Article from ‘Dustin the Cobwebs’
by Grace Allison
It is bad enough when the city loses a residence
or place of business due to fire, but it’s a calamity when
the city’s fire station catches on fire. However, Niles
had such a calamity occur during January 1875, when an extensive
fire originated in the building occupied by the Falcon Steam Fire
Co. The building stood on the north side of the Mahoning River
on South Main at Water Street. near a drugstore managed by J.
When the Niles Fire Department was organized
in 1870, James Ward and Truth Carter purchased
a second hand horse-drawn fire engine in Pittsburgh. The chief
engineer, T.D. Thomas, who was hired when the fire department
was organized, was paid by the village and he devoted full time
to the care of the department for the next 10 years. Two teamsters
and a fine span of horses were kept on hand at all times, but
any other firefighters were strictly volunteers.
The morning of the fire, Thomas had been sleeping
in an upper room of the engine house and when he awoke around
6:30 AM he discovered the room was afire. George Bear,
a teamster sleeping in the room below, quickly sounded the alarm.
However, he was not very successful, for after about three or
four rings of the bell, the rope burned off, cutting off the fire
department’s line of communication with the community.
The horses, which were already hitched to the
engine and hose cart, exited the building upon the first ring
of the fire bell. But, while backing the rig down an icy incline
to the river in order to pump water on the fire, the engine slid
and fell against the trestle of the A.Y.&P. Railroads, throwing
Thomas and Bear off the engine onto the ground. Fortunately, they
promptly up-righted the engine. Within 12 minutes after the fire
was discovered, they were still able to have two heavy streams
of water squirting on the fire by using a 44 foot suction hose
at a 12 foot perpendicular elevation.
The hay stored on the second floor of the engine
house made a ready tinder box of the building, as well as the
row of tenant houses adjacent to and extending west of the engine
house. The fire swept along between the roof and ceiling of the
six- apartment tenant house, making it very difficult to control
and extinguish the fire. The firemen worked until noon to bring
the fire under control.
The rooms occupied by the fire company were entirely
burned but only the roofs of the tenant houses burned. At that
time, only two tenants were living in the apartment complex- the
Adams and Whitticar families. The furniture
and other goods belonging to those two families were saved. The
fire company lost uniforms, furniture, a bell worth $250, harnesses,
100 bushels of oats, and about 2,500 pounds of hay, the value
of which was estimated at $800. William Ward, owner of
the apartments, lost about $2,200 and was not covered with insurance.
Evidently, after the 1875 fire, the fire department
found a new home. The 1882 map of Niles located the Niles Fire
Department on the west side of Franklin Alley, directly east of
the Town Hall, between Park Avenue (James Street then) and Church
Street, with an access onto Franklin Alley.
George Bear became the fire chief in 1880. By
1896 Samuel Mosley was the chief and the 1899 City Directory
listed J.W. McBride as the fire chief and George
Neis as assistant fire chief. A.I. (Lex) Orr had
become fire chief before the great fire of January 1904, when
the city suffered a large fire loss due to ice, as a result of
the big flood a week earlier.
In 1875, the city purchased a new horse-drawn
steam engine. At one time, when the city administration was considering
the purchase of a motorized fire truck, it was decided that horses
would be much more dependable since there was no danger of them
running out of gas or getting blowouts. However, the officials’
second point of reasoning doesn’t make a lot of sense since
the first tires on the motorized fire engines were “airless”
Lex Orr was still fire chief when the city bought
its first motorized fire engine, a new American LaFrance Pumper,
c.a. 1916. The latest thing in fire equipment, it pumped 750 gallons
per minute, had Dayton airless tires, and was chain driven.
“Pick,” a bay horse, served in the
firefighter’s harness for five years from 1907 to 1912.
The 25-year-old bay was still alive and working for the city of
Niles for his room and board in 1928, but at a much slower pace
than he had worked in his younger days!