NOTABLE FIRES RECORDED SINCE THE
ADOPTION OF THE PAID DEPARTMENT
An alarm turned in for a chimney fire in the residence of M. J. GARVIN, occasioned the first "roll" after the adoption of the paid system. During the first six months of the new regime 22 alarms were received. The losses aggregated $2,355.
On Sunday, August 19, 1888, the Houser Harvester Works, owned by the Stockton Combined Harvester and Agricultural Company, suffered complete destruction. The fire was discovered at 1 a.m., and before the alarm was turned in flames were bursting from every corner of the building. About twenty combined harvesters were consumed together with much other valuable machinery. The building and contents were insured for $127,000. The policies were what are termed "blanket policies," under which merchandise or implements might be put in or taken out at pleasure. Considerable difficulty was experienced in adjusting the loss. A board of arbitration finally fixed $95,000 as the sum due the Harvester Company.
February 4, 1889, fire of an incendiary origin destroyed a barn and 800 tons of hay, the property of E. MILLER, and situated on the south bank of Mormon channel near Commerce Street. Within sixty feet of the barn stood the large warehouse of Wm. MILLER, containing thousands of dollars worth of grain and agricultural implements, and it was with great difficulty that the flames were prevented from communicating thereto. At this fire, the Jeffers engine had to be taken off as the gauge refused to register the amount of steam and an explosion was feared. Eight days later, at a fire in the stables of Hedges & Buck, one of the flues in her boiler blew out rendering her useless at a critical time. Subsequently Chief McCANN sent a communication to the City Council stating that the engine needed a thorough overhauling and recommending the purchase of another engine for the department. The communication was referred to a committee in the usual manner and the following account of a subsequent fire appeared in the Independent of May 9th: "The alarm of fire from station 8, at 3 o'clock yesterday afternoon was caused by the burning of a two-story frame building, 254 Lafayette Street, owned by Alonzo Rhodes, and occupied by Bornhorst & Stelling as a furniture factory. There was no one in the building when the fire broke out so that the origin is a mystery. When the blaze was discovered it had already gained such headway that there seemed but little prospect of saving any portion of the contents. The engines were on hand promptly, but the hose of the Weber engine burst soon after it began working and the Eureka engine (the Jeffers) had no steam on. The engines did not get fairly to work until the factory building was nothing but a skeleton of blazing studding and rafters and the adjoining buildings were rendered uninhabitable." The losses on this occasion aggregated $2,500, partially insured.
The Jeffers engine was sent to Sacramento for repairs the following week and in Mayor Reibenstein's message to the Council, delivered to that body June 11, 1889 - nineteen years ago - we find the following: "The city's engine houses are too close together; they were located in early days before Stockton covered much territory. There should be an engine house and steam fire engine in the vicinity of Fremont and Sutter streets; another near the corner of California and Sonora Streets. These with the San Joaquin, the Eureka and Hook and Ladder houses, as now located, are necessary in a fire system adequate for the protection of Stockton. As yet we have had no great fires; it is not possible, however, to foretell the day when a fire may break out during a heavy wind. Then a minute saved may save the city. Seattle's fire should teach us a useful lesson."
(Five days previous to the date above mentioned Seattle suffered a loss estimated at between twelve and sixteen million dollars, with but three millions of insurance. The fire, insignificant at first, having its origin in the upsetting of a glue pot, soon spread to adjoining buildings and through lack of sufficient apparatus - Seattle then possessed but two steamers - was, within a few moments beyond the control of the firemen. Calls for assistance were sent to adjoining towns and Tacoma sent men and apparatus; Victoria, B. C., sent its Chief with an engine and force of men, and Olympia also responded with an engine and hose. Through their combined efforts the flames were finally subdued and Seattle's tired firemen assembled under some shade trees, the engine houses destroyed, and there remained until tents were erected for their temporary use. At the first meeting of the Council held "after" the fire plans were formulated for equipping the department in a manner fit for the protection of a city and today Seattle has one of the best equipped departments in the world.--Compiler.)
Mayor Reibenstein also suggested that the city should own a city hall for the location of its offices and recommended that the Lafayette school building be re-modeled for that purpose. In connection with the above it is interesting to note that with the exception of a La France engine, purchased during that gentlemen's administration, the department has in use the same equipment at this writing, (April 16, 1908) that was being drawn to fires at that date. And we find the axiom "history repeats itself" to be literally true in so far as the old Jeffers engine is concerned, as that machine, covered as it is with age and honors, broke down at a critical moment during a recent blaze and it is at present in the corporation yard undergoing repairs.
June 15, 1889, the Southern Pacific freight depot was destroyed together with a freight car which stood on an adjoining track. The loss of was estimated at $5,000. September 2, 1889, three dwellings on the south side of Church street were destroyed. The losses aggregated $3000; partially insured. While en route to this fire the hind wheel of the Weber engine collapsed as the driver was turning the corner at Channel and El Dorado Streets. The building known as Peters' Buhach building and situated on Channel Street adjoining the quarters of Engine Company No. 1, was damaged by fire and water to the extent of $4,000 on the morning of April 30, 1890.
The Stockton Theater, an historic temple of the drama, was destroyed on the night of July 4, 1890, and with it went many memories dear to the members of the old volunteer department and early pioneer settlers of Stockton. The building which stood on the southeast corner of Main and El Dorado Streets, was erected by E. HESTRES in 1852. It was formally opened as a theater on October 15, 1853, when "The Lady of Lyons," Bulwer's five-act play, was rendered. Mr. George RYER impersonated Claude and Miss Caroline CHAPMAN, Pauline. "The School for Scandal," "Hamlet," "The Rivals," "Ingomar," and other plays of similar character were rendered during a ten weeks' engagement when the theater was closed. After remaining dark for two weeks it was reopened by the CHAPMAN Family and a benefit was tendered the CHAPMANS by the Volunteers, all of whom attended in full uniform. At the close of the performance Miss CHAPMAN presented to the companies then comprising the department, three magnificent banners. Chief COLT responded briefly and proposed three cheers for the donor. They were given with a vigor that threatened to lift the roof and two days later a card of thanks was published in the San Joaquin Republican for the foreman on each company.
Following the engagement of the CHAPMAN Family, Mr. George RYER, acting as manager of the theater, sent East for Miss Matilda HERON, an actress of superior talent. Large houses greeted each performance given by the lady who subsequently became insane and died in an asylum. At the farewell performance by Miss HERON Mr. RYER was presented with a diamond cross, costing $600. The money was raised by Chief E. W. COLT, who, in his presentation speech, extended the thanks of the Stockton Fire Department to the gentleman for the many favors rendered the organization by him while manager of the theater. The Stockton Dramatic Society, which numbered among its members ex-Governor James H. BUDD and other gentlemen and ladies prominent in local social circles, played the "Ticket of Leave Man" for the benefit of the fire alarm telegraph fund on the evening of March 31, 1880. This and previous performances given by the society in the old theater, were marked by an excellence second only to the finished performances of the best professionals, and expressions of regret were universal when the organization dissolved. After 1880 the building was seldom used for a theater. It became the property of Mrs. E. F. McMULLIN a few years previous to the fire and at that time the ground floor was occupied as a dry goods store by Mr. Alex. CHALMERS. That gentleman lost stock to the value of $30,000 with but $17,000 insurance. The building was insured for its full value. At the height of the fire which was with great difficulty prevented from spreading to adjoining property, Ansel KNOWLES, now driver of the truck, had a narrow escape from a horrible death in the flames. While walking on one of the walls of the burning building holding the nozzle of the hose playing into the seething mass of flames, he stumbled and fell headlong into the fire. With great presence of mind he retained his hold on the nozzle. His companions rushed to his aid and hauled him to safety but none too soon, as his clothing was ablaze in a number of places and his hands and face were painfully burned.
Gleason & Cassidy, saloon men, suffered the loss of their establishment and Barney KILLION'S Hibernia Brewery was burned early in the morning of July 29, 1890. Three weeks later the upper deck of the steamer "Mary Garratt" was damaged to the extent of $10,000. The boat was moored to the wharf at the time and the fire was presumed to have been started by the explosion of a kerosene lamp. The crew were enjoying their usual Sunday rest, many of them being asleep in their quarters, and the flames spread with such rapidity that they barely escaped with their lives. Despite a brisk northwest wind, that carried the flames to the sheds on the wharf, the department extinguished the fire within a short time.
September 2, 1890, David FARRELL, while acting as a substitute, was run over by the hook and ladder truck and fatally injured. The apparatus was going down Market Street in response to a call when Mr. FARRELL attempted to board it. He grasped the rope running around the truck with his right hand and attempted to draw himself up but the momentum of the vehicle was so great that he was jerked off his feet. Losing his hold on the rope he fell to the ground and the hind wheel passed over his body. He was picked up and carried into a nearby house where he was attended by Drs. CLARK and GIBBOUS. The physicians found that the young man was so seriously hurt as to be beyond medical aid and death soon relieved him of his sufferings. The remains were removed to the home of his brother-in-law, Councilman BRISCO, where the funeral was held the following day. Services were observed in St. Mary's Catholic Church and the body was followed to the grave by the Y.M.I., of which he was a member, the fire department and a large number of citizens. Subsequently the foremen of the companies were appointed to draft suitable resolutions to the memory of the deceased.
Two horses, the property of Strohmeier & Sterling, were cremated in a stable on Channel between San Joaquin and Sutter Streets, on the night of October 17, 1890, and on the day following Chas. DOHRMANN'S residence, on the corner of Oak and Sutter Streets, narrowly escaped destruction. The harvester manufactory of Hoult & Sons, together with twenty combined harvesters were burned in the early morning of March 5, 1891. The factory was built in 1885. It stood on raised ground in the bed of Mormon Channel and at the time of the fire was entirely surrounded by water. At the height of the fire one whole side of the structure, which was a frame building, fell off and floated, still ablaze down the stream. The engines were stationed on the Center Street bridge but were unable to render any service. Mr. John HOULT, the senior member of the firm, estimated his loss at $35,000; un-insured. The Stockton Iron Works had a narrow escape from destruction on the night of September 29, 1891. Flames were discovered issuing from the pattern room at 9 o'clock by W. G. HUMPHREY, who immediately turned in an alarm. When the department arrived the top story at the north end of the building was a mass of flames and it looked as though the whole corner of the block was doomed. By much hard work on the part of the department the fire was kept confined to the pattern room, however, and the enterprising proprietors of the works, Messrs. TRETHEWAY & DASHER, rented temporary quarters for that branch of their business and the plant was running as usual the next morning. The firm estimated their loss at $3,000. November 29th M. DEAGAN'S upholstering rooms, on the second floor of Mrs. RIDER'S building, on Hunter Street, north of Main, were discovered on fire and before the flames could be extinguished the entire stock was ruined by fire and water. Mr. DEGAN estimated his loss at $7,000, fully insured. RICH & LONJERS, owners of Club Saloon, on the ground floor of the building, suffered a loss of several thousand dollars, and LAUXEN & CATTS, the furniture firm whose storeroom adjoined, estimated that furniture valued at $1,500 had been ruined.
Mrs. M. SHEEHAN and her daughter, May, aged 7 years, were burned to death in their dwelling on Fremont Street near American, on the night of September 12, 1892. The fire is supposed to have had its origin in the upsetting of a kerosene lamp by the unfortunate woman. From this date the records for a period of six years are missing.
Twenty minutes after midnight January 4, 1898, the boys were called out of their warm beds into the cold for a twenty-four hour fight at the warehouse of the Farmers' Union & Milling Company. The fire had gained great headway when the alarm was turned in and before the tired horses had pulled the heavy apparatus to the scene, over a mile distant, the entire building, filled to overflowing with grain, was ablaze.The firemen worked heroically for twenty-four hours but their efforts were of little avail and the building and contents were a total loss. The building was valued at $35,000 while the loss to the parties owning the grain reached the sum of $221,542, making it the heaviest loss from fire since the organization of the paid department. "Jack" EGAN of Engine Company No. 2 had a narrow escape from death during the fire. He was working in the interior of the blazing building when a large beam crashed down upon him, striking him in the forehead and bearing him to the ground where he was buried with blazing debris. When rescued by his comrades he was unconscious and his face and head covered with blood. He recovered, however, and soon reported back for duty. Although "Jack" has had many narrow escapes during the seventeen years he has been in the service he regards this one as his "closest shave" and has a constant reminder of the occasion in the shape of a long, deep scar on his forehead.
The La France engine was severely tested on this occasion by being kept pumping on the pile of smoldering grain for two weeks without stopping. At that time the city possessed no fire hydrants and the engine was compelled to lift the water from a stand-pipe. Henry Nash was acting as engineer of No. 2 Company at the time and he remained at the side of his favorite engine all during the long siege, taking but an hour or so off now and then for a brief nap. On one occasion the Chief found him leaning against the wheel wrapped in a deep sleep. Mr. Nash was recognized as an engineer of superior ability and was very popular among the members of the department.
The fire was thought to be the work of incendiaries and an investigation was set on foot. Subsequently John BREEN was arrested, tried and convicted of arson. The evidence upon which the conviction was secured was mainly circumstantial and many people believed BREEN innocent of the charge. He was sentenced to serve a term in the penitentiary at San Quentin and died while an inmate of that institution.
July 4, 1898, the Stockton Lumber Company suffered a loss of $1,900, fully insured. The composing rooms of the Evening Mail, then located on Main Street, was the scene of a blaze that for a time threatened the demolition of the plant on January 29, 1899. Through the prompt arrival of the department the flames were distinguished with but a nominal loss.
Two alarms came in from the Farmers' Union & Milling Company on March 3d. Each was occasioned by the firing of the company's barn by an incendiary. The loss was nominal. On Saturday, May 6th, the harvestor works of the Holt Manufacturing Company were saved from destruction by the prompt arrival and subsequent hard work of the department. The alarm came in at 7:30 in the evening and the boys made one of the fastest runs on record to the scene. The works suffered a loss of $3,800, fully insured.
At 5:05 p.m. Sunday, September 28, 1902, a still alarm started the department to what proved to be the most spectacular and one of the most disastrous fires in the city's history. Assistant Chief MURPHY was then connected with the department in the capacity of a call-man and the story of the rapidity with which the fire spread is best told in his words. Mr. MURPHY tells the story as follows: "I was standing at the entrance of BARRETT'S undertaking parlors, on the corner of San Joaquin and Washington Streets and just opposite the pavilion, conversing with a friend when I heard the bell of the chemical coming down California Street. I had heard no other signal so concluded that it was responding to a still alarm. It being Sunday I had on my best 'duds' so I hastily pulled off my coat and hat, handed them to my friend and ran into the street. The chemical had just turned from California street into Washington and was headed directly for me. As it neared the spot where I stood Mr. SIMPSON, the driver, began to pull up his team. Thinking he was slowing up for me I signalled to him my ability to catch the machine but instead of whipping up he stopped where I was. Captain KNOWLES jumped off and to my astonishment said 'come on, it's in the pavilion.' We knocked the lock off the door and together with Jim McLEOD pushed our way in with the hose. The only fire we could see when we entered was a small blaze in the gallery in the south end of the building. It appeared to be in one of the exhibits with which the building was filled at the time. We started across the intervening space and had reached the center of the building when with a rapidity that baffles the imagination, the flames ran around the entire gallery and before we could turn were belching forth at us from all sides. We realized that to remain with nothing more than the chemical hose would be futile and started to return to the engine. Before we could reach the door our clothing was on fire and flames were licking their angry tongues at us from every quarter.
"Upon reaching the chemical Captain KNOWLES gave the order to drive around to the west side of the building. Two hundred feet of hose had been lined out but we jumped on the machine without attempting to reel it up and took a wrap around the reel so we could drag it with us.
"Inconceivable as it may seem, before we reached the corner the entire building was a solid mass of flame and despite Mr. SIMPSON'S efforts to keep them in the street, the horses, unable to endure the intense heat, crowded the wagon against the curb and it collided heavily with the crossing opposite the old Manhattan saloon. I was thrown from the vehicle by sudden shock but was uninjured. Mr. Simpson stuck to his seat and succeeded in getting the team and wagon out but was badly burned by the heat and was out of commission for several days."
When the other companies arrived the pavilion was beyond saving and the efforts of the men were directed to the adjacent property. Within ten minutes the flames had leaped the street and set fire to the entire block on the east. Driver WALSH had spread a line of hose and returned to No. 2's house for the reserve hose wagon. Upon returning to the scene he drove his wagon around the corner of the pavilion into Lafayette Street. Chief CARROLL had signaled him to continue down Hunter Street but he evidently failed to observe the signal and did not realize that the fire had gained such headway. Extraman Ed KNOWLES was on the rear end of the wagon and called to WALSH to stop, but in the noise caused by the roaring of the flames it is supposed that he did not hear and continued on until his horse frenzied by the intense heat, shied and the wagon collided with a tree. Although badly burned and death faced him at every turn the brave man attempted to release the horse which was screaming with terror. In this he was unsuccessful, and blinded with smoke and choked with flame he reeled half conscious to the corner of San Joaquin and Lafayette Streets, where he fell. Several men rushed to his aid and tore his burning clothing from his body. He was carried to the emergency hospital where he was attended by physicians who soon found him to be beyond medical aid.
The unfortunate young man was later removed to St. Joseph's Home where he expired at 6 o'clock the following morning after suffering terrible agony. Ed KNOWLES was unconscious for several days as a result of the terrible burns he received and for a time his life was despaired of. He recovered and is today considered by the chief and his fellow members as one of the ablest fire-fighters in the department.
The horse was cremated and the wagon with 800 feet of hose was destroyed, the couplings on the same being melted by the heat until they ran together and were picked up the following morning an unrecognizable piece of molten metal. So fierce was the onward march of the flames that the block to the south of the pavilion was soon a seething furnace, the blaze leaping from building to building with incredible velocity. A light northwest wind was blowing and the flames continued on until they had crossed Sonora Street, eating up the light frame dwellings with which that portion of the city was occupied with a rapidity that baffled all attempts on the part of the department, with the apparatus at hand, to check them. To add to the dangers which beset the firemen, electric wires, heavily charged with their death-dealing fluid, were snapping and dropping on every hand. Chief CARROLL massed his men for a last determined stand on Church Street and here the fire was at last brought under control.
The pavilion with its costly exhibits was a complete loss. One block south of the building was swept clean and two blocks further south were almost entirely consumed while to the east the fire swept the larger portion of two blocks. The total loss was estimated at $500,000. The pavilion was insured for $1,500 but many of the most valuable exhibits were uninsured. The art exhibit, which was the finest ever seen in Stockton, was destroyed as was also the fine exhibit of the Chamber of Commerce, the result of many years of effort on the part of the several secretaries of that body. The Union Iron Works of San Francisco had on exhibition models of the battleships Charleston and San Francisco and they, too, were consumed. Jackson & Earle, the hardware dealers, lost a valuable lot of goods and the H. C. SHAW Company was a heavy loser, many of their finest vehicles being on exhibit in the destroyed building. The Stockton Woolen Mill Company, Lauxen & Catts, The Holden Drug Company and the Samson Iron Works were among the exhibitors who lost heavily. Among the owners of property destroyed Mr. A. ALBERTI, the piano dealer, lost approximately $10,000. Mrs. HICKENBOTHAM lost three flats valued at $15,000. Geo. T. MARYE of San Francisco owned six of the dwellings destroyed; he estimated his losses at $20,000. Mrs. A. ZIGNEGO, G. GIANELLI, Mrs. D. LAOGIER, Mrs. J. BRIONES, Mrs. F. CAVAGNARO, R. W. RUSSELL, A. & J. BROWN, Joseph H. HOSKINS, O. D. WILSON, A. BONZI, J. C. KING, John BARRY, C. E. OWEN, F. E. GOODELL & Co., MORRELL & MITSCHER, L. F. BREIDENBACH, Jacob FISCHER, Julia MARMINES, Mrs. WILLY and others owned property in the path of the flames. Among the insurance companies hardest hit were those represented by P. W. DOHRMANN & Son, OULLAHAN, LITTLEHALE & CO., Ralph P. LANE, H. W. SPURR and L. M. CUTTING & Co.
In an interview with a Mail reporter the following day Chief CARROLL gave the following version of the fire: "We went to the fire on a still alarm. I drove the hook and ladder truck myself and drove in on Lafayette Street. At the time of our arrival the south end of the cupola was blazing. We broke into the south end of the building but were soon driven from there by the intense heat. By this time a general alarm had been sent in and the other engines had arrived. I put one hose at work on the end near the Alberti Building, and another at the corner of Hunter and Washington Streets. Then I sent back for the "Reibenstein" and "Old Betsy." The latter I turned on the fire on the east side and sent the "Reibenstein" to the corner of Hazelton avenue and San Joaquin street. This put six streams on the fire. The boilers on the reserve engines were cold and there was a very poor pressure on the water mains. I never saw a building burn so rapidly in my life. The heat was so intense that to get anywhere near it was like trying to fight a volcano. The firemen were exhausted and fought the flames from behind doors that they had torn from houses in the neighborhood. It was at this time that I sent Tom WALSH for the reserve wagon of hose. He came down Hunter street and I motioned him to come on down the same street but he did not see me and turned his wagon toward San Joaquin Street.
"In relation to the facilities for handling a fire of that size I can but say that the apparatus is insufficient. We could get but six streams on the entire fire and for a fire of that size, with the wind that was back of it, that was far too little. San Francisco would have had thirty engines at work on such a fire. As regards the men I will say I never saw anyone work in the face of great odds when they stopped the fire where they did at last."
Thomas Joseph WALSH, the brave fellow-member who sacrificed his life in the performance of his duty, was one of the most popular men in the department. Of him it was said "that in whatever house he was stationed, the life --at best a monotonous one--assumed, for every member there, a cheerier aspect." From the time when the gong would arouse him in the early morn until the horses were bedded down and the lights lit on the apparatus. "Tom" was ever ready with a jest or song to enliven the spirits of some brother fireman inclined to give way to the "blues." And on more than one occasion the head of the department changed his place of duty to quarters where ill-feeling was rife and trouble seemed imminent, for it was known that "Tom," with a disposition that bore malice toward none, would soon restore complete harmony. Wherever he was known his friends were legion, and it is not of record that it was ever found necessary to criticize him for dereliction of duty.
Shortly after the fire the local newspapers inaugurated a movement to raise the necessary moneys to procure a monument to place at his grave and which would fittingly commemorate his courageous act and perpetuate his memory. The public responded with the spontaneity and munificence characteristic of Stocktonians and within a short time the necessary sum was subscribed and a local firm commissioned to furnish the memorial. The monument was placed on his grave in San Joaquin cemetery June 6, 1904. The exercises attending the unveiling were witnessed by a large number. After a prayer by Rev. Father W. B. O'CONNOR, ex-Mayor George E. CATTS, who was chairman of the monument commission, presented the memorial to the city on behalf of the subscribers and the commission. Mr. CATTS spoke, in part, as follows: "We are assembled here today to honor the memory of one who sacrificed his life in the performance of his duty. The man who is 'faithful unto death' thereby proves himself all the more worthy of life and its possibilities. His passing carries with it our keenest regrets. It is with this thought and with this feeling that we are gathered about his last resting place to testify, both by our presence and by this simple ceremony of unveiling this stone, our appreciation of his heroism.
"It was the same feeling permeating this community as it recovered from the first shock of his tragic death, that inaugurated a popular movement to commemorate his act and perpetuate his memory. The local daily newspapers led in the movement, and by voluntary subscriptions received by them, a fund amounting to $1042.90 was quickly gathered. The mark had been set at $1000, and when that sum had been subscribed the list was closed.
"This fund, together with the responsibility of selecting a fitting and lasting memorial, was intrusted to a committee of five, consisting of W. E. JOHNSON, Jacob SIMON, Dr. H. N. TAGGART, James P. CARROLL, and myself. And now, Mayor WILLIAMS, on behalf of this committee and in behalf of the generous donors, I have the honor of placing in charge of the city of Stockton for that department of which he was a member, and more particularly in charge of the management of the cemetery, this monument erected to Thomas J. WALSH, the brave fireman who was fatally burned in the discharge of his duty at the great pavilion fire."
After Mayor WILLIAMS had, in a few well-chosen words, accepted the monument on behalf of the city, Mr. C. L. NEUMILLER delivered the following brief address: "Friends, the scenes of today return our thoughts to those awful events upon that September Sunday night almost two years ago. We hear again the clang of the alarm resounding through our community; we behold those seething flames piercing their fiendish tongues of fire high into the heavens; we see the gallant fire boys rush forward to check the mad tyrant in his path of destruction and devastation; we recall with vivid recollection that great pavilion fire, which menaced the property and safety of our people: we picture again brave Thomas J. WALSH, seated upon his wagon laden with hose and at the peril of his life, urging his faithful steed onward in the work of rescue and protection. How well he performed his part, death has answered in silence.
"Today a patriotic and grateful people have lifted the veil from this monument erected over the grave of that dead fireman in honor of his brilliant record. The chiseled letters upon its granite face tell the simple story of his noble deeds. In him were splendidly portrayed the lesson that whenever man is stationed to perform a righteous service, there he ought to remain in the hour of danger, thinking not of death, but only of the worthy discharge of his honest duty.
"How sad and gloomy that Sunday? How bright this Sabbath Day? How tragic his death then? How sweet his memory now? I remember well his good, old father, whom but very recently the cold hand of cruel death hath removed from our midst. It was shortly after his home had been bereft of his beloved son, I extended to him sympathy in his bereavement. His tear-filled eye, his tear-stained cheek, his quivering lip indicated the grief of his overflowing heart. And, as he stretched forth his trembling hand, his countenance brightened, his tear-filled eye was dried, his tear-stained cheek was flushed, his quivering lip was firm, and in pathetic tone he answered, 'I know the death of my boy is indeed a great sacrifice, but I know that he died at his post.' Friends, what a comforting inspiration it must be when from the darkness of the grave there springs the consciousness that he who therein slumbers has gone to his final rest a hero."
May 8, 1903, an explosion of gas in the basement of the shoe store of Gerlach & Morath, on Main Street between Hunter and El Dorado, started a blaze that destroyed property and merchandise to the amount of $100,000. The Eagles' Carnival was in progress on Hunter Square and thousands were in attendance when about 9 o'clock in the evening the merrymakers were startled by a terrific explosion. Upon rushing to the scene a terrible sight met their gaze. Stretched on the ground were a half dozen men with their clothing torn to shreds and their faces so disfigured as to be unrecognizable. The entire front of the shoe store was blown away and every window in the block was shattered. Pieces of glass from the show windows were buried in the woodwork of the buildings on the opposite side of the street to the depth of six inches and the street was littered with boots and shoes of every size and description.
Mr. Gerlach, one of the proprietors, was picked up on the opposite side of the street, where he had been blown by the force of the explosion, in an unconscious condition. His face was badly cut and covered with blood; one of his limbs was broken and several ribs were fractured. He had closed his store but a few moments before and was standing on the street watching the crowds when he observed a man striking a match on the side of his store with the evident purpose of lighting his pipe. The store was gaily decorated with the Eagles' colors and a flying spark ignited the paper streamers that adorned the doorway. Mr. Gerlach pulled the blazing paper down hurriedly with his cane and it dropped through the iron grating to the basement below. Instantly there was a blinding flash and the entire front of the building was blown into the street. A leak in the gas pipe had evidently filled the basement with the deadly monoxide which exploded with terrific force as soon as ignited and spread fire to every quarter of the structure. Engine Company No. 2 and the "Hooks" were on the scene within a few seconds and they were closely followed by the rest of the department. Owing to the immense crowd that thronged the vicinity it was with great difficulty that the boys could get to work and it was only after a hard fight lasting several hours that the fire was brought under control.
Haas & Son's jewelry store, the shoe store of Gerlach & Morath and the clothing store adjoining were completely gutted by the flames. The firms estimated their losses at $100,000; $52,107 of which was covered by insurance.
Eleven days after the above fire the department store of Redlick & Co. was totally destroyed. When the alarm was turned in the fire had gained great headway and it was with the greatest difficulty that it was kept from spreading to adjoining property, much of which was of a highly inflamable nature. The firm occupied the building owned by Ruhl & Co., and situated on Main Street between California and American Streets. The building adjoining in the west and owned by Mr. HESS was badly damaged. The Cortland House, on the east, suffered from fire and water and the studio of Mr. BABCOCK, the photographer, narrowly escaped destruction. $64,711 was paid by the insurance companies to the losers on this occasion.
Flames originating from spontaneous combustion occasioned a roll of the department to the State Hospital on September 26, 1903. The fire which was found to be in the upholstery shop of the male department of the asylum was extinguished with but a nominal loss. Ten days later the paint factory of the American Manufacturing Company, located at 826 East Hazelton avenue, was destroyed. Loss, $7,000; insurance $2,500.
August 12, 1904, the building at the corner of Channel and San Joaquin streets. conducted as a hotel by Ringwald Bros., was damaged to the extent of $3,200; fully insured. Two weeks later the frame machine shop of the Stockton Iron Works suffered to the amount of $3,586, fully insured. This fire was discovered at 3:15 a.m., and at 11:50 p.m., of April 19th following, the department was again called to fight a stubborn blaze in the same company's property. On this occasion the pattern shop was completely gutted and the entire plant narrowly escaped destruction. The loss was estimated at $8,398, fully insured.
August 31, 1905, the Tesla Coal Company's bunkers were destroyed. The loss reached the sum of $40,000 with but $10,500 insurance. At 2:40 o'clock on the afternoon of September 16th the gong summoned the department to the Imperial Hotel, corner Main and Aurora Streets. Upon their arrival it was found that a stubborn blind fire was raging in the upper story of the structure, and before the flames were brought under control much damage had been wrought to the handsome furnishings of the hostelry by fire and water. Mr. A. I. WAGNER, the genial boniface who officiates as host of the popular institution, estimated his loss at $9,460; fully insured. As a token of his appreciation of the department's services, Mr. WAGNER subsequently presented the relief fund with a check for $25.
The warehouse of the Farmers Union & Milling Company was again destroyed on the afternoon of March 9, 1907. The loss suffered by the company in the last disastrous blaze approximated $100,000. BRENNAN'S stable and three cottages adjoining were destroyed on August 11th. The alarm came in at 3:45 p.m., and when the apparatus arrived on the ground it looked as though there was to be a repetition of the big fire of September 28, 1902. Under the able leadership of Chief Carroll, however, the flames were confined to the buildings to which they had communicated before the arrival of the department.
Since Chief McCANN assumed control of the organization August 21, 1907, 83 alarms have been received. At 1:20 a.m., August 23d, the boys were called out to extinguish a blaze of unknown origin in a frame structure used as a hay warehouse by the Murphy Ice & Fuel Company. Though the fire was burning fiercely when the department reached the scene they soon had the flames under control. The loss was estimated at $450, fully insured. The upholstery works of Kemp & Heffernan on East Lafayette Street, suffered to the extent of $1,600 on September 28th.
October 27th an incendiary started a blaze in the machine shop of the Stockton Iron Works which resulted in a loss of $480. While the Chemical Company were working on the above fire some miscreant set fire to the company's quarters on Weber Avenue. When discovered the flames had devoured a large quantity of hay and were communicating to the stairs leading to the upper story of the building. The alarm was given to Engine Company No. 2, and they soon had a stream on the blaze. No clue to the perpetrator of the dastardly deed could be found. November 3rd a spontaneous combustion fire in the coal yard of the Murphy Ice & Fuel Company again necessitated the calling of the department to save that firm's property. Arriving promptly the boys soon had the coal saved for future consumption and the loss was estimated at but $150.
February 24, 1908, children playing with matches in a room in the Occidental Hotel started a blaze which for a time threatened the destruction of Mr. Giottonini's popular hostelry. The chemical arriving on the scene with its usual promptness, soon had the fire extinguished. The loss was estimated at $460, fully insured.
A moving picture machine, that prolific producer of destructive fires, occasioned a "roll" to the nickel theater on North El Dorado Street, on February 25th. The highly inflammable interior with which most of such establishments are equipped was burning merrily when the boys arrived but the chemical extinguished the flames before the loss had reached over $350. March 20th the sub-station of the American River Electric Company, situated on Poplar Street, near Pilgrim, was the scene of a $500 blaze, caused by the blowing out of an electric transformer. The flames had communicated to the walls of the building when the department arrived, but were soon under control.
March 24th an alarm came in at 3:10 a.m., for a fire in the dwelling occupied by C. E. DOULLARD and situated at 420 West Anderson street. The fire was burning fiercely when discovered and when the department arrived on the scene the entire building was a mass of flame. The old Jeffers engine broke down shortly after she started pumping and the house was entirely consumed. The loss was estimated at $2,000. At 1:30 p.m., Sunday, April 5th, the apparatus was called to a gasoline fire in the Stockton garage conducted by Jensen & Lewis, at 437 East Channel street. The flames were extinguished without the aid of the department.
May 6th flames were discovered at 1:35 a.m., in a garage on Market street between San Joaquin and Sutter Streets. Ed. RIDER of the Hook and Ladder Company, who lives near the scene, was notified and he at once summoned the chemical. The fire was burning fiercely when the Chief arrived and he immediately called out the other engine companies. The structure was filled with automobiles, the tanks of which were full of gasoline and during the hour the boys worked before the flames were extinguished, they were in constant danger. Several machines were destroyed, but fortunately none of the gasoline exploded and the building was saved. The loss was fully covered by insurance.
The residence of Lloyd WOODS, situated on Willow, between Commerce and Madison streets, was badly damaged on the night of May 25th. Notwithstanding the long run to the scene, 18 blocks from headquarters, the department arrived in record time and succeeded in confining the flames to the house in which they originated. Ex-Mayor GARDNER'S residence adjoining on the east was badly scorched and would have been destroyed had there been any wind blowing.
One week later, at 1:10 a.m., June 2d, the boys were called out of their warm beds for a "roll" of 20 blocks in the same direction. On this occasion an icy wind was blowing at the rate of thirty miles an hour. Again the faithful horses were compelled to draw the heavy apparatus the entire distance in the teeth of the gale at their utmost speed, a performance that would kill an ordinary animal, and when at last they reached the burning building the entire structure was enveloped in flames and beyond saving. The house was located at the corner of Vine and Lincoln streets and was occupied as a residence by Deputy Sheriff Parker HACKETT, whose furniture was entirely destroyed. The residence of Wm. WILLIS, the well-known commission merchant, adjoined the burned dwelling on the northwest and it would have met a similar fate had not the heavy wind been blowing in another direction. The two last mentioned fires served to again forcibly bring to the attention of the city officials and property owners the urgent need of additional fire apparatus and stations in the outlying districts, for, notwithstanding the high wind, an engine stationed within a reasonable distance from the scene could have reached the burning buildings in time to have saved them.
The ship yards of the C. N. & I. Co., situated on the bank of the channel at the foot of North Van Buren street, was the scene of a lively blaze on June 17th. The alarm "hit in" at 4:05 p.m., and when the department arrived on the ground a large shed, in which was stored much valuable timber used in ship building, was in flames and beyond saving. It was with considerable difficulty that the fire was prevented from spreading to and devouring the entire plant. No authoritative estimate of the loss is at hand, but the property was insured for its full value. The Amoskeag engine was out of commission on this occasion. A tire on the venerable machine had snapped while the crew were excercising a few days previous and she was taken to the Stockton Carriage works for repairs. As the broken tire showed evidence of crystallization, "Jack" HURD, one of the able mechanics in Mr. PHELAN'S employ, concluded to test the others before sending the steamer back to her quarters. Swinging one of the wheels to an elevated position, he placed his left hand on the tire to steady it and with his right hand he struck it a sharp blow with a hammer. Instantly the tire snapped in twain. As it rebounded Mr. HURD'S thumb was caught between the broken part and the felloe and so badly crushed that it was found necessary to amputate it. In due time the tires were repaired, the old engine was returned to service and while exercising the following morning one of the crystallized axles snapped asunder at the shoulder, necessitating another visit to the repair shop.
At 1:15 p.m., June 19th, the department was called to 27 West Market street, where Bertolani & Nassano, the local agents for WIELAND'S well-advertised and popular beverage, have their new bottling works. The boys made a record run to the scene and soon had the blaze extinguished. At 10:50 p.m. of the same day they "rolled" to the residence of C. R. MILLER, 208 East Church Street. Though the fire was burning fiercely before it was discovered, it was soon brought under control. The explosion of a gasoline stove, that prolific source of fires during the summer months, occasioned a Sunday evening call to the residence of Mrs. M. E. CAREY, 712 East Lafayette Street, on June 21st. Four days later the boys were summoned to extinguish an incipient blaze in the cuisine of the Yosemite Hotel. Murphy Bros,' Hunter street stables was the scene of several hours' hard work by the entire department on the night of June 27th. The blaze, which was well under way when discovered,originated in the hay loft and several hundred tons were destroyed by fire and water before it was finally extinguished. The residents of the poorly protected northwestern portion of the city were given another bad scare on the morning of June 29th, when flames were discovered issuing from a stable in the rear of the dwelling at 27 West Poplar street. A grass fire ignited by irresponsible parties and left smouldering by them the evening previous had communicated to the building, and when discovered, at 5:50 a.m., the entire structure was enveloped in flames. The department made the long run to the scene in fast time and soon had a stream on the blaze. Many of the handsomest homes in the city adorn the vicinity of the fire and the residents were loud in expressions of regret at the total lack of fire protection afforded by the present state of the equipment, and the great distance at which what we have is now housed.
During the last decade the department has responded to upwards of 800 alarms. The few large fires Stockton has had during that time is eloquent testimony to the efficiency of the men who comprise our organization. Handicapped as they have been by lack of sufficient apparatus and decent streets it is little short of miraculous that they have so few fires get away from them.
Despite their accomplishments, however, it is next to impossible to get the men who have grown grey in the service to talk about themselves. They go about their work as a business, and talk of it as such. After performing an exceptionally heroic piece of work at a fire several years ago, one of the men was asked by a newspaper man to recount his experiences, he replied plaintively: "Let's forget it. Sit down and tell me a funny story, will you?" Another after a narrow escape from death at a night fire was asked if he had been "scared." "Scared," he answered, "don't yuh think I got good sense? Of course I was scared. What the h----------!" A grateful woman whose brother has been saved from death by a member, visited the fireman at his company's quarters the day after the deed was performed and tried to make him tell her the whole story of the "thrilling" rescue. "And what did you say to my brother when you awakened him?" she asked. The fireman blushed. "Well, ma'am, he apologized, "I was in a hurry, an' -- an' I wouldn't like to say." "When I got out o' here," an old timer said, "d'yuh know what I'm going to do? I'm goin' to get a job as special policeman at the ball grounds. I ain't seen a baseball game since I come in the department. What d'yuh think o' that?" Another when asked what incentive had prompted him to repeatedly risk his life while working at the big pavilion fire said: "What do I git paid for?"
Much as a nation maintains a navy so should a city maintain its fire department - against possible great emergencies, and while it appears from the foregoing records that we have had but few serious conflagrations, this city is as vulnerable as others, and we should not let the absence of the destructive element for a few months lull us into a dream of fancied security from which we might be rudely awakened by the clang of the alarm bell at any hour of the day or night. A city's fire department cannot be too efficient and the only hope of safety from fire, the most destructive of all the elements, lies in eternal vigilance.
Transcriber Sally Kaleta.
Proofreader Betty Vickroy.
© 2002-2007 Nancy Pratt Melton.