Steel Men and Wooden Ladders

Chapter II: The Years Before the Department

  The lack of any significant fire equipment and any organization became acutely evident on the night of October 19, 1886. As reported in the news:


“Last Tuesday evening, between the hours of 8 and 9 o’clock, fire broke out in Borwell’s meat market on Burlington avenue, and in an almost incredible short space of time the entire building was in flames.” The buildingswere a mix of business and residential, all owned by founder and prominent local businessman, F. D. Cossitt. The wood frame construction contributed to the quick spread. The progress of the fire and the efforts to stop the progress of the blaze is described in the continuing article “The building next West, occupied by Chas. Rivers as a barber shop, also caught fire, as did that on the East, occupied by Charles Thornton as a dwelling, and police magistrate’s office. It was seen that neither of these buildings could be saved, and all turned in and emptied the buildings of their contents. The next building, West of the barber shop was a small one occupied by C. W. Richmond as a real estate office. This building was torn down in the hope that W. La Berge’s shoe store might be saved, but this building was also burned. Next came O. K. Backers upholstering establishment. This building was also torn down, the idea being to save John Blaser’s hardware store, adjoining. This was successful and the fire was checked.”  

  The total loss in buildings and goods was estimated to exceed $10,000 ($271,000 in 2016). Several of the businessmen were back in business at new location in less than 5 days, but at least one owner, Mr. Backer, the upholsterer stated he had not the means to reopen his business, at least to some degree as a result of suffering the same fate previously when the Leber building at Stone Avenue had burned the previous spring. Cossitt surveyed the damage and planned to begin rebuilding immediately, this time of brick or stone.   
 

Excerpt From "Steel Men and Wooden Ladders"