Old Clinkers_ A Story of the New York Fire Department
See page 114
A STORY OF THE NEW
YORK FIRE DEPARTMENT
HARVEY J. O’HIGGINS
AUTHOR OF “THE SMOKE EATERS,” “DON-A-DREAMS,” ETC.
WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY
SMALL, MAYNARD & COMPANY
Copyright, 1909, by
SMALL, MAYNARD & COMPANY
TO THE FORGOTTEN HEROES
OF THE F. D. N. Y.
|“We can’t fool here,” he cried. “We got to get around tothem gas-tanks” See page 114||Frontispiece|
|“All right,” he threatened. “I’ll see to you too!”||18|
|“It’s going to be a heavy call on the treasurer—five o’ yuh—ina bunch”||32|
|Dotted line shows passage of Keighley’s men from forwardcargo room to shaft tunnel. They finally escapedthrough bunkers amidships beside the boilers and stokeholes||50|
|“I’ll brain any man that tries to open this door before Igive the word”||88|
|The scene of the fire on the piers||108|
|They had climbed the bunker ladders, and found the port||124|
|He began to screw out the tortuous scrawl of his report||158|
|“Over yuh go now!”||188|
|The blaze, caught at close range, seemed to snuff out||226|
|Keighley turned to his pipe. “I’m responsible for thisboat”||264|
THE Sachsen was a freighter of theBaltic-American line, plying betweenNew York and Hamburg; shewas tied to her pier in the North River,receiving cargo, that afternoon, whenfire was discovered among the bales ofcotton that were being loaded into herforward hold; and according to theforeman of her forward-hold gang offreight-handlers, the fire started in alongshoreman’s clay pipe, smoked,against orders, while the man was at hiswork below decks receiving the bales.According to the officials of the Baltic-American[Pg 6]line, the fire was “a pure caseof spontaneous combustion;” and thenewspapers of the day reported it assuch. But when New York’s new fire-boat,the Hudson, in answer to thealarm from the pier, came whistling upthe river from her berth near theBattery and turned in under the starboardquarter of the big Sachsen, CaptainKeighley of the Hudson looked upto see a longshoreman scowling down athim over the steamship’s bulwarks; andthe presence of that particular longshoremanwas at the moment as ominousof trouble for old Keighley as itsubsequently became significant to himin considering the origin of the fire.
For the man was an ex-fireman, ofthe name of Doherty, whom CaptainKeighley had helped to dismiss fromthe service of the fire-department one[Pg 7]week before. The reasons for his dismissalneed not concern us here. Theimportant point is that he had been a“Jigger-jumper,” as the members of acertain “benevolent association” of thefiremen had been nicknamed; and CaptainKeighley’s crew was full of“Jiggers” who were eager to avengetheir fellow “Jigger” for the loss of hisuniform.
Captain Keighley, when he looked upto see Doherty above him, was standingon the cement roof of the Hudson’swheelhouse, beside a monitor nozzle thatcould drive a hole through a brick wallwith a stream as stiff as a steel bar; andthe fact that he stood in this place ofcommand by virtue of his own cunning,in spite of intrigue in the fire-departmentand treachery in his own crew, didnot show in the look that he lifted to his[Pg 8]enemy overhead. At most he showedonly a cool reliance on the streams ofthe Hudson to cope with any mischiefthat might be in hand; for the Hudsonhad a battery of four sets of duplexpumps that could force out of her pipesas much water in a minute as twentyshore-engines in a row; and Keighleywas eager for a big fire to test herpowers on.
The pilot in the wheelhouse broughther sweeping into the narrow slip besidethe Sachsen, riding the ridges ofher own swell—her keel all but nakedamidships—and reversed with a suddennessthat shook her to the stack.From the deck of the Sachsen men werebawling down: “Cotton in the forrudhold! Cotton afire! Cotton afire!”Captain Keighley struck at the whistlerope and blew for tugboats. “Moore,”[Pg 9]he called to his lieutenant, “get alighter alongside here and wet downthe cotton I hoist out. Couple up twolines. Get the cotton spray.”
In handling such cotton fires, it is theway of the expert to extinguish theworst of the flames in the hold and thento hook out the smoldering bales, hoistthem to the open air, lower them to thedeck of a lighter and play the hose onthem there until they are drenched. Tothat end, Keighley divided his crew intotwo squads, one of which he ordered toremain on the Hudson, with LieutenantMoore, to receive the smoking bales asthey came from the Sachsen, and theother he ordered to ascend the high sideof the Sachsen, on their scaling ladderswith two lines of hose, to attack theflames in the freighter’s hold. But inpicking the men for these separate[Pg 10]squads, Keighley was careful to gatherinto one of them all the members of hiscrew whom he knew to be “Jiggers,”and this squad he himself led up thescaling ladders to the deck of the Sachsen;the other men, who were not “Jiggers,”he left on the Hudson in chargeof Lieutenant Moore, who was the“financial secretary” of the associationand the leader of the conspiracy againstKeighley in the company. By so doing,Keighley aimed, of course, to keep allthe disaffected men under his owneye and to leave Moore behind with theloyal men where he could do no harm.
Lieutenant Moore understood thesetactics and smiled to himself sourly.There was another man who smiled—butwith a more triumphant expressionof malice; and that was the ex-firemanDoherty, who had been scowling[Pg 11]at Captain Keighley over the rail. AndKeighley had not been more than tenminutes in the hold of the Sachsenwhen another blaze—independently,unexpectedly, and from no known causewhatever—burst out among the balesof cotton that were waiting to beloaded, in the pierhouse, whitherDoherty had retreated.
The pierhouse was a wooden structure—thoughit was covered on theoutside with a corrugated sheet-iron.Its beams were sifted over with the finedust of innumerable cargoes; and itswhole length was unprotected by asingle hose hydrant or fire extinguisher.The result was a spread of flames sosudden that before the freight handlershad ceased running and shouting forbuckets, the fire had leaped to the timbersof the shed and begun to sing there[Pg 12]busily; and Doherty, still smiling tohimself, only escaped from the burningend of the wharf by jumping into theslip.
At first, Lieutenant Moore did not seehis opportunity; he remained stubbornlyaboard the Hudson waiting forfurther orders. But when the shoutson the burning pier drew him to thedeck of the Sachsen, he found that CaptainKeighley and his men were stilldeep in the Sachsen’s hold with thesteamship’s crew; and then he understood,foresaw, and made ready.
“Damn fine management,” he grumbled,“to go down there and leave ablaze like this behind him! Get anotherline up here!”
The men obeyed with alacrity, but bythe time they got water through theirhose, they had only a squirt-gun stream[Pg 13]to use against the fire that was developinginside the pierhouse’s corrugatedsheet-iron shell. They could not see theextent of that fire; and LieutenantMoore, grumbling and complaining, didnot appreciate the fact that in the flameswhich began to strike out from the windowsof the pierhouse through thesmoke, there was more than the disgraceof Captain Keighley for blundering inhis conduct of the attack.
“Hell of a captain!” he cried. “Ifit wasn’t for the shore companies now,this end of the water-front’d get goodand singed!”
The sparks began to blow over onthe Sachsen from the pier, and Mooreran back to order up another line ofhose from the Hudson. He called tothe men on the fire-boat to train astream from the monitor nozzle, over[Pg 14]the deck of the Sachsen, to the roof ofthe pier building; and he was promptlyobeyed; but the stream was so strongthat when it was raised to clear the bulwarksof the Sachsen it shot over thepier, and there was nothing to be donebut to train it still higher, to let thewater drop on the buildings, sprinklingthem instead of tearing them topieces. Fire caught the awnings of theSachsen; the firemen drenched them.A puff of blaze reached her house-work;they fought it off. Moore ordered here,cursed and complained there, and ranaround futilely; and, at last, realizingwith what a fire he was at such closequarters, he cried out frantically to castoff the hawsers and tow the Sachsen tomidstream.
There was no one left to cast off.The firemen had to get their axes from[Pg 15]the Hudson and chop through the wireropes. The steel strands resisted longenough to complete the disaster, andwhen the last thread parted under theaxeblades, the current still held theSachsen hard against the wharf.
A stewardess ran out from the cabins,screaming that the after house-workwas afire.
The whole catastrophe had developedso quickly that the thought uppermostin Lieutenant Moore’s mind was still hisfirst one of Captain Keighley’s disgrace;and when he lost his head and beganto shout at the men—like an officerin the panic of a retreat—it was abuseof Captain Keighley that he shouted.
“What the hell did he want to godown in the hold for, with a fire like thisup here? He’s a hell of a captain, heis! He’s a hell of a captain!”
[Pg 16]One of the pipemen, (whose name wasFarley), without turning his head,growled under his helmet, “Why didn’tyuh haul her out o’ here long ago?”
“Why don’t she come out now?”Moore cried. “That’s why I didn’t.Because she won’t! That’s why! Becauseshe can’t!”
The tugs, whistling and pantingaround her, got their lines on the afterbitts and pulled and shouldered andstruggled noisily. But by the time theygot her under way, the crew of theSachsen, alarmed by the screams of thestewardess, were already diving overboard,and Lieutenant Moore’s menwere retiring from a blaze that seemedto spit back their streams on them inspurts of steam.
Moore ordered Farley to go belowdecks and warn Captain Keighley and[Pg 17]the squad in the hold. Farley glancedat his fellows; they were all partisansof the captain; they had been chafingunder Moore’s attacks on him, and theywere contemptuous of the lieutenant forthe way in which he had mishandled thepierhouse blaze. Moreover, there wereonly four of them to two lines of hose;and the one unnecessary man there, asthey saw the situation, was Moore. Lethim go himself.
The lieutenant repeated his orders.Farley sulkily remained where he was.And—what with “Jiggers” and “Anti-Jiggers,”the influence of the fire commissionerwho was a “Jigger” and theinfluence of the chief who was not, theparty of Captain Keighley and the followersof Lieutenant Moore—disciplineon the Hudson had come to such a passthat Moore had no redress against a subordinate[Pg 18]who refused to obey his orders.
“All right,” he threatened. “I’ll seeto you, too!” and turned to run for thehatch.
The men grinned. The Hudson, tryingto bring its monitor to bear on theburning woodwork of the Sachsen, shota terrific stream, roaring and threshing,close to their heads. Farley said:“That darn fool’ll be sweepin’ us offhere in a minute. We’d better get insideout o’ this an’ help in there.”
They retreated aft for shelter, draggingtheir hose; and by doing so theyleft the forward deck to the flames thatwere blown over the Sachsen by a steadybreeze.
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MEANWHILE, Lieutenant Moorehad found Captain Keighleyand the “Jiggers,” with their two lines,working busily in the choke of cottonsmoke in the deep hold, playing one pipeon the heart of the fire and with theother sprinkling the bales around it.And Captain Keighley, with his helmetawry on his head and a smile of contemptslanting his mouth, feeling theHudson’s eight pumps behind him, wasplaying a game with that fire, happily.The screeches of the stewardess and theflight of the ship’s crew had not alarmedhim. He was used to the sight