Friday, June 24, 2022

Hook & Ladder Company 3 (Water Tower No. 2) - 108 East 13th Street


In the pre-Civil War years the volunteer Friendship Hook and Ladder Company, No. 12, operated from 78 East 13th Street (renumbered 108 East 13th Street in 1866).  In January 1865 a bill was introduced in the State Senate to establish a professional fire department.  The New York Times noted it "has created a great excitement in fire circles, and among the better class of firemen it is not very favorably received."  Nevertheless, the Metropolitan Fire Department was formed and in July 1865 the transfer of property of the volunteer houses to the department was documented.

The inventory was meticulous.  Among the items being passed to Hook and Ladder Company 3 (which would be formally organized on September 11 that year) were "one truck, ladders, four axes," and "forty-five chairs, five broken chairs, one table."  Keeping the names of the original ten members of the company straight may have been challenging--three were named James and five were John.

The old firehouse was showing its age at the end of World War I.  On February 11, 1919 the Fire Commissioner sent a request to the board of Estimate and Apportionment to approve plans "for alterations and repairs to the quarters of Hook and Ladder Company No. 3 at 108 East 13th street."  The cost of the renovations was estimated at $3,375 (about $50,500 today).

The days of horse-drawn trucks was quickly drawing to a close, and repairs to the vintage structure could not accommodate motorized vehicles.  In 1928 the Victorian building was demolished and architect John R. Sliney drew plans for a modern firehouse on the site.  Completed the following year, his two-story design drew on the waning Arts & Crafts style.  The vast truck bay was outlined in rusticated stone that rose to a segmental arch.  Shallow, full height piers rose to a stone entablature and cornice, above which was a stepped parapet.

Mayor James J. Walker presided over the opening ceremonies on October 8, 1929, during which Edward J. Kenny presented the company with two searchlight trucks.  Kenny, who was an honorary deputy chief, gave the equipment in memory of his father, Battalion Chief Thomas A. Kenny.  A newspaper reported, "The searchlights were set in action by Mayor Walker, who turned their 3,700 watts each on the taller buildings in that neighborhood."  The article added, "The new firehouse is occupied by H & L Co. 3, Water Tower No. 2 and the Chief of the 6th Battalion.  It is of standard design and replaces a very old structure on that site for many years."

Among the firefighters here in 1936 was James H. Martin, a 30-year veteran.  On September 28 the New York Post reported, "Ever since he can remember, young Artie Martin has wanted to b e a fireman just like his father.  Well, he's a fireman today."  A bachelor, Arthur Martin lived with his parents in the Bronx, but he would be seeing a lot more of his father now.  The article said, "Father and son shook hands on it when the boy was assigned to Hook and Ladder No. 3 at 108 East Thirteenth Street, where the senior Martin is stationed."

Personal danger is part of a firefighter's everyday life.  That was reflected on New Year's Eve 1946 when Hook and Ladder Company 3 responded to a four-alarm fire at 749 Broadway.  Seven firefighters were trapped when the fourth floor of the seven-story loft building collapsed, "apparently from the weight of water poured in to fight the blaze," reported The New York Sun.  Among them was Captain George H. Winter of Hook and Ladder Company 3.  It would take seven and a half hours to pull the last of the men out.   In all 31 firefighters were injured, three of them, including Winter, critically.

The fire trucks were fueled from a 550-gallon gasoline storage tank on the premises.  The men of both companies launched into action early on the morning of August 31, 1950.  The  Yonkers, New York Herald Statesman reported "A Manhattan fire company fought a stubborn blaze on its own premises early today...The blaze, of undetermined origin, was confined to the basement of a firehouse at 108 East 13th Street."  Happily, the fire was extinguished before it reached the storage tank.

The firehouse was the scene of a horrifying incident on July 24, 1963.  What evolved into "a savage feud," as worded by the Long Island Star-Journal between Hondo T. Barimm and Qani Saraci had begun years earlier in their homeland of Albania.  The intense hatred between the two culminated that afternoon at 2:30 when Barimm walked out of his apartment house and noticed Saraci on the street.  Police later recounted that "Barimm drew his automatic and Saraci fled south on Third avenue with Barimm, gun in hand, in hot pursuit."

After ducking behind parked cars in a parking lot, Saraci fled into the East 13th Street firehouse.  Firefighter Olin Blair was on watch at the desk when, "Suddenly Saraci and Barimm raced into the firehouse, and Barim fired a shot which mortally wounded Saraci as it ripped into his left eye."  As the dying man sought cover under a ladder truck, Barimm pulled out a knife and began "to hack at Saraci's left ear," according to police.

Blair grabbed a crowbar and demanded that Barimann back off.  He told police later, "Barimm pointed the gun at me, but I had a feeling he wouldn't shoot."  In the meantime, another firefighter, Gustav Knoeckel lowered the bay door to prevent Barimmn's escape.  When police arrived, "Barimm surrendered meekly," according to the Long Island Star-Journal.  He was charged with homicide and held without bail in what newspapers called the "Vendetta Death."

An incinerator fire a few blocks from the firehouse ended in a dramatic scene on the morning of August 31, 1987.  Once back at the firehouse, the men got off the 40-foot ladder truck to help direct traffic as Firefighter Lawrence Brown prepared to back it into the bay.  The 36-year-old Brown told journalist Todd S. Purdum of The New York Times, "When I turned over my left shoulder, I saw one of our guys tumbling down and a guy in a van speeding off."  The driver had hit Firefighter Douglas C. Hantusch and fled the scene.  What he did not expect was that he would be pursued by a wailing firetruck.

Purdum wrote, "With the fire truck's lights blazing, Firefighter Brown sped west on 13th Street...Just west of Seventh Avenue, the fleeing motorist found himself blocked by a double-parked truck and gave up."  Brown climbed down from the truck, reached through the open window of the van, and switched off the ignition.  He held 20-year-old Michael P. Ottino until police arrived.  He was charged with leaving the scene of an accident and failing to yield to an emergency vehicle.

The most tragic day in the history of the firehouse came exactly 136 years to the day after the establishment of Hook and Ladder Co. 3.  At 8:46 on the morning of September 11, 2001, American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the World Trade Center's North Tower.  Even before United Airlines Flight 175 hit the South Tower seventeen minutes later, the men of Hook and Ladder Company 3 had arrived on the scene.  When the North Tower collapsed at 10:28, 11 members of Hook and Ladder Company 3 were lost.

The company's heavily damaged firetruck was stored at JFK Airport for a decade, before being put on display at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum where it sits today.  The names of the hero firefighters are memorialized in bronze plaques on the exterior of 108 East 13th Street.

photos by the author
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