THE EARLY HISTORY of
the BUFFALO FIRE DEPARTMENT
(to 1884)*
Clarendon Hotel Fire
The Clarendon Hotel Fire of November 9, 1860 at Main and S. Division Street.

Dedicated to Buffalo Firefighter
Michael L. Seguin who lost his life in the line of duty July 4, 1997.
We miss you Mike-e.

 

The Fire Department of Buffalo is older than the city itself; its conception dates back to the very early history of the village.

The first record that has been found of anything like an organization to furnish protection from fire, relates to the year 1816.  Near the last of that year, the village authorities passed ordinances relative to the subject.  The trustees were authorized to ascertain the practicability of procuring a supply of water by means of the water courses, streams and reservoirs.  Twenty-five ladders were ordered

 

* Much of the data from which the following history of the Fire Department was written, was obtained from the columns of the Sunday Truth.

 

Made within thirty days and all house owners were required to provide "one good leathern bucket for each house, store or shop" to cause their chimneys to be swept and in future to build their chimneys, large enough for sweepers to go through them.

This movement was undoubtedly instigated by a fire in the village as George Badger in the papers of December 17th, that year, thanked the citizens for assistance at his late fire.

On the 18th of June 1826, the sum of $100 was ordered levied on the village property, with which to build an engine house.  At a little later date, John B. Flagg, Henry Root, Edward Root and A. Beers were appointed to fill vacancies in the fire company.  Peter Curtiss, Noah P. Sprague and Isaac S. Smith were afterwards added to the fire wardens then in office.  In January 1830, the membership of the fire company had increased to twenty-seven, among whom was the name of John L. Kimberly.

During the year 1831 action was taken towards enlarging the fire extinguishing facilities of the village.  On September 19th of that year, it was decided to construct four reservoirs, or cisterns, at the intersections of Main with Seneca, Swan, Eagle and Court streets.  These reservoirs held about 10,000 gallons each and for many years served their purpose efficiently; other similar reservoirs were afterwards added.  In the fall of that year two new fire engines were purchased and additional hose procured.

On the 5th of June 1822, some further precautions were taken to prevent fires, and on the 2nd of December 1822, an ordinance was passed defining the duties of the fire wardens, one of which was to examine and clean the chimneys throughout the village once in every month.  These measures were followed by others designed to increase the vigilance and efficiency of the wardens, and adding penalties for carelessness on the part of the property-owners.

The first regular fire company was organized in Buffalo on the 16th of December, 1824, and Oliver Forward, then president of the village, officially directed that the following- named citizens be appointed members of the company:-George B. Webster, Hiram Johnson, George B. Gleason, Ebenezer Johnson, Henry Fales, Guy H. Goodrich, Barent Staats, Nathaniel Wilgus, Richard Wadsworth, Elisha E. Hickox, Thaddeus Weed, Joseph Dart, Jr., Elijah D. Efner, George Coit, Silas Athearn, John Scott, Henry Hamilton, William Hollister, Joseph Anable, Augustin Eaton, Abner Bryant, Theodore Coburn, Martin Daley, Robert Bush and John A. Lazelle.  It is quite evident that this company included all the m6st prominent citizens of the village.

November 2nd, 1831, it was decided to organize two more fire companies, one of which was to be a hook and ladder company and one called Engine Company 3, or "Fulton" 3. Among those who joined the department at that time, was Mr. Harlow French.

 

Following is a list of all the fire companies which have existed in Buffalo, with the dates of their organization:-

 

Cataract Engine Company, No. 1, December 16, 1824.

Live Oak Engine Company, NO. 2, August 5, 1832.

Fillmore, (or-Pulton) Engine Company, NO. 3, November 2, 1832.

Buffalo Engine Company, No. 4, November 24, 1832.

Washington Engine Company, No. 5, December 21, 1832.

Red Jacket Engine Company, No. 6, January 15, 1836.

Perry Engine Company, No. 7, January 4, 1837

Clinton Engine Company, No. 8, January 18, 1838

Hydraulic Engine Company, No. 9, October 18, 1845.

Defiance Engine Company: No. 10, September 19, 1851

Columbia Engine Company: No. 11, August 26, 1852

Jefferson Engine Company: No. 12, January 14, 1852.

Hook and Ladder Company No. 1, January 9, 1836.

Rescue Hook and Ladder Company, NO. 2, March, 1837.

Taylor Hose Company, No. 1, November 13, 1850.

Eagle Hose Company, No. 2, May 18, 1852.

Seneca Hose Company, No. 3, September 21, 1852.

Excelsior Hose Company, No. 4, December 9, 1852.

Neptune Hose Company, No. 5, February 9, 1857.

Hose Company No. 6, June 21, 1862.

Niagara Hose Company, No. 7, April 7, 1865.

 

The re-organization of the following companies took place on the dates given:-

Hose Companies Nos. 1, 2, 5, 7, 11, and 9, in 1871, and Liberty Hose Company, No. 1, in 1872.

Hook and Ladder Company No. 1, (formerly No. 2) June 3, 1861 Hook and Ladder No. 2, August 14, 1864; Hook and Ladder No. 3, December 11, 1868; Protection Company, No. 1, September 1, 1868; Pioneer Truck, No. 1, (or Rescue Truck No. 2,) May 25, 1832.

 

On the 4th of June, 1837, the first Board of Aldermen of the newly organized city, appointed their fellow Alderman of the First ward, Isaac S. Smith, the first chief engineer of the fire department.  Subsequently John W. Beals and Samuel Jordan were appointed his assistants.  Following is a list of the successive chief engineers from that date to the present time[1884]: Isaac S. Smith, June 4, 1832 ; Samuel Jordan, December, 1834, and March 11, 1836; Jacob A. Barker, vice Samuel Jordan, resigned, July 29, 1836; Thomas Kip, October 4, 1838; George Jones, vice Thomas Kip, resigned, October 6, 1841 ; Lyman Knapp, vice, George Jones, resigned, May 6, 1845: William Taylor, April 9, 1850; George Jones, Edwin Hurlburt, April 25, 1853; William Taylor, January 30, 1854; T. T. Bloomer, (temporary) November 10, 1856 ; John Lorenz, December 8, 1856 ; William Taylor, May 3, 1857, January

13, 1860, and January 7, 1861, Thomas B. French, February 2, 1863, and January 1864.  In 1866 the office of Chief Engineer was abolished and was superseded by the office of superintendent of the department.  In 1866, Edwin Hurlburt was appointed to the new office; Peter C. Doyle,

 

1868-69; Thomas B. French, from 1870 to 1873, inclusive; Joseph R. Williams, 1874-75; Thomas B. French, 1876and '77; Peter C Doyle, 1878 (until April15), when he resigned and James L. Rodgers finished the two years.  In i88o, Thomas B. French was given the office again and remained in it until May 3, 1883, when he resigned and was succeeded by Frederick Hornung, the present chief.

In October, 1837, in accordance with a prayer of a petition long before presented to the Common Council by Millard Fillmore and others, a bell was bought and placed on the Terrace Market, to be used for fire alarms and other emergencies.

On the 24th of August, 1852, a special meeting of the Common Council was called to consider the condition of the fire department, it having become demoralized and the several companies having left their engines and hook and ladder trucks on the Terrace.  A resolution was adopted, accepting the resignation of every member of the department outside of Taylor Hose No. 1, Eagle Hose No. 2, and Jefferson Engine No. 12. At about this time Colonel Gustavus A. Scroggs tendered the services of the old Sixty-fifth regiment for fire duty; his offer was accepted.  Chief Taylor resigned and was followed in the office by George Jones.  Efforts were made at the session of August 3oth, to reorganize the department, though previous to that effort the city authorities endeavored to recover all the property belonging to the city, including the funds of the Firemen's Benevolent Association.  Ex-Chief Taylor having been accused of being the cause of the demoralization in the department was exonerated on September 17, 1852, by certificate of honorable discharge.

The first Board of Fire Commissioners were appointed April 27, 1857, in the persons of Oliver G. Steele, Francis H. Root, George Jones and Jarvis Davis.  On February 3, 1859, the first steam fire engine used in Buffalo was bought, and upon its arrival was placed in the house formerly occupied by Cataract Engine Company, on Washington street, below Seneca.

On the 21st day of November, 1859, Chief Taylor was directed by the Council to apportion the department into districts, which was done.

The Citizens Hook and Ladder Company was organized on October 17, 1864.  It disbanded in March, 1880, Frederick Hornung, the present Chief, Robert Carlton, the present assistant chief, and E. 0. Van Brocklin, the present secretary, having been numbered among its members. The fire alarm telegraph system was introduced in 1865.

In 1862, and again in 1872, efforts were made to disband the volunteer department and introduce an entire paid department.  Both of these attempts failed and nothing was accomplished in that direction until in the winter of 1879-'80, when the third trial succeeded.  The volunteer companies disbanded in March and April, 1880, and three commissioners were appointed with power to name the Chief Engineer and other officers of the department, who should hold their offices during the pleasure of the commissioners.  The first and present commissioners are George R. Potter, chairman; John M. Hutchinson and Nelson K. Hopkins.  Eric 0. Van Brocklin is the secretary of this Board of Fire Commissioners.

 

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There are now in the department fifteen steamers, five chemical engines, four hook and ladder companies and other accessories, which are located as follows:-

 

Engine No. 1-No. 43 South Division street.

Engine No. 2- Jersey street corner Plymouth Avenue.

Engine No. 3-Broadway, near Jefferson street.

Engine No. 4-Genesee, near Spruce street.

Engine No. 5-Emslie street, corner Bristol.

Engine No. 6-Seneca street, near Junction.

Engine No. 7-Lower Terrace, near Evans street.

Engine No. 8-Chicago, near Elk street.

Engine No. 9-Washington street, corner Tupper.

Engine No.10-Perry street, near- Washington.

Engine No.11-Niagara street, near Ferry.

Engine No.12-Chicago street, corner Folsom.

Engine No.13-Staats street, Headquarters.

Engine No.14-William street, corner Cassy.

Engine No.15-Amherst, near Thompson street.

Chemical No. 1-Pearl street, near Terrace.

Chemical No. 2-Chicago street, near Folsom.

Chemical No. 3-Pearl street, near Tupper.

Chemical No. 4-William street, corner Cassy.

Chemical No. 5-Main street, Cold Springs.

Hook & Ladder Co. No. 1-Washingion street, corner Tupper.

Hook & Ladder Co. No. 2-No. 45 South Division street.

Hook & Ladder Co. No. 3-William street, corner Hickory.

Hook & Ladder Co. No. 4-Niagara street, near Ferry.

Hose Company No. 1-High street, near Michigan.

Supply Barn-Staats street, Headquarters.

Hose Tower-Staats street, Headquarters.

 

The Old Palace Hotel and Sanitarium
The Old Palace Hotel and Sanitarium after the great "conflaguration" of 1881.

Major Fires to 1884

Buffalo has had several disastrous fires, some of them attended by fatalities, but the city cannot be said to have suffered in this respect to an unusual degree.  On the 14th of November, 1829, a disastrous fire occurred on Main street, between Niagara and Eagle streets, destroying the wooden store and dwelling occupied by Colonel George Stow; the bookstore and bindery of Sargent & Wilgus; the drug store of Dr. George E. Hayes & Co.; the printing establishment of Day, Follett & Haskins, and other property.  At this fire General Potter and Henry Lovejoy were seriously injured.

On the 14th day of November, 1832, just three years after the fire above described, one of the most disastrous conflagrations that ever occurred in the city, broke out in the building owned by Marvin & Bennett, on Main street, adjoining the store of Wilkeson, Beals & Co. Several squares of buildings in the heart of the city, on Main, East and West Seneca, Pearl and Washington streets, were destroyed, causing a loss of between $150,000 and $200,000.  It was supposed to have been the work of an incendiary.

On the 7th of December 1880, the wall paper manufactory of M. H. Birge & Sons, on Perry street, near Washington, was entirely destroyed, with the Queen City Malt House, causing a loss of over $200,000.  At this fire ten persons lost their lives, either by jumping from the burning buildings or by falling amid the ruins where they were burned beyond recognition.

The Commercial Advertiser fire, which has been elsewhere described, occurred on December 21, 1882, causing a loss of over $500,000.  William C. Smith, a member of Hook and Ladder Co. No. 3, was killed.

The history of the department, if all the exciting or interesting events of its career were detailed, would occupy more space than could reasonably be set apart for It in a work of this nature.  If all the brave deeds of its members were recited, if the total value of the property which they have saved from destruction could be computed, and the unfairness of a large portion of the declamations made against them at different times exposed, a volume would have to be devoted to the subject.  Examples of their courageous fidelity to the duties bestowed upon them can here be only mentioned in the briefest manner, such as were shown at the burning of the Red Jacket Hotel, on Seneca and Elk streets, July 18, 1878, when John D. Mitchell, for twenty years a member of Columbia Hose, No. 11, In obedience to the command of the foreman, entered the burning building and was crushed beneath the falling timbers.  The death of Arthur A. Poole is also one of the melancholy incidents of this department.  He was thrown from a hose cart July 10, 1878.  He was a member of Neptune, No. 5; E. 0. Van Brocklin was injured at the same time.  Many are the heroic deeds that might be recounted in the records of the Buffalo fire department.

The Firemen's Benevolent Association, of Buffalo, was incorporated by an act of the Legislature on the 23d day of March, 1837.  The first officers were Jacob A. Barker, president; Edward Baldwin, vice-president; John L. Kimberly, second vice-president; Joseph H. Smith, secretary; William H. Lacy, treasurer; Thomas Kip, Sidney S. Hosmer, Samuel F. Pratt, Walter Joy, Garrett S. Hollenbeck, Grosvenor Clark, Oliver G. Steele, William J. Mack and Edward Hurlburt, trustees.  The purpose of the corporation was for accumulating a fund for the relief of indigent and disabled firemen and their families; and for that purpose they were invested with the power to purchase, take and hold, transfer and convey, real and personal property to an amount not exceeding $20,000.

 It was composed of all such persons as then were or who would thereafter be, engineers of the fire department, or members of any fire engine, hook and ladder, or hose company in the city of Buffalo.  An election was to be held on the second Wednesday in December of each year.  On the 10th of April, the power to hold property was increased to $50,000.  April 9, 1862, greater latitude was given the association for the admission of members.  All persons resident in Buffalo, having served or thereafter to have served, the time required by the city charter to entitle them to exemption from jury and militia duty, were entitled to become members.  Eighty-seven persons, widows and children of deceased members of the department, are now supported by the association, which thus accomplishes a work of great beneficence.

 

-Transcribed from: Perry Smith, ed. History Of The City Of Buffalo And Erie County With Illustrations And Biographical Sketches Of Some Of Its Prominent Men And Pioneers. vol. I, II. Syracuse, N.Y.: D. Mason & Co. 1884.


Editors Note:

On July 4, 1997 Michael L. Seguin, Firefighter with the Buffalo Fire Department, Buffalo, NY
Age 31, was killed when he became trapped by a roof collapse while fighting a residential structure fire on Buffalo's East Side. One other firefighter was injured and suffered second degree burns. The second firefighter was dragged to safety after becoming unconscious.
Rescuers did not see Firefighter Sequin due to heavy smoke and he was not located until later that afternoon. Fire officials stated that there was a possibility that the fire was started by fireworks. The owner of the house believes that a "rocket" landed on her roof.

"Mikey" as I used to call him was my friend. We worked together for two years in a tiny room on industrial equipment before he took the job with the BFD. We kept touch after that. He wanted to go to the University of Buffalo to complete his business degree. He had a plan, he was working on it. He started a family, had a wife and daughter. He was in the reserves, and at last check attained the rank of E4.

He was a rare man, honest and true, looked you in the eye when he spoke, like an Iowa farm boy would.

I miss him.

-Steve Powell

-More info: Firefighter Fatalities in the United States in 1997
Prepared for United States Fire Administration Federal Emergency Management Agency
Contract No. EME-98-SA-0083
Prepared by
IOCAD Emergency Services Group
TriData Corporation
August 1998
http://sageauthoring.com/nfa/admin/ff_fat97.pdf

 

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