Fighting fi re, Long Island City style, in spring of 1883
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TIMESLEDGER | QNS.COM | APRIL 16-APRIL 22, 2021 15
In conjunction with the Greater
Astoria Historical Society,
TimesLedger Newspapers presents
noteworthy events in the borough’s
Long Island City fire companies,
which were initially volunteer units
that were both organized and run haphazardly,
were spirited groups that often
fought each other as much as the
fire. This eyewitness account, from
the Spring of 1883, vividly describes
fire fighting – Long Island City style!
On Saturday, April 10, there was a
conflagration at the Sunswick Mills
(an oil cloth factory) near Broadway.
A number of companies responded:
Tiger Hose No. 8; Mohawk Hose No. 1;
Hook and Ladder Company No. 1; Protection
Engine Company No. 2; Steinway
Hose Company No. 7; Jackson
Engine Company No. 1; Jackson; Jackson
Hose; Empire Hose; and Hunter
Engine. Jackson Engine, fighting another
fire, was delayed.
The water mains did not run along
the streets near the Mills, so the firemen
tried to draw water from McAlloney’s
pond (which was near 21st Street).
Despite warnings to the contrary, the
Jackson men drove their engine onto
the iced-over pond. Immediately the
engine was submerged up to her bed
plate. It required nearly 100 men to
pull the vehicle from the icy muck.
From the beginning, it had been
apparent that the building would be
a total loss. Within an hour, the roof
had fallen in, but flames continued to
flicker in the debris. The owners of the
factory promised to rebuild, but some
thirty or forty people were thrown out
of work. The firemen then spent time
ensuring that nearby buildings did
not catch fire too.
The assistant chief engineer ordered
the firemen to “pick up” and return
to their houses. As the men were
gathering up their hose to leave, a
dispute arose between Tiger Hose and
the Jackson crews regarding a length
of hose. The Jacksons claimed that Tiger
Hose had stolen it from them some
time ago and placed their name on it.
The assistant chief was called to settle
the matter, but became embroiled in
the argument himself. Whereupon, he
issued an order: “Well, you had better
fight for it, and let the best man win.”
Then, evidently regretting his remark,
he ordered Jackson to take the
hose even though Tiger had brought it
to the fire.
While the firemen were bickering,
the smoldering ruins ignited again,
and an alarm for the fire companies
was sounded a second time. As the engines
pumped water on the smoldering
ruins, the Hook and Ladder Company
pulled down the tottering walls.
During the second visit, which
lasted into the night, while two engines
(Jackson and Protection) were
pumping, the men in charge of the
butts (which directed the water
stream) kept turning the nozzles
heavenwards to see which engine
could pump the highest stream. As
the Long Island Star put it: “ The act
was a wanton waste of time and a total
disregard of the necessity of throwing
water on the fire.” An order from the
assistant chief engineer to “keep the
butts down” went unheeded.
Near the end of this exhibition,
the assistant chief, responding to the
demands of the Jackson men, himself
took the butt of that engine, held
it aloft, and played a stream at the
For further info, call the
Greater Astoria Historical
Society at 718-278-0700 or www.
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