Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Friday, June 23, 2017

A Little of the Early History of Hose Company No. 2, the Pelham Heights Volunteer Fire Fighting Unit

Little study seems to have been made of the history of firefighting in Pelham Heights.  Today's Historic Pelham article attempts to shed some light on the early history of the development of organized firefighting in Pelham Heights.

Incorporated as the "Village of Pelham" in 1896, Pelham Heights had no organized firefighting unit of its own until about 1912.  It relied, instead, on the firefighters of the First Fire District of Pelham whose headquarters stood in the adjacent Village of North Pelham.  

In 1912, or perhaps shortly before, Pelham Heights residents formed an auxiliary company of volunteer firefighters associated with the First Fire District of Pelham.  The company was named Hose Company No. 2 of Pelham.  (Although some accounts indicate the company was formed in 1913, the company existed at the time of, and its members participated in, the 1912 Firemen's Inspection held on September 25, 1912.)  Dr. Augustine C. McGuire, a Cliff Avenue resident, was an important organizer of Hose Company No. 2.

As an "auxiliary company," Hose Company No. 2 of Pelham was limited to a total membership of twenty two volunteers.  At the time of its formation, the company secured a hand-drawn hose cart, its principal piece of equipment for the next few years.  The company's first "fire house" was a tiny shed located near the site of today's Colonial Elementary School on Highbrook Avenue.  The Hose Company stored its hand-drawn hose cart and other firefighting equipment in that tiny shed. 

Hand-Drawn Hose Cart of the Type Acquired by
Hose Company No. 2 of Pelham in About 1912.
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

In its early years as an auxiliary company, Hose Company No. 2 of Pelham answered all fire alarms in Pelham Heights.  It answered second alarms in North Pelham.  

Within a short time of arranging the Company's first "firehouse," members of the Company realized they had made a mistake.  In order to reach much of Pelham Heights with the hand-drawn hose cart, they had to pull the cart uphill on Highbrook Avenue.  Within six months, after mass exhaustion from dragging the cart uphill during drills and otherwise, Hose Company No. 2 moved the firehouse to a tiny shed that stood near the intersection of Monterey Avenue and East 2nd Street.  From there, according to one account, "they could have the benefit of gravity."

Within a few short years, through hard work and training, the volunteer members of Hose Company No. 2 had become so experienced and professional that a decision was made to upgrade their firefighting equipment.  In 1917, Hose Company No. 2 took possession of its first fire truck.  A description of the apparatus appeared in a local newspaper.  It stated:

"the machine is equipped with a 35-gallon chemical tank and auxiliary by which a hose can be attached to a hydrant and the water forced into the tank and then through the chemical hose.  The auto carries a thousand feet of Chemical hose and a thousand feet of regulation hose, also one extension ladder, axes and hand extinguishers.  The auto is a bright, fire-red color with gold letters on the side of the body reading, 'Pelham Fire Department, First District.'"  

Upon taking possession of the new fire truck, the Company was faced with a problem.  The property on which stood the shed that housed its equipment contained a deed restriction that did not permit a garage of any sort.  Thus, the fire truck could not be stored in the shed.  The Company was forced to move its fire house for the third time in five years, although research has not yet revealed the location to which the fire house was moved.

From its first formation, Hose Company No. 2 of Pelham had two handicaps.  First, it was a small auxiliary company limited to only twenty members.  Second, it covered a very affluent section of the Town of Pelham where most of the male residents worked in New York City during the day, returning only in the evening.  Thus, the Company was capable of fighting fires during evenings and nights.  Pelham Heights, however, had to rely principally on firefighters from the adjacent Village of North Pelham for daytime fires.

As one might expect, because of the comparative affluence of Pelham Heights, the ranks of Hose Company No. 2 were filled with "Doctors, Lawyers, Merchants, [and] Millionaires" as one newspaper noted.  Among its many, many notable members were such luminaries as:  (1) Roy Howard, chairman of the board of directors of the Scripps-Howard newspapers; (2) multi-millionaire Albert C. Field, one-time president of the Produce Exchange; (3) Arthur Koppel, a member of the firm of Shroder and Koppel, builders of the Sherry-Netherlands and of "other skyscrapers"; and (4) notable physician Walter Brundage, among many others.

By mid-1922, members of Hose Company No. 2 of Pelham felt the company needed more firefighters (and younger men).  Thus, on Tuesday, June 6, 1922, members of the Company appeared at a meeting of the Fire Commissioners of the First Fire District of Pelham and petitioned the Commissioners to permit the Company to expand to thirty men.  The Fire Commissioners granted the petition, vaulting the small Company forward into the realm of modern firefighting with a focus on saving the lives and property of those who lived in Pelham Heights.

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Below is the text of a number of newspaper articles that touch on the subject of today's Historic Pelham article.  Each is followed by a citation and link to its source.

Annual Affair Held Last Night Was a Great Success.

The annual inspection of the Pelham fire department took place last evening at the fire headquarters on Fifth avenue.

One hundred and six members of the department which comprises Relief Hook and Ladder, Liberty Engine and Hose companies and Hose company No. 2, of Pelham, assembled in Fireman's hall where the fire commissioners and the chiefs conducted the inspection.  After the inspection the members of the department formed on Fifth avenue and marched through the different streets of the village led by the Bugle, Fife and Drum Corps of the Order of Moose, of Mount Vernon.  Of the companies, the hook and ladder was first in line followed by the Liberty Engine and Hose company which preceded Hose company No. 2.

Every man in line was in uniform and carried a lantern.  The parade was through all of the streets excepting Fifth avenue which is being torn up.  After the parade, the companies returned to headquarters where refreshments were served.  The inspection was the best that has taken place in many years.  The new search light which was recently installed upon the hook and ladder was one of the features of the parade.  The line of march was marked with red lights.  Previous to leaving headquarters, box 23 was sounded on the new signal system."

Source:  NORTH PELHAM -- FIREMEN'S INSPECTION -- Annual Affair Held Last Night Was a Great Success, The Daily Argus [Mount Vernon, NY], Sep. 26, 1912, p. 6, col. 2.  

"New Fire Apparatus Here.

The new automobile fire apparatus to be used by Hose Company No. 2 of the first fire district of the town of Pelham arrived Wednesday.  The machine is equipped with a 35-gallon chemical tank and auxiliary by which a hose can be attached to a hydrant and the water forced into the tank and then through the chemical hose.  The auto carries a thousand feet of Chemical hose and a thousand feet of regulation hose, also one extension ladder, axes and hand extinguishers.  The auto is a bright, fire-red color with gold letters on the side of the body reading, 'Pelham Fire Department, First District.'  The new apparatus will not be placed in the house now used by Hose Company No. 2 owing to the restrictions that forbid garages.  Owing to this condition the board of fire commissioners will arrange for a location on unrestricted property.  Fire Commissioner Charles W. Foster, accompanied the demonstrator from New York city to North Pelham when the machine arrived."

Source:  New Fire Apparatus Here, The Daily Argus [Mount Vernon, NY], Mar. 2, 1917, p. 7, col. 4.  

"To Increase Membership Of Hose Company No. 2

Hose Company No. 2 will endeavor to interest the younger men of Pelham Heights in the Fire Department, and in that end requested the Board of Fire Commissioners to allow the membership of the company to be increased from twenty members to thirty.  Gardner Hazen, secretary of the Pelham Heights company, appeared before the Board of Fire Commissioners Tuesday night and made the request.  The commissioners granted it.

Originally the Pelham Heights Company was formed as an auxiliary company, answering to all alarms in Pelham Heights and second alarms in North Pelham.  The interest of the members of this company has become such that the company answers all alarms.  Being an auxiliary company the membership was limited to twenty, but since the company has established itself as a regular company it was thought advisable to enlist the interest of the younger men of Pelham Heights."

Source:  To Increase Membership Of Hose Company No. 2, The Pelham Sun, Jun. 9, 1922, p. 6, col. 2.  

Doctors, Lawyers, Merchants, Millionaires Proud to March With Boys of Company No. 2 -- Volunteer Organization Numbers Many Real Notables
(Specital To The Daily Argus)

PELHAM, Sept. 24. -- While you don't have to be a banker, broker, lawyer, doctor or millionaire to belong to Hose Company No. 2, the Pelham Heights volunteer fire fighting unit, it 'so happens this is the type of man membership the company has been built on.

Roy Howard, chairman of the board of directors of the Scripps-Howard newspapers was a member of the company until he moved out of the Village recently.

The late Albert C. Field, one-time president of the Produce Exchange, and a multi-millionaire, was a member.

The roster of the company at any time since its formation would be significantly similar to the heavy part of the assessment roll.

Community Spirit

In other words, well-heeled residents of the Village, finding themselves in a volunteer fire district, are willing, glad in fact, to have a part in saving their own or their neighbors' home from fire.

Take the membership of the company today -- you'll find professional men, heads of corporations, stock brokers, lawyers, an importer, a banker, a builder of skyscrapers -- men who are writing NRA codes Monday and grabbing the early plane for the west coast Tuesday.

They are imbued with the community spirit, never loathe to hop out of bed at 2 A.M. when the fire whistle blows and properly appreciative of the fact that the non-commuting volunteers of the two North Pelham companies are alone giving the entire district dependable protection.  

Volunteers of the Heights company, many away from the Village during the day, are sure to be on the job for night fires.

Serious at Drill

The hand that wields the fountain pen has become adept in holding the squirming fire hose.  The well-to-do Heights Vamps [slang for volunteer firefighters] are serious and regular attendants at department drills, quick to learn and anxious to serve.  They meet regularly and impose fines for non-attendance at fires uncompromisingly.

Taking it for granted members can't very well aid in fighting daytime fires, the company has a rule which reads:  $10 fine for inexcusable absence from a fire' -- and in the words of one of the members, Fire Commissioner Arthur Koppel, 'we mean inexcusable.'

On Friday night of this week they will proudly don their smart blue uniforms and march up Fifth Avenue in the annual inspection parade.

Prominent Members

Members in the company today include the commissioner, Mr. Koppel, who is a member of the firm of Shroder and Koppel, builders of the Sherry-Netherlands and of other skyscrapers.  

There are Roy Passmore, vice-president of the Guarantee Trust Company; Joseph Leffson, president of one insurance company and vice-president of another; Channing Jacques, an owner of a large printing business; former Judge J. Dudley Eggleston.

Others are Harold Garton, an executive vice-president for Lord and Taylor; Robert Armstrong, a leading New York City real estate broker; Harry Kreuter, importer; D. Merrill Van Cott, captain of the Hose Company, a stock broker.

Dr. A. C. McGuire, Cliff Avenue, was an organizer of the company.  Dr. Walter Brundage was an active member for many years, as were W. W. Warner, Walter E Bunnell, Clyde Gray, School Trustee, and many others prominent in the Village.

Early History

The company formed and acquired a building to house a hand-drawn hose in 1913 [sic; company formed at least as early as 1912].  As the organization got practical fire-fighting experience it grew in wisdom.

For instance, the first fire-house was a little shed near the present site of the Colonial School on Highbrook Avenue.

But that meant that when there was a fire on the hill, the boys had to drag the hose wagon up hill.

So six months after they had established themselves near the school site, they pulled stakes and took another shed up on Monterey Avenue near Second Street, where they could have the benefit of gravity.

Along about 1915 [sic; should be 1917] they decided they were good enough for serious fire-fighting, so they bought the automobile apparatus that is still in use and in good working order."

Source:  ROSTER OF FANCY PELHAM FIRE UNIT IS WHO'S WHO -- Doctors, Lawyers, Merchants, Millionaires Proud to March With Boys of Company No. 2 -- Volunteer Organization Numbers Many Real Notables, The Daily Argus [Mount Vernon, NY], Sep. 24, 1934, p. 7, cols. 2-3.  

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Below is a list of prior Historic Pelham Blog postings that touch on firefighting and the history of firefighting units within the Town of Pelham.

Fri., Jan. 20, 2017:  A Proud Pelham Fire Department Took Possession of a New American La France Fire Engine in 1914.

Thu., Jan. 19, 2017:  Revenge is a Dish Best Served Cold:  Don't Mess With a Pelham Fireman.

Thu., Jan. 12, 2017:  Six of Pelham's Earliest Firefighters Marched in the 36th Annual Fire Inspection Parade in 1930.

Tue., Dec. 06, 2016:  An Account of the Tragic Vaughan Livery Stable Fire in Pelhamville in 1907.

Wed., Nov. 16, 2016:  More on the 1889 Fire that Destroyed the Hunter House on Travers Island.

Tue., Oct. 04, 2016:  Harry R. King, Fire Chief of the First Fire District From 1911 to 1913.

Wed., Jun. 15, 2016:  Organized Volunteer Fire Fighting in Pelhamville Began as Early as 1885.

Tue., Jun. 14, 2016:  The First Annual Inspection of Pelhamville Fire Fighting Units in 1894.

Tue., Jun. 07, 2016:  When Did Pelham's Minneford Engine Company Acquire its First Fire-Fighting Steam Engine?

Mon., May 16, 2016:  Fatal Fire in 1902 at One Fifth Avenue Burned Down the Post Office and Pharmacy.

Fri., Apr. 29, 2016:  Famous Meyers Mansion in Pelham Manor Burned Down in 1897.

Thu., Apr. 28, 2016:  Pelham Manor Dutifully Extinguished a Fire That Nearly Burned Down its Hated Wooden Train Station in 1896.

Mon., Jan. 04, 2016:  Pelham Manor Voters Voted to Disband the Pelham Manor Fire Department in 1928.  

Mon., Dec. 14, 2015:  Early History of the Village of Pelham Manor Fire Department.

Fri., Dec. 11, 2015:  Evidence of An Early Independent Firefighting Unit in Pelham Named "Indians."

Thu., Dec. 10, 2015:  Grand Fire-Fighting Competition and Parade Held in the Town of Pelham in 1891.

Wed., Dec. 09, 2015:  Pelham's Minneford Engine Company Built a New Fire House on City Island in 1894.

Mon., Dec. 07, 2015:  The Code Used on the City Island Fire Bell in the Late 19th Century Used for Fire Alarms.

Mon., Nov. 30, 2015:  Another Detailed Account of the 1901 Fire that Destroyed the Clubhouse of the New York Athletic Club on Travers Island.

Fri., Nov. 20, 2015:  Account of 1894 Fire in One of Pelham's Earliest Newspapers.

Wed., Sep. 30, 2015:  Was it Arson that Destroyed the Prospect Hill School at Jackson and Plymouth Avenues in 1917?

Thu., Sep. 17, 2015:  An Account of the February 28, 1925 Fire at Pelhamdale, A Home on the National Register of Historic Places.

Fri., Jun. 12, 2015:  The Tumultuous Reign of Pelham Manor Fire Chief J. Louis Cunningham in the Early 1900s.

Tue., Jun. 09, 2015:  Reminiscences of Firemen Who Served From 1893 Until 1923 in North Pelham.

Wed., Jun. 03, 2015:  The Bell in Firemen's Memorial Park at First Street and Wolfs Lane.

Tue., Jun. 02, 2015:  Important Early Images of the Pelham Fire Department.

Fri., May 22, 2015:  History of Pelham's Beloved "Nott Steamer" Known as "Jim Reilly's Boiler."

Thu., Mar. 26, 2015:  Fire Destroyed the Old Pelham Manor Post Office in 1945.

Fri., Mar. 20, 2015:  Fire in 1932 Devastated the Bolton Priory in Pelham Manor.

Tue., Feb. 17, 2015:  More on the Early History of Organized Firefighting in the Settlement of Pelhamville.

Mon., Feb. 16, 2015: The Great Furniture Fight of 1896: Company of Pelhamville Firemen Resigned En Masse.

Thu., Feb. 12, 2015: Rare 19th Century Image of Pelhamville Firemen Who Served in Relief Hook and Ladder Company No. 1.

Fri., Dec. 12, 2014: Parade and Housewarming Hosted by Pelhamville Fire Department in 1894.

Thu., Dec. 11, 2014:  Pelhamville's First Attempt to Create a Fire Department in 1893 Failed Due to a Legal Technicality.

Thu., Jul. 24, 2014: Dedication of the New Fire Headquarters in the Village of Pelham on December 29, 1927.

Wed., Jul. 02, 2014: Election Shenanigans Involving Fire Commissioner Election in 1898.

Thu., Apr. 24, 2014: Information About the History of Fire Departments in the Town of Pelham Published in 1927.

Thu., Jan. 30, 2014:  The Night Pelham's Town Hall Burned.

Fri., Jan. 24, 2014: Early Days of Organized Fire Fighting in Today's Village of Pelham.

Thu., Jan. 23, 2014:  Another Account of the Devastating Fire that Destroyed the Travers Island Clubhouse of New York Athletic Club in 1901.

Wed., May 12, 2010:  Fire Partly Destroyed Pelham Town Hall in 1908.

Fri., Jan. 15, 2010: Photograph of Augustine C. McGuire, President of the Board of Fire Commissioners of the First District Fire Department in 1913.

Thu., Jan. 14, 2010: 1913 Report of the Firemen's Benevolent Association in Pelham.

Thu., Dec. 10, 2009: More 19th Century Baseball and Firefighting References.

Tue., Dec. 08, 2009: The Darling Triplets: Three Brothers Among Pelham's Earliest Firefighters.

Thu., Oct. 08, 2009: Firefighting Units on City Island in Pelham During the Early 1890's.

Fri., Sep. 04, 2009:  1901 Newspaper Article About Fire that Burned New York Athletic Club Clubhouse on Travers Island.

Mon., Aug. 31, 2009: Contest in 1891 To Determine Which Steam Fire Engine Company Could Throw a Stream the Greater Distance.

Fri., Aug. 28, 2009: Reorganization of the Minneford Engine Company on City Island in February, 1891.

Thu., Aug. 06, 2009: Brief History of the Fire Department in the Village of North Pelham Published in 1913.

Wed., Aug. 05, 2009: Pelham Manor Fire Chief Pleads for Taxpayers to Authorize Purchase of Village's First Fire Engine.

Wed., July 15, 2009: Liberty Hose Company Election in 1898.

Thu., Feb. 19, 2009:  The Old Hunter House Burns to the Ground in an Arson Incident on Travers Island on April 4, 1889.

Thu., Jan. 19, 2006: Pelham Manor's Earliest Fire Fighting Equipment.

Wed., Jan. 18, 2006:  Newspaper Report of the Infamous Vaughan's Livery Stable Fire in North Pelham in 1907.

Mon., Oct. 17, 2005:  The Firemen's Memorial of the Pelham Fire Department.

Mon., Aug. 01, 2005: An 1896 Inspection and Drill of the Fire Department in Pelham.

Tue., May 31, 2005:  The June 6, 1940 Fire That Destroyed the George M. Reynolds Mansion (Part I of II).

Wed., Jun. 01, 2005:  The June 6, 1940 Fire That Destroyed the George M. Reynolds Mansion (Part II of II).

Fri., May 06, 2005:  The Great Furniture Battle at Pelhamville's Relief Hook and Ladder Company in 1896.

Archive of the Historic Pelham Web Site.

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