July 1917 Fires
In this month’s column, I present historic fires or significant events in the fire service from July 1917. A reminder: Readers are encouraged to share information from their departments.
July 2, 1917: Jersey City, New Jersey: Shipping and
commercial buildings near the Little Basin at the eastern
terminal of Morris Canal were threatened by a fire that
started just before 11:00 p.m. in a two-story wood frame
building at the end of Packard’s Pier. This pier extended
from the end of Washington Street 600 feet into the
basin. The fire ignited in a second-floor office just above
the boiler. City firefighters joined railroad teams in battling the extending flames. With numerous barges, tugs,
lighters, and scows in jeopardy, the Jersey City firefighters
moved in to defend the southern section where 5,000
barrels of resin were stored. Fire Department of New York
fireboats moved in to help this effort. About 100 barrels
did become involved and a few scows were destroyed, but
the fire was quickly and efficiently extinguished.
July 9, 1917: Jersey City, New Jersey: Nine firefighters
were overcome battling a fire at Halliday & Forrest Streets
in an aniline dye and chemical plant. Fifty workers fled
the building when a huge pot of benzoic acid boiled over,
causing other chemicals to burst into flames. Clouds of
heavy black noxious smoke poured from the two-story
building as firefighters arrived. Despite warnings of acid
fumes inside, three companies of firefighters moved into
the burning building. Hampered by low water pressure
and the toxic smoke, the initial teams of firefighters began
dropping unconscious from the fumes. Firefighters moving in to rescue their down brothers also fell unconscious.
One firefighter was overcome on the roof and fell to the
ground. The fire was finally controlled after a difficult
two-hour battle. In all, nine firefighters were knocked out
by the smoke.
July 10, 1917: East Boothbay, Maine: Flames ignited by
a hot rivet dropped inside the Rice Brothers ship building
plant caused $150,000 in damage. A half-completed light
ship, several beam trawlers, and a half-dozen yachts and
launches owned by summer residents were destroyed.
July 12, 1917: Hoboken, New Jersey: A fire inside a
five-story import warehouse filled with coconut oil and
shells began burning fiercely, trapping three workers.
Firefighters responding to the Jefferson Street building
rescued the trapped people, as others stretched hoses from
the new automobile fire engine. The battle commenced
but was hampered as lengths of hose were burst by the
intense firefighters had to work a few minutes at a time in
relays to protect the exposed warehouses nearby. It took
the efforts of the entire fire department to contain the fire
in two hours.
July 21, 1917: Lynbrook, New York: An elderly
woman making breakfast for her brother accidentally
ignited her clothing while using an oil stove. Her dog ran
into the yard barking and howling and getting the attention of neighbors. The dog then returned into the burning home and attempted to pull the burning clothes from
the down woman. When firefighters entered the blazing
home, the dog was found dead beside his owner.
July 24, 1917: Long Beach, New York: A carelessly
discarded cigarette fell into a ventilation flue and ignited
a fire in the basement wine cellar of the Nassau Hotel at
7: 45 a.m. Smoke began filling the building, driving the
patrons, including the famed actress Sarah Bernhardt,
outside. Bernhardt evacuated her fourth-floor suite
accompanied by her manager and secretary and sat on the
boardwalk talking quietly with friends and watching the
fire department battle the fire. Hampered by low water
pressure, the locals called for mutual aid and soon had
help from Rockville Centre, Lynbrook, and Oceanside
departments on hand. Flames jumped to a portion of the
boardwalk and proved difficult to extinguish.
July 28, 1917: Edgewater Park, New Jersey: A heavy
motor truck, carrying tanks filled with 900 gallons of
gasoline, was struck by a train as it crossed the tracks near
the freight station. The driver was critically injured, and the
gasoline splashed across the tracks from one of the tanks
ignited. This ignited some box cars parked on a nearby
siding. Firefighters from Burlington and Beverley joined
forces and battled the growing fire as railroad workers tried
to clear the trains and tracks. A half hour in, two gasoline
tanks exploded, wrecking everything in a 100-foot radius.
One man was killed and several, including firefighters, were
critically burned and injured.
Paul Hashagen is a 40-year veteran of the fire service. He retired
from the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) after 25 years of
service, with 20 of those years in Rescue Company 1. Hashagen is a
former chief of the Freeport (NY) Fire Department and is still a member of Truck Company 1. He has written several books and numerous
stories on the history of the fire service including Fire Department City
of New York: The Bravest; An Illustrated History 1865-2002; and One
Hundred Years of Valor: Rescue Company 1 New York City Fire Department Rescue 1915-2015, all of which are available at paulhashagen.
com. Visit his Facebook page at Paul Hashagen-author.
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Hashagen, visit www.