advanced toward completion, was soon burned to the ground. The flames then turning southward, badly damaged the Martindale block. After this fire, in which the loss exceeded $200,000, three new steam engines were ordered, and better supplies of hose.
When the new engines arrived one was located at the Five's house, one at the Six's and one at the Seven's. They were at once put into service, and after doing many years good work were, in course of time, retired and replaced by new ones. One of these engines, bought in 1874, was a Seneca Falls Rotary, one a Lee & Larned Rotary, and one a Latta, the last named considered one of the most serviceable engines ever in service here. These machines came into use during the administration of Charles Richmann, and gave the city six effectual steam fire engines, a better equipment it may be said, proportioned to population and area covered, than is given the fire force today. This great increase, made twenty years ago, was done under pressure in answer to popular clamor, the business interests of the city demanding a better protection than had prevailed up to that time. During Mr. Sherwood's term another engine, the Amoskeag was purchased and located on Virginia Avenue. This, later on, was traded in part payment for an Ahrens engine, which is yet in service on Prospect Street.
Up to the time of Chief Pendergast no permanent record of alarms and fires (together with the statistics deemed so valuable by both insurers and insured) had been kept. This very obvious improvement then made has been continued ever since, and the record is complete as to every run made, together with the amount of loss and insurance, and other interesting and valuable memoranda.
The biggest fire during Sherwood's time was the burning of the Academy of Music, at the southeast corner of Illinois and Ohio Streets, in January 1877. This was a handsome little theater, owned by Col. N. R. Ruckle, of which Gen. Dan Macauley was manager. Its loss was greatly regretted by playgoers after it was gone, though during the winter of 1876-77 they had failed in giving it the patronage it deserved, the season being a notably bad one for amusements everywhere. The largest fire during the time of Chief Pendergast was that of the Pork packing establishment conducted by Ferguson, Howard & Neeld, in 1880.
The fire most destructive to property, took place on the night of January 13, 1888 in the time of Chief Webster. This has passed into history as "the South Meridian Street fire," though that business thoroughfare has had other fires, and highly destructive ones. This fire was in the heart of the wholesale district, and destroyed the dry goods house of D. P. Erwin and the grocery house of George W. Stout on the east side of Meridian, besides damaging neighboring buildings and stocks, and then the flames, for the second time in the city's history jumping the street to the west side, burned the houses and stocks of Tanner & Sullivan, tinners' supplies; Cone's overall factory; McKee & Branham, shoes; David Kahn, trunks; Pearson & Wetzel, queensware; Moore & Coughlin, groceries (slight). The night was bitterly cold, and as a consequence there was great difficulty in handling the hose. The fire was so hot that the firemen could not approach it from the front but had to lay on streams from the rear. Hose laid in Meridian Street between the blazing lines of fire was burned so as to be unfit for service, and a number of firemen were scorched while running this fiery gauntlet. It was an all night job, as it took an immense volume of water to extinguish the flaming masses of merchandise. For several days the grim ruins were covered with thick sheets of ice and pendant icicles, making weird subjects for amateur photographers.
At the time of this fire there was not a ladder in the department that could reach to a fourth floor. This fact added greatly to the difficulties of that occasion. The deficiency has since been supplied by an aerial truck that stretches out to a rise of eighty five feet.
Members of the force are in doubt as to which of two fires gave them the hardest night's work, that of Meridian Street, just mentioned, or a series of fires on a hot night in June 1888. It was on this night, at 9:22, when the department was called to the fire at Adams &- Williamson's Veneer Works, which soon added the furniture factory of D. E. Stolle & Co. and the lumber yard of M. J. Osgood. The veneer works was a four-story frame building, filled with highly combustible stuff, and making a fire that was as hot at the bottom of the building as at the top, fortunately a very rare happening. The boots of the firemen standing on the ground were burned so that they cracked and fell off their feet. The entire Fire Force was engaged on this fire when, at 11:24 PM Delos Root's foundry, corner of Kentucky Avenue and Sharpe Street, broke into flames, and a part of the force was sent there. This gave the fire lads as hard a night's work as they will ever care to see.
The first fire of any great consequence during Chief Dougherty's term took place at 11:24 PM, February 12, 1889. This was the burning of the Mutchner & Higgins elevator, on the corner of Virginia Avenue and Alabama Streets. On February 22, at 7:56 PM, came the Stechhan lounge factory fire on Ft. Wayne Avenue, which was followed by the fire at Rauh & Son's fertilizing factory on South East Street and the Belt railroad. On December 19 came the burning of the Indianapolis Wheel Works (J. F. Failey), and on March 17, 1890 the crowning disaster to the department, the Bowen-Merrill fire.
THE BOWEN-MERRILL FIRE
The fire began at 3:08 PM on this memorable St. Patrick's day, volumes of smoke rolling up from the basement of the Bowen-Merrill book house, where great quantities of paper were stored, attracting the attention of passersby as it came through the grating to the sidewalk. The loss of property to this and adjoining establishments exceeded $200,000, the Bowen-Merrill loss being $87,224; that of H. P. Wasson & Co. and others does not appear. It is pathetically significant that the record of this fire is incomplete in the books at Department Headquarters. The clerk who kept, and still keeps, the record was unconscious under the fallen wall, with dead and dying comrades around him. He fortunately escaped with his life, after hovering for months on the brink of death. This break in the record remains as but one of many reminders of the great disaster.
It was not at first thought the fire would be a serious one, but as the volume of smoke increased and it was seen that great columns of flame were shooting upward from the basement through sky and elevator shafts to the roof, it became evident that a very determined effort would be required to keep the fire within the walls where it started and to prevent it from spreading to adjoining buildings to the imminent risk of perhaps destroying the entire block extending from Meridian to Illinois Streets, one of the most valuable in the city, filled with merchandise of great cost. Upon the roof, the better to fight this fire, a number of the fireman had gathered, while others in the less exposed parts of the building had entered the windows. Without a moments warning, owing doubtless to the great weight upon the floors by reason of the water soaked paper and the insufficient support given by the columns, the floors from bottom to top gave way and the roof fell in. Twelve firemen were taken out dead from the ruins and a thrill of sympathy for their bereaved families went through this community, extending outward from here until it spread all over the land. "Honor for the brave dead who died at their post of duty; let us see that their loved ones do not suffer," was the cry at once taken up.
The killed were Thomas A. Black, John Burkhart, Andrew O. Cherry, George S. Falkner, Ulysess G. Glazier, Albert Huffmann, David O.R. Lowery, Espy Stormer, Anthony Voltz, Wm. L. Jones, Geo. W. Glenn and Henry D. Woodruff.
The wounded were Thomas Barrett, Fred Bloomer, Geo. W. Diller, Wm. A. Hinesley, Charles Jenkins, Eb. R. Leach, Wm. C. Long, Albert Muerer, Wm. McGinnis, Samuel Neall, Wm. C. Partee, Louis F. Rafert, Wm. Reasner, Webb Robinson and Wm. Tallentire. Of the wounded, several are still incapacitated from doing heavy duty. One Wm. McGinnis, afterwards died from his injuries.
The spontaneous cry that the dead should be buried with appropriate ceremony, that the wounded should be well cared for and that the widows and children of the dead should not suffer because of the loss of their bread winners took form in a popular subscription. The response to the appeal for funds was nobly generous. The newspapers helped on the good work and everybody aided. The Widows mite and the hundred dollar or two hundred dollar contribution went in side by side. In addition to the thousands contributed freely by citizens of Indianapolis, large amounts came from other cities, many being from brother firemen, and the chord of sympathy was touched as far away as London England, whence came a goodly sum as a contribution from insurance companies doing business in this country.
A relief committee, with Mayor Sullivan as chairman, was chosen to make proper distribution of the fund, which amounted to $52,433.49. The committee did this service to everyone's satisfaction, the greater part of the amount being used to purchase annuities for the widows and orphans of those who were killed.
THE SURGICAL INSTITUTE FIRE
Another and a greater calamity, attended with a larger loss of life, and an occurrence all the more heart rending in its horror because of the helplessness of the victims involved in it took place January 21, 1892. This was the burning of the Surgical Institute, northeast corner of Illinois and Georgia Streets, for which the alarm was sounded at 11:45 on that night of disaster. The institute was filled with helpless cripples, and there were few servants and attendants. The building was filled with smoke, and the brave firemen gave their chief efforts to rescuing the inmates, that saving of property being a matter of little consideration where so many precious lives were in jeopardy. Many of the firemen groped their way in deadly, stifling smoke, through narrow and intricate hall ways to save the helpless cripples, and by these efforts, coupled with the efforts of those of the attendants who did not become incapacitated by fear, many, who would otherwise have been lost, were saved. As it was, nineteen patients and inmates lost their lives. On this occasion the force merited and received the most cordial admiration and approval of their fellow citizens. With the memory of the dreadful disaster of the Bowen-Merrill fire still fresh in their minds, they entered this building, the construction of which had been frequently condemned in the public prints as unsafe, for the purpose of saving lives at the risk of their own; this, too, while the great throng of onlookers was calling out to them not to enter the burning building.
THE BOARD OF PUBLIC SAFETY
On March 6th, 1891 the fire force of Indianapolis was promoted to metropolitan rank under the new city charter and reorganized on a non-partisan basis. The fire and police forces of the city were placed under the same management, the new creation being given the name of the Department of Public Safety. The heads of this department, appointed by the Mayor on that date, were Sterling R. Holt, William A. Sullivan and Robert F. Catterson, the two first named as Democrats, the last as a Republican. Mr. Holt was elected by the Board as its chairman. In order to divide the fire force (as well as the police force) equally between the two great political parties it became necessary to make some dismissals. Only thirteen were removed, and these much to the regret of the Board; but after this force was thus divided the rule has been to fill all vacancies from the same party politically from which the vacancy occurred. In the re-organization care was taken that the same equality as to political division should be observed in the appointment of officers of the department as well as of men. Mr. Holt having received the nomination of his party for County Treasurer resigned from the Board, and on October 20, 1891 Edward Hawkins succeeded him as a member of the Board. William A. Sullivan was then elected chairman, but, declining the position, Mr. Hawkins was made the head of the Board.
The second annual report of the Board of Public Safety, submitted to the Mayor January 1, 1893 showed great improvements in the fire force in the direction of increased efficiency. The morale of the force had been raised to the highest plane and the earnestness and loyalty of the members to each other and to their chief continues to be a matter for the greatest satisfaction and praise. By this report it is shown that the fire force payroll for the year is only $92,152.29, an exceedingly small amount for sustaining a force in a city, with the population of Indianapolis, and in which the property protected such a great area. This force numbers but 123, including officers, and no city in the United States gets so great service for so small an outlay of money.
A SMALL FORCE FOR A LARGE AREA
As elsewhere in this narrative casually remarked, this city has now in proportion to its size the smallest fire force in the United States, covering so great an extent of territory. Indianapolis is far from being so compactly built as other cities, the residence portion being scattered and open, the house being almost exclusively frame buildings, each house having an ample yard around it. The area demanding fire protection has increased over the past five years in a way that excites the wonder of everyone. New additions which a few months ago were open fields are now covered with houses, and the disproportion of property endangered to the protection provided is constantly increasing. Chief Webster has called attention to the necessity of extending the water mains to keep up with the growing need of the city, while this has been done to some extent, the demand has not by any means been met. It has been pointed out that a house and apparatus are needed on Illinois Street north of Fall Creek, in what is known as the "Panhandle District," and the same is true of the needs of the far northeastern portion of the city. It has also been suggested that houses are needed in the neighborhood of the City Hospital, one near the corner of West and Morris Streets and one in the far south or southeastern part of the city. The improvements made in the roadways of the city's streets have been of incalculable benefit to the department, enabling the horses to make runs in less time and at much less wear and tear to stock and apparatus than where the runs are made overly badly paved streets. In the central portion of the city, in accordance with a suggestion made by Chief Webster, all the fire cisterns have been connected with the water mains, so that a valve may be opened and a stream be run into a cistern capable of supplying three engines. Other cisterns in other localities are being connected from time to time in this way.
There is no method by which an accurate estimate can be made of the average cost of a run to a fire in answer to an alarm, real or false. Even when a long term of years is taken in the making of such an estimate, the result can not be conclusive. The wearing out of apparatus should be taken into account, and decay is going on even when machines and material are not actually in use. The steam engines are not called upon to throw a stream at more than one fire in twenty to which the department is called, the hydrants being relied upon to supply power and water. The fuel bill, coal and kindlings for the engines, is much less than those not conversant with the facts would suppose, rarely, exceeding $300 a year. Three of the engines, as they stand in the houses, carry twenty pounds of steam all the time, which not only saves fuel but saves time, enabling the engines when needed, to get to work with greater promptness than would otherwise be the case. These engines do not fire up unless certain boxes are pulled. When a great fire is raging, and an engine is called upon for its best efforts, it will use up coal at the rate of a ton or more an hour.
The chemical engines were brought here after long and urgent solicitation by Chief Webster, and they are now coming to be more and more depended upon. The running expenses of the department are about $18,000 a year, which includes repairs, but not the purchase of new engines, nor, of course, the salaries of the officers and men. When the present chief took charge, in his first term, he did away with the cumbersome two-wheeled hose reels drawn by one horse and characterized by the men as " horse-killers." These he replaced with light wagons, drawn by two horses, which enabled a run to be made in one-half faster time than with the old carts. He also did away with rubber hose. and put cotton hose in its place. He introduced the six-gallon chemicals which have been found so handy and serviceable in putting out " little blazes," and the large chemical engines. He also brought tarpaulins into use, a measure highly appreciated by merchants, as they save goods from damage that otherwise would be ruined by the very means taken to save them. This city has grown to such proportions that the tarpaulin service might be largely increased.
EFFICIENCY OF THE WATER WORKS SYSTEM
The fire protection of this city is almost entirely dependent upon the efficiency of the water works system. The Indianapolis Water Company has as its officers Thomas A. Morris, president, F. A. W. Davis, vice-president and treasurer, and W. A. Morris, secretary. The amount of money invested in this plant from its beginning is over two and a quarter million dollars.
There are two pumping stations, one on the arm of the canal south of Washington Street and next to White River, this being the first power house erected. This is called the lower station. The upper station is on Indiana Avenue, beyond Fall Creek and near the river, where a large water gallery has been constructed, a portion of which is covered and a portion open to sun and air. At the upper station the daily capacity of the double pump (a wonderful piece of machinery built by the Holly Company and called the Gaskell compound condensing engine), is fifteen million gallons in twenty-four hours, but it can be driven to seventeen million gallons. The ten pumps at the lower station can supply, if required, twenty two million gallons in twenty-four hours, so that the city, with the two stations, can be supplied with nearly forty million gallons of water daily.
The Firemen's Fund
After the accident of March 17, 1890, there was a popular sentiment in favor of taking step, toward forming a Firemen's Fund. The Legislature of 1891, enacted a law assessing foreign, insurance companies $1.00 on each $100.00 of gross receipts of business in Indiana, for the benefit of paid fire departments. The constitutionality of this law was questioned, and in the lower court, on trial, a decision was made adverse to the interests of the fund. This case was taken on appeal to the Supreme Court, and this tribunal has sustained the finding of the lower court. Before the law, was declared unconstitutional, an assessment made against the insurance companies had been paid in, and this yet remains in the fund.
The fund was established on June 1, 1891 organizing with a Board of Trustees, composed of Sterling R. Holt, W. A. Sullivan and R. F. Catterson, members of the Board of Public Safety, and Thomas Barrett, William Tobin, William Hinesley and Eb. Leach, for the fire force. To sustain the fund, an assessment of one per cent per month on each man's pay is made. On January 1, 1892 there was in this fund $1,335.13, which had been received from insurance companies; $1,623.43 from other sources, chiefly voluntary contributions, and $1,287.80, proceeds from a firemen's ball, given in September of that year. The Trustees of West Indianapolis gave $200.00 for work done by the department in that suburb, and $598.54 was received from assessments made against the payroll. The total receipts up to January 1, 1892 were $3,553.59,and the expenses (stationery, etc.), $21.40. The next thing was to find a judicious investment for the moneys received into the fund. Three Marion County Jail Bonds of $ 1,000 each, and bearing 5 per cent interest, were bought for $3,030.58, with accrued interest. A balance remained in the treasury amounting to $501.69.
PAYMENTS FOR DEATH AND DISABILITY.
The firemen's pension fund authorizes the payment to a permanently disabled fireman of twelve-sixteenths of his salary a month, and in the event of his death while in the service or after retirement, that the widow shall receive twenty dollars a month, and their children under sixteen years of age six dollars a month. Those who have been in the service of the department twenty five years or more shall, upon retirement, receive thirteen-sixteenths of their salary, a month, their widows
Twenty five dollars a month and their children under sixteen years of age seven dollars a month. Any member who has been in the service thirty years, the last twelve years consecutively, may retire without medical examination and receive from the pension a sum equal to thirteenth-sixteenths of his salary a month at the time of his retirement. No fireman has as yet been placed on the pension roll, though there are several who are now eligible and who by reason of length of service could retire. There are several disabled firemen who have easy but necessary places, and fill them admirably, instead of being placed on the pension roll, which is not yet strong enough to sustain any great demand that might be made upon it.
The receipts of the fund for 1892, were as follows: Insurance tax, $1,397.62; assessments and fines on payroll, $980.37; interest on bonds, $170; Haugh, Ketcham & Co. donation, $200; Adams & Williamson donation, $50; City of Rushville (to which two engines were sent during a fire), donation, $100; receipts from baseball game played between fire and police forces, $350.50; Woodruff Place donation, $50; from firemen's ball, $928.20; other items bringing up the total of receipts to $4,385.59, to which is to be added the balance on hand January 1, $501.61. Of this $3,099.26 was invested in three counts, jail bonds of $ 1,000 each, bearing interest at 5 per cent., and $1,008 in two $500 bonds of the City of Indianapolis, bearing interest at four cent, leaving a balance in the treasury on January 1st 1893 of $323.77. The fund now has $7,000 invested in bonds, and during the present year it is hoped to make the investment in bonds $10,000. Among the recent donations to the fund are $100 from Wm. H. English, $50 from the Standard Oil Company, and $50 from Wm. Hardv. The assessments on members on payroll will be the same as last year, and will bring a like amount into the fund. It is hoped that at the next session of the Legislature a law taxing fire insurance companies for the benefit of this and similar funds may be passed that will be free from objections to the companies and of material benefit to those who risk their lives in saving property.
The Fire Record
The keeping of a record of fires did not begin until June 1879 during Chief Pendergast's administration. The total number of fires in that year was 166, but the total of losses is not given. The largest fires of that year were one at the U. S. Encaustic Tile Works, August 9, 9:45 PM, and the other at Kingan's pork packing establishment, October 6, 2:15 AM. At the last-named fire the loss was placed at $8,300. The loss at the tile works was much larger, but the amount does not appear in the record. The largest fire of 1880 was that of C. E. Geisendorff's Flouring Mill, July 8, 2:20 PM, $14,992.
In 1881 a number of large fires occurred, among which were the pork packing establishment of Ferguson, Howard & Neeld, February 7, 11:45PM, loss $347,335.60; Coffin Factory, April 24, 1:45 AM $102.50: Hill's Planing Mill and Headin- Factory, May 13, 8:40 AM $ 10,186: Chase & Blanton Flouring Mill, May 24, 3:15 AM, $8,734: Holmes & Claypool Hominy Mill, June 2, 4:30 AM., $9,216.40; Holmes & Claypool Hominy Mill, October 8, 1:20 AM, $25,753.20; Spiegel & Thoms furniture warerooms, West Washington Street, December 28, 6:25 PM, $9,505.
The first fire of any, moment in Chief Webster's administration occurred on January 7, 1882. This was the woolen mill of George Merritt & Co., and the loss was $11,645.63. The total number of alarms for the year was 212; total losses $52,160.22 ; total insurance on property wholly or partly burned, $843,273.09; per cent of loss to insurance, 16 1/3. In 1883 the first large fire was that of John Shellenberger's Butter-Dish Factory, March 13, 12:10 AM, loss $10,000. Following this came: Indianapolis Stove Co., May 9, 4:20 PM, $21,938; Capital City Planing Mill, December 1, 3:16 AM, $7,858; Ott & Madden mattress factory, December 9, 5:50 PM, $7,000. The losses for the year were $110,579.09 ; insurance, $702,825.14; total alarms, 214.
In 1884: Vajen & New's hardware store, December 19, 3:40 AM, $9,985.97; H. Schnull, cotton mill, operated by Love Brothers, December 27, 9:52 PM, $32,500. The alarms for the year numbered 262 losses, $83,723.33 ; insurance on property involved, $746,465.
The great fire of 1885 was that of I. P. Evans' Linseed Oil Mill, on South Delaware Streets and Union Railway tracks, December 6, 2:10PM, loss $131,843.65. Total loss for year, $199,901.16; insurance, $776,258.32 ; runs, 292.
In 1886 the largest loss was in the fire at Kreitlein & Schrader's wholesale grocery, 78 South Pennsylvania Street, March 12, 6:25 AM, $20,164.
The year 1887 gave the department an unusually large number of runs, the score being 408. The first large fire took place May 26, 2:17 AM This was that of the H. P. Wasson & Co., dry goods house; loss on stock and building, $26,897. On November 4, 11:44 PM, the factory of Tucker & Dorsey, on Reed Street and Belt railroad, burned; loss, $24,700. At this fire, Jacob Rueber, of Chemical Engine No. 2, being caught on the third floor and cut off by fire from the stairways, had to jump for his life. His spine was so injured that he has never since been fit for active duty, and he is now serving as watchman at the No. 3 Engine House. Notwithstanding the great number of alarms, the total loss for the year amounted to only $139,702.10; total insurance, $559,284.
THE CITY'S LARGEST FIRE
The year 1888 gave to Indianapolis the largest fire the city had ever experienced. This was the Meridian Street fire, January 13, 11:00 PM. The losses were: D. P. Erwin, dry goods, $261,203; Morris heirs (vacant building), $2,000; Geo. W. Stout, groceries, $60,200; Byram & Cornelius, dry goods (chiefly by smoke and water), $8,085; Moore & Coughlen, groceries, $750; David Newman, clothing, $3,098.37; David Kahn, trunks, $1,000; Pearson & Wetzel, queensware, $46,493; Tanner & Sullivan, tinners' supplies, $46,985; C. B. Cones' Son & Co., overall factory, $83,000; McKee & Branham, shoes, $93,020; Parrott & Taggart, bakery, $70.
The other large fires of the year were: April 14, 3:58 AM, Indianapolis Light Artillery Armory, No. 161 College Avenue, $8,500; June 13, 9:22 PM, Adams &- Williamson's veneer works, $38,086; D. E. Stone & Co., furniture factory, $24,200; M. J. Osgood, lumber, $3,500; Deloss Root's foundry, Sharpe Street and Kentucky Avenue, and a number of cottages, $17,4,20. The alarms for the year were 327; losses, $749,399; total insurance, $2,395,872.
Chief Daugherty's administration had its first large fire February 1,1889, at 11:24 PM, Mutchner & Higgins' grain elevator on Virginia Avenue, loss $25,170. Following this came the Stechhan lounge factory (for the second time) February 22, 7:56 PM, loss $221,090; Bates House, Louis Reibold, October 7, 12:48 PM, $15,183; Indianapolis Wheel Works, J. F. Failey, First Street and Canal, December 19, 12:35 AM, $82,782. The fire at Rauh & Sons, fertilizing factory, South East Street and Belt Railroad, was also a large one, the loss being $41,031. Alarms for the year, 302; loss, $241,902; insurance, $971,760.77.
The first big fire in 1890 was on March 17, 3:08PM, in which the Bowen-Merrill loss was $87,229.09, and H. P. Wasson & Co., Geo. W. Sloan and Joseph Becker lost greater or less amounts by water, smoke and fallen walls. August 12, 10:05PM, the Geisendorff woolen mills burned, loss $44,500. Alarms for this year, 324; loss, $259,501.48; insurance, $1,016,918.
On March 1, 1891, 6:56 PM, the Byram & Sullivan dry goods store burned, loss $47,520, this being the first large fire under Chief Webster's recall to the head of the department to succeed Chief Dougherty. The other large fires of the year were E. C. Atkins' Saw Works, May 18, 6:38 AM, 813,853: Indianapolis chair factory, August 7, 9:05 PM, $47,700; Dugdale can factory, December 22, 12:03 PM, $57,495; Van Camp's Packing Co., October 3, 1:55 AM, $120,680. Alarms for the year, 366; loss, $358,714.60; insurance, $2,019,887.
A YEAR PROLIFIC IN FIRES
The year I892 was prolific in fires. The first fire that had occurred for years to carry with it any great loss to a single private residence, took place January 10, 1:03 PM. This was the residence of R. B. F. Peirce, loss, $8,300. The Surgical Institute fire occurred January 21, 11:45 PM, loss $25,o87.98. This was followed by the Female Reformatory, March 1, 6:35 A. Al-, loss $17,401; Escbman's planing mill, May 24, 2:15 AM, $8,000; the Stechhan lounge factory (third time), July 9, 7:05 PM $12,831.87. During this fire a foreman in the factory became so excited that be died of heart disease. The Union Transfer and Storage Co. fire took place September 13, 9:05 A. M., loss $44,300; M. K. Fatout's planing mill, corner St. Clair and Peru Streets, September 18, loss $11,448; Indiana bicycle factory, October 25, 11:40 PM, $45,771 ; When Clothing Store, John T. Brush, December 15, 5:37 PM, $13,244. This last named fire was caused by electric wires setting into a blaze a lot of light material arranged in the show window. The alarms for 1892 were 435; loss, $304,368.86; insurance, $ 1,935,400.
This year was marked by a number of fires occurring in the same district, the manufacturing part of the city lying east of the Bee Line tracks and south of the little depot on Massachusetts Avenue. The circumstances under which these fires occurred, clearly marked them to be of incendiary origin. Vigorous exertions have been made to discover the fire-bugs, but thus far they have escaped. Some of these fires were promptly extinguished, and were attended with little loss, while others were destructive of large properties, and the occasion of throwing many men out of employment for a considerable length of time, pending the rebuilding of the destroyed factories. The efficiency of a fire department is based on the percentage of loss on the property endangered. This loss, in 1892, was 16 per cent on the insurance involved in the fires. In the year 1891, this loss was 19 per cent. These figures show that the efficiency of the Indianapolis department ranks with the best in the United States. Chicago considers 27 per cent of loss to be small, and Pittsburg, with a large and well equipped department, reports 28 per cent of losses.
FIRES IN 1893
From January 1 to September 1, 1893 the runs have been too numerous to allow any moss to gather on the apparatus of the department. There has not been, however, any great fire during these eight months, and most of the blazes were extinguished with but little loss, the estimated damages in scores of instances being less than fifty dollars. One sad accident occurred during this period, the death of Benjamin F. Plummer, driver of the aerial truck, one of the most efficient men in the force. His death occurred at 10:30 PM, of August 28th, while driving to a fire. The truck, always a difficult vehicle to manage, veered out of its course as it entered Washington Street from Pennsylvania going east, and struck a pole in the middle of the Street carrying an electric railroad wire. His last words were of his family. In the midst of his agony he pleaded that his wife and little ones should be cared for.
The runs during this period were as follows: January, 66; February, 27; March, 33; April, 34; May, 44; June, 94; July, 72; August, 75.
The largest fires in each month were as follows:
January 22, 4:27 AM, L. W. Ott & Co., lounge factory, No. 115 West Morris Street, caused by ignition of dust in a dust chute; loss about $3,000.
February, two cottages on Belmont Avenue, $2,400.
March, lumber storage house, Lincoln Avenue and L. E. & W. R. R., Ira B. Bu-bee; $1,750; incendiary.
April, grocery and residence, L. Frederick, 72 West McCarty; about $2,500; unknown.
May 4, queensware house Charles Williams, 146 South Meridian Street; communicated to U. S. Express office and D. P. Erwin's overall factory; aggregate losses, $10,000; unknown.
June 3, O. R. Olsen's machine works, 120 to 126 Kentucky Avenue; $5,000; unknown.
July 10, Ellis & Helfenberger, 162 South Mississippi Street, fence manufacturers; $2,500; hot varnish.
August 19, Indianapolis Paper Mill Co.; $10,000; unknown.
PROTECTION TO TWENTY-ONE SQUARE MILES
Including West Indianapolis, the water company has 107 miles of mains, ranging in size from four inches to thirty inches in diameter. From east to west these mains extend a distance of five and a quarter miles, and from north to south the extreme distance is four and a quarter miles. This area of twenty-one miles square is practically that to which the fire department of this city, gives protection, as on the occasion of a great fire in West Indianapolis the department always affords succor to that suburb. In this area there are 931 public and 28 private hydrants, a total of 959. Each year the smaller mains are being replaced by larger pipes. The smaller pipes thus removed are up to and including eight inch mains. During the present year the twenty-four inch main has been extended from Mississippi Street to Meridian Street. During 1893 seven miles of mains have been put in. It is the intention to increase the protection in the business and manufacturing districts as rapidly as possible. Four-way hydrants during the present season have been placed at the corners of Meridian and Georgia Streets, Pennsylvania and Market Streets, Pennsylvania Street and Massachusetts Avenue, on Georgia, between Pennsylvania and Meridian Streets, and on Maryland near Meridian. Next season a larger number of these four-way hydrants will be placed, in districts where there are large properties endangered. The water company has increased its supply of water and improved the quality of the supply for drinking purposes by drilling five wells down into the rock a depth of 343 feet. The estimated flow of these wells is three millions of gallons each twenty-four hours, and chemical analysis accords to the water the greatest purity.
The circulation of the water system has been improved by connecting all dead ends. With this connecting of dead ends, valves have been so arranged that in case of accident to a main a district can be promptly shut off without the accident causing any interference with the water supply of the remaining parts of the city. The district heretofore considered to have the best fire protection is that bounded by Washington Street on the south, Delaware Street on the east, New York Street on the north and Meridian Street on the west, but the districts immediately joining this are scarcely inferior in the protection afforded, and some of the localities in which manufacturing establishments are located have been greatly strengthened and improved in their water supply. The many miles of well paved Streets have also added materially to the protection of property by increasing the efficiency of the fire department, enabling the fire fighters to get there in quicker time and in better shape than formerly.
THE PRESENT FIRE EQUIPIMENT
Of the seven steam fire engines now in service six are Ahrens engines, made in Cincinnati by the American Fire Engine Company, and one a Clapp & Jones, made at Hudson, New York. Two of the Ahrens engines, one of which is at the No. 6 and the other at the No. 4 houses, have smaller pumps than the remaining five engines. It is estimated that these throw five hundred gallons a minute through a 1 1/8 inch nozzle. The larger ones have a capacity of from seven hundred to eight hundred gallons a minute through a 11/4 inch nozzle. The Clapp & Jones engine has the same capacity as the large Ahrens. Two hundred and fifty pounds pressure can be made on these steam engines. From the hydrants, through a 1 ¼ inch nozzle on one hundred and twenty pounds pressure, about five hundred gallons a minute can be thrown. A little calculation will show what an immense amount of water can be thrown upon a fire when the entire department is engaged. The greatest quantity of water ever put on a fire in this city was thrown on the great South Meridian Street conflagration. Every available piece of hose was brought into use for nearly, eight hours, and one line was engaged for one week playing on the ruins. All the engines are now considered to be in good condition, but to this part of the department as to others the rapid growth of the city is now making additional apparatus necessary. The great desideratum of a department is hose-good hose-and plenty of it. Every fire chief that Indianapolis ever had, and the present one is no exception, has continually impressed upon the authorities the need of good hose. Like Oliver Twist, then, have always asked for more, and too often, like Oliver, these requests have been met with official astonishment that would have done credit to Mr. Bumble of the parish workhouse himself. Under the present city charter requests of this character meet with an intelligent bearing, which is the better for the department and greatly, to the benefit of the city in maintaining a fire force that will give the desired protection to property.
Of the fourteen thousand feet of hose in service, which amount does not include the rubber hose used by the chemical engines, thirty three hundred feet is "American Packet," made by the Revere Rubber Company, three thousand feet " Callahan " hose, seven thousand feet of "Eureka," bought since 1891, and one thousand feet of "Red Dot" (Boston Belting Company). In addition to this there are fourteen thousand feet of " Eureka" in fairly good condition, which has been in use from four to six years. Of chemical hose there is little more than six hundred feet that is serviceable.
The system of releasing the horses from their stalls and harnessing them to the hose wagons, engines and trucks enables the men to leave the houses and get started on a run in answer to an alarm in less than twenty seconds. The harness is suspended above the places the horses are to take when attached to the machine. The first tap of an alarm opens the doors of their stalls automatically, they rush to their places, the harness falls upon their backs, the collars snap together, the lines are snapped to the bits, and as the driver takes his seat the great doors swing open and away they go!
THE REGULAR SIGNALS
Three regular signals are sent in to every engine and reel-house each day at 9 AM, 12 PM and 7 PM one tap is given at 9 o'clock, twelve strokes at noon and one tap at 7 o'clock. At each of these times the horses respond and run to their places as when an alarm is struck. On these occasions they are hitched, and after standing five minutes are returned to their stalls. The horses learn to distinguish between these signals and an alarm of fire. Most of them, as the noon hour approaches, raise their heads as if waiting for the signal. They do not manifest the excitement on these occasions that they do when a fire alarm is given, but come out in a kind of perfunctory way. The horses are purchased when five to six years old, and are given the most excellent care from the time they enter the service. They soon get to understand the routine work, and many of them exhibit a wonderfully high order of intelligence and knowledge of their duties. The men become attached to their worthy helpers of the brute creation, and some of the horses in the department are credited with having almost human intelligence within the circle of the duties they are called on to perform. Some of the largest horses weigh as much as sixteen hundred pounds, but on the hose-wagons twelve hundred to thirteen hundred fifty, is considered heavy enough. A number of horses are, of course, much lighter than the figures here given.
VALUE OF THE TOWER SERVICE
Among the innovations and improvements that have increased the efficiency of the force, and not the least in the benefits conferred, was the placing of watchmen on the tower of the Court House. In April, 1882, at the suggestion of Chief Webster, a man was placed in this elevated position. The first watchman was Frank Graham, who still holds that place. In beginning, the watchman was only on duty during the night, but the services rendered were soon found to be so valuable that it was advisable to continue it through the twenty four hours of the day in reliefs of eight hours, and two more watchmen were added. The tower force now consists of Mr. Graham, John King and Webb Robinson. With field glasses their vision sweeps over the city, and as a rule the tower watchman locates a fire and sends in the alarm before it is given from a street box or by telephone. It has happened time and again that firemen have laid out hose and got upon the roof of a building before the inmates knew that the premises they occupied were on fire. The intelligence that the VanCamp Packing House was on fire, as in the case of most of the larger fires from which Indianapolis has suffered, came from the tower. The private watchman at the packing house averred that, though he was on the porch at the packing house at his place of duty, be did not see the fire or know of it until after the tower watchman had sent in the alarm. This is but one instance, where many might be given, the value of this arm of the department. At times the watchmen on the tower have been able to give serviceable information to the police. Several years ago while skimming the city with the field glass, the watchman discovered some men in a room on the fourth floor of a Delaware Street block, a few doors north of Washington Street, who acted in a very mysterious manner. There were curtains to the windows, but these did not quite come to the top, and there was at times a bright light in the darkened room as from a glowing furnace. Closer observation discovered that the men were pouring molten metal into molds, and as the finished product was turned out, it appeared to the watcher that they were turning out counterfeit coin. Information was given to the police, but the intended raid on the illicit mint was delayed a few hours, and the foundry men, when the officers broke into the room, were absent, though there remained sufficient indications about the room to show that an industrious gang of counterfeiters had been at work within the very shadow of the Court House.
FIREMEN OF LONG EXPERIENCE
Chief Webster has had thirty one years' service in the department, while there are a dozen or more who are now in their twentieth year or have exceeded that amount of service. Among these are Orrin Tuttle, Thomas Barnett, John Bellis, Cicero Seibert, Albert Muerer, Jack Robinson, John King, John Miller, Stanton Turner, William Tobin, William A. Delbrugge, John Stake, Thomas Quinn, William C Long and Silas Brattain.
For many years in the history of Indianapolis it was the custom to have the fire department take part in all great civic parades. No parade was considered a success, or indeed what it should be as representative of the city, unless the department had a place in it, usually at the head of the procession. It needed but a few fires to take place when the department was thus engaged in making a gala day, to bring the conviction that the fire force should be exempt from affairs of this character, and be required to keep itself in readiness for the sole business of fighting fires. Suggestions to employ firemen in flushing the streets, except upon rare occasions, and in the immediate neighborhood of their houses, should also be discouraged until a time when the force has been increased to a number large enough to attend to these new duties without interfering with its efficiency in the old ones.
The daily round of ordinary duties in a fireman's occupation are not severe, but at a moment, without the least warning, he may be thrust into the most arduous and dangerous service. The work, worry and strain of a great fire will sometimes cripple the department for a week, though not a murmur will come from a single man, and their duties will be attended to with such fidelity that those outside the department may never know that the men are almost ready to go into the hospital, and would be there were they less "gritty."
CAUSES OF FIRES
Heretofore defective flues have been a prolific cause of fires in Indianapolis, but with natural gas in general use, and a building inspector to look into the construction of houses, it is thought there will be in the future, fewer fires on this score. There will be few chimneys to burn out from coal soot, as coal is but little used, but there will continue to be danger from the fact that natural gas makes a great heat, and wood in contact with improperly constructed flues becomes ignited and often makes fires that are difficult to control. There has been within the past two years an unusually large number of fires that were undoubtedly of incendiary origin. While the incendiaries have not been caught these fires have about ceased.
In the summer the department can always count on a number of runs from the careless use of gasoline in stoves. Some housewives use coal oil in killing bugs that infest bedding and fires caused by this use of oil has called out the department on more than one occasion.
Greasy rags and waste have caused several fires here during the past ten years. These are set down to the account of "spontaneous combustion." A singular origin of a fire was that at the Danbury hat house recently. A water main had burst. The water flooded the store and floated a lot of hat boxes up to a jet of gas that had been left burning.
Tinners on the roof, whose charcoal fires ignited the shingles, caused the fire at the Institute for the Blind. A fire, humorously described in the daily papers, occurred a few weeks ago at the intersection of South Street and Virginia Avenue. A countryman on a load of hay brought his merchandise in contact with an electric wire and the after part of his load was in a blaze. The man on the tower sent in an alarm and the department was on hand to extinguish it before the countryman had realized his mishap.
Boys and matches " are a mischievous combination productive of many fires in the course of a year. Mice and matches are sometimes responsible for blazes. A pair of nest-building English sparrows on North Mississippi Street once gave the department a run. They had their nest material in the eaves of a dwelling, and a number of matches was in the collection. In scratching about the birds ignited the matches and caused a fire that was inexplicable until the remains of the tell tale nest appeared in evidence against them. An expensive fire at the When Clothing Store was caused by electric wires in a show window. A number of fires have been caused by imperfectly built hearths under grates in which natural gas is used. The hearths become exceedingly hot, and as the heat is long continued, the fires not being suffered to go out, the wood that is near or in contact becomes as dry as tinder and so inflammable that it may burst into flame at any time.
New hay placed in barns before it has been properly sweated and cured generates heat, and on several occasions has caused serious fires. Wool also becomes hot and requires frequent turning so that the air can get through it. Hot journals in mills and factories have brought out the fire force a number of times. But the causes of fires are too many to enumerate. Chief Webster has directed that hereafter-greater care be taken in discovering the origin of fires and that these causes be made a matter of record.
WORK OF THE RELIEF COMMITTEE
The history of the relief work following the Bowen-Merrill fire is one of sad interest, and should not be omitted from this volume. On March 18,1890 the day after the tragedy, Thomas L. Sullivan, Mayor, issued the following:
"The discharge of their duty has brought death, sudden and terrible, to a large number of our firemen. Many others are confined to their beds from injuries which will bring weeks of helpless suffering. These men have families dependent upon them. It is the duty and pleasure of our citizens to see to it that want is not added to the grief of those so bereaved. In order that there may be no delay ill this matter, and that all generous givers may have an opportunity to contribute to the discharge of this most pressing obligation that has come to us, I hereby appoint Geo. G. Tanner, Eli Lilly, Theodore P. Haughey, John W. Murphy, Caleb S. Denny, A. Kiefer and Michael O'Connor a committee to receive all funds donated, and to take charge of the disbursement of the same; and I request that the above named gentlemen meet at the Mayor's office in the Court House, at 10: 30 AM, today.
"Thomas L.Sullivan, Mayor"
The gentlemen named met. Mayor Sullivan was selected chairman of the committee, Theodore P. Haughey was chosen Treasurer and Caleb S. Denny, Secretary. Soliciting committees were appointed and the work of collecting a relief fund was entered upon with the greatest earnestness. Richard L. Talbot was employed to do confidential work for the committee.
Over $52,000 was collected in donations to this fund, the subscriptions on the first day (March 18) amounting to $1,725. The subscriptions made on the 19th amounted to $7,343.85, and so they went on the last subscription coming in on August 22, 1890 until the grand total amounted to $52,433.49. These subscriptions came from all sorts and conditions of people. The heart of Indianapolis was touched as never before. Money poured in not only from businessmen, but children in the public schools and in the Sunday-schools gave generously of their small store, thus assisting in making a munificent aggregate. The newspapers of Indianapolis gave their aid, and thousands of dollars were entrusted to their care to be added to the fund. Firemen in other cities hastened to contribute to the relief of their smitten brethren in this city. The Akron Fire Relief Association sent $50; the Cincinnati Fire Department, $500; Bluffton firemen $25; Terre Haute, $50; Toledo, O., $234; Louisville, Ky., $100; Fort Wayne, $90; Pittsburg. $396; Brazil, $25; Columbus, Ind., $25; Terre Haute (collections), $249.60; Atlanta, Ga., $87; Dayton, O., $243; Noblesville, $55.10; Brooklyn, N. Y., $640; Cleveland, O., $243.75; Chicago, $720.50; the city of London, Eng., Contract Corporation sent $1,000; the fire department of New York City contributed $665.75.
Out of this fund the committee paid all the funeral expenses of those who were killed; all bills for medicines, nurse hire; made allowances for the payment of surgeons. etc.; furnished all needed relief to the wounded and to the families of the dead; paid off mortgages on two homes; purchased four homes for widows of the dead; secured life annuities of $15 a month for nine of the firemen's widows and one dependent mother; $5 a month each for nineteen orphans, and $10 a month each for three other orphans, until they shall arrive at the age of sixteen years, respectively.
The widows thus provided with homes were Mrs. Glazier, Mrs. Woodruff, Mrs. Voltz and Mrs. Glenn. Mortgages were paid on the homes of Albert Hoffman and Espey Stormer, leaving the property unencumbered to their heirs. The total amount paid out for the injured was $1,991.20.
The annuities were purchased in the Equitable Life Assurance Company, the amount paid being $35,207.38. D. B. Shideler, the manager at Indianapolis, donated his entire commissions for placing this amount, thus reducing, the cost $657.52.
To recapitulate: $52,433.49 was received for the fund; $11,804.37 was paid out to the families of the dead; $1,991.20 was paid out to the injured; $35,637.92 was paid out on account of miscellaneous items, including purchase of annuities; $3,000 was left to be disposed of thereafter. The committee very properly handled the money contributed as a benevolent fund, and did not distribute it equally among the widows, orphans and widows, but equitably and according to the needs of all concerned.