Brooklyn, NY Bridge Fire, Sept 1905


Trolley Car Passengers in Panic on Brooklyn Structure.


Firemen Have to Drop Their Lines to the Streets, Far Below---Trucks Have to Go by Ferry.

Sixty trolley cars, loaded with men and women, were crossing the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan in the rush hour yesterday evening when the passengers saw a sheet of flame shoot from a loaded truck on the south roadway. The truck was loaded with fibre for mattress filling and was on the way to Brooklyn. It has reached a point a hundred feet from the Manhattan tower at the time, and a long line of trucks was in its wake.

The hundreds of car passengers shoted[sic] "Fire" and kept up the cry until the bridge police reserve squad arrived. Roundsman John Quinn, who led the squad, found the car passengers panic stricken. Many jumped from the cars and tried to climb over the iron work to get to the footpath. Others ran along the roadway, dodging between trucks and trolley cars in an effort to get back to the Manhattan terminal of the bridge. The police drove them back to the cars.

In the meantime the blazing fibre on the truck was sending a sheet of flame across the trolley tracks, blocking the trolley lines and congesting traffic at the Manhattan entrance to the bridge.

When the fire was seen first, Policeman John McConville turned in a still alarm, calling a hook and ladder company from Chambers Street. The driver of the blazing truck, George Bolten of 946 Gates Avenue, Brooklyn, unhitched his horses while the flames were sweeping over his head, and succeeded in saving them just about the time the firemen arrived.

Traffic Was Shut Off.

Roundsman Quinn telephoned to the Manhattan end of the bridge, giving orders to shut off traffic and direct truck drivers to go to Brooklyn by way of the ferries.

Then those on the boats passing up and down the river saw, the flames on the bridge roadway, and a tug put in to the foot of Dover Street and her Captain telephoned an alarm to Fire Headquarters. Some one else turned in an alarm from the box under the bridge, at the corner of Pearl and Frankfort Streets, and within a few minutes the entire first battalion of firemen were on the scene, some running their engines under the bridge structure, while others found much difficulty in getting their engines under the bridge structure, while other found much difficulty in getting their fire-fighting machines out on the bridge roadway, which was choked with trucks and other vehicles.

The police compelled the truck drivers to back out to Parl. Row, while firemen with hooks dragged the burning bales of fibre into the roadway.

The rumor that the Brooklyn Bridge was in flames spread to Brooklyn and brought two engine companies over on the north roadway of the bridge. Then came scores of policemen with fire extinguishers on their backs.

It was 5:20 o'clock when the fire started, and at 6 o'clock the firemen were still at work on it.

Deputy Chief Cruger of the Fire Department found little space to work in, but he saved the planking of the bridge roadway by flooding it before the firemen began dragging the burning bales of fibre from the truck. The first trouble came to the firemen in getting water, but after Chief Cruger arrived he brought three hose companies out on the bridge and dropped pipe lines to the streets under the bridge arches.

Got Water from Below.

In this way Cruger and his men got water from the hydrants in the streets below the bridge, and soon after getting their streams turned on the fire they succeeded in extinguishing the flames. They then proceeded to clear the roadway of the smoldering fibre, dragging the remaining bales apart and spreading the fibre over the wagon roadway for a quarter of a mile, using long hooks and rakes in the work.

Chief Inspector Fall of the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Road, with ten assistants, then got to work, and started his trolley cars moving over the bridge. They had been blocked for more than an hour. When the loaded cars began passing the point where the fire had taken place the passengers joked with the firemen and police, who were raking smoldering fibre.

"Make hay while the sun shines!" the crowd shouted to the men with the long rakes.

"It makes us feel like a lot of farmers to tackle a job like this," responded one of the firemen.

Deputy Chief Cruger explained that he wanted to make sure that none of the smoldering stuff would blow down to the roofs of the warehouses below the bridge, and for this reason much care had to be exercised by the firemen while they were at work.

"One bunch of that stuff would set the lower part of the city in flames," explained Cruger. "If the men here had ever let any of it get away on the wind there's no telling what might have happened. There were two tons of the stuff, and it had to be handled with skill, as the fire got to ever[sic] inch in it."

The police were of the opinion that a spark from a trolley car pole set fire to the load of fibre, and that it smoldered until it got far out on the bridge, where the wind fanned it into a flame. The truck, which was partly burned, was dragged to Brooklyn. It was owned by Henry Hamindenger of 132 Cumberland Street, Brooklyn.

While the damage done by the fire did not exceed a hundred dollars, traffic was seriously interrupted.

Passengers Were in a Panic.

The action of the police in promptly sending passengers back to the trolley cars they were leaving probably prevented loss of life, as the crowds scrambling to get away from the fire acted like maniacs. They believed the entire bridge structure was in danger.

In the crush and jam on the bridge car platforms immediately following the block on the trolley lines, several persons were slightly injured, but only one seriously. He is James Kelly, who said he is a printer, residing at 308 Brooklyn Avenue, Brooklyn. Kelly's foot was crushed by being jammed between a bridge car and the platform.

Policeman Patrick Smith carried him down stairs to the Bridge Emergency Hospital where he was attended by Ambulance Surgeon Merrill of the Hudson Street Hospital, and removed to his home.

The New York Times, New York, NY 16 Sept 1905