February 21, 1899 - Milwaukee Firefighter Killed at Wisconsin Chair Co. Fire. In Port Washington, WI.

February 21, 1899 - Milwaukee Firefighter Killed at Wisconsin Chair Co. Fire. In Port Washington, WI.

The Wisconsin Chair Company's Entire Plant and Six Business and Residence Blocks are Totally

Destroyed and Thirty Families Made Homeless and Destitute. Eight Hundred People are Thrown Out of Work, Needy are Being Cared for Temporarily. Serious Blow to City's Progress.

Story from the Port Washington Star:

Sunday evening at 9:15 o'clock fire was discovered in the veneering works of
the Wisconsin Chair Company's factory and before morning the entire plant of
that corporation and also six entire blocks of business houses and residences
were a mass of smoldering ruins. The burned district extends from Grand avenue
on the south to Pier street on the north, and from Franklin street east to the
lake. The brick buildings on the east side of Franklin street were saved, and
one or two dwellings in the northern portion of the fire swept district. Heroic
efforts on the part of our firemen and citizens had so far gotten the fire
under control that at 10:30 o'clock it was thought the flames would be confined
to the block bounded by Main, Franklin street, Grand avenue, and the harbor,
but at that moment the fire walls of the four-story veneering works, collapsed,
burying and crushing the big force pumps near by from which the water supply
was had. About the same time our little steam engine became disabled by
overstraining, and our people were helpless. When this fact was realized the
workers became paralyzed. Despair seized upon everybody and a scene of wild
disorder and confusion ensued. There was a mad rush for the houses in the
threatened district, and soon the streets were thronged with excited people
bearing in their arms furniture, articles of wearing apparel, household goods
of every description, etc. Everywhere in the streets and on sidewalks, in yards
and alleys, in houses and barns outside the threatened district, household
goods were promiscuously strewed about. Every kind of vehicle was pressed into
service and goods hurriedly conveyed to a safe spot. For six hours it seemed as
though the entire city was doomed to destruction and no one within a half dozen
blocks surrounding hesitated to pack up their valuables and move out.

Meanwhile, and as soon as the disaster to the force pumps and engine became
known, Mayor Chas. A. MUELLER wired Milwaukee and Sheboygan for aid. Prompt
response was given and Companys Nos. 4 and 10 from Milwaukee and a company from
Sheboygan were sent here. They arrived here between 11 and 12 o'clock and by
excellent work confined the conflagration within the limits above stated.

At 6 o'clock Monday morning the fire had been so far subdued that it was
decided to send home the Sheboygan company. Milwaukee company No. 4 was sent home at 8 o'clock, while No. 10 remained and worked among the ruins until noon.

No cause for the origin of the fire has yet been learned although the general
supposition is that it caught fire from overheated steam pipes. Supt. HOLDEN,
who was one of the first on the scene, gave this story of the progress of the
fire: "When it was discovered in the veneering room we immediately secured
several streams from the steam pumps which had been especially placed in the
factory for fire protection and were getting the blaze well in hand when the
fire wall of the factory collapsed on the building built for the steam pumps,
crushing the pumps and making them useless. After that we were helpless and the flames spread rapidly in all directions."


Two Firemen Hurt

One of the saddest incidents of the whole fire was the accidents that befell two firemen. Capt. Patrick LINEHAN and Pipeman Michael HACKETT, Engine company No. 4, were working among the ruins at 3:30 o'clock when a chimney collapsed and fell on the company which was pouring water on the fire. The flames in that vicinity had been almost entirely subdued and the collpse came so suddenly that the fire fighters could not get away. Capt. LINEHAN and Pipeman HACKETT and a local volunteer fireman, A. M. KRAUSE, were caught in the debris. The two unfortunate men were picked up and carried into a store close by. KRAUSE's leg was severely bruised, but he was able to go home. LINEHAN and HACKETT were removed to the WILSON House where Drs. HORNBOGEN and HARTWIG attended them. It was found that LINEHAN's spine was injured, but his condition was not regarded as serious. HACKETT was not so fortunate. His spine was broken just below the base of the head and his body below his neck paralyzed. His condition was so serious that Father GROBSCHMIDT of the Catholic church was called to administer the last rites of the church. Later his cousin, Dr. James HACKETT, of Milwaukee, was notified.

The 8 o'clock train from Milwaukee Monday morning brought out Dr. HACKETT, Mrs. LINEHAN and her brother-in-law, Patrolman DONAHUE. Mrs. LINEHAN gave directions for her husband's removal to the depot. It was decided to take both men to Milwaukee on the 10 o'clock train and shortly before that hour the firemen were carried down-stairs. Capt. LINEHAN was placed on a cot in one of the hose
carts, Mrs. LINEHAN sitting on the front seat, while HACKETT, in charge of his
cousin, was also laid on a cot and removed to the depot in a bus. A large crowd
watched the proceedings and at the depot when the train arrived. The wounded
men were placed in the baggage car on their cots. In the meantime, word was
sent to Chief FOLEY to be ready to receive the wounded in Milwaukee.

The injured firemen had been made as comfortable as possible for the journey,
cots having been placed in a baggage car in order that the sufferers might not
be disturbed by other passengers. At the Milwaukee depot ambulances were in
waiting, and HACKETT was taken to St. Mary's hospital. Capt. LINEHAN, not so
seriously injured, was unwilling to go to the hospital, and was taken to his
home, 1928 Clybourn street.

HACKETT had little or no chance of recovery. When the bricks from the chimney
fell, HACKETT was struck just below the neck, injuring the spine in a manner
which the physicians stated must prove fatal, as the spinal cord was partially
severed. In addition to this injury, HACKETT suffered with a number of bruises
about the body. Death relieved the brave fellow from his sufferings at 2:30
o'clock Tuesday morning. He was conscious up to a short time previous to his
death and suffered greatly.

The brick wall which caused Capt. LINEHAN's injury struck him one the back,
also affecting the spine, though not seriously. The bruise is nevertheless
exceedingly painful, and it will be some time before complete recovery can be
looked for. The doctors are of the opinion that the injury will not be fatal,
however, and they are in hopes that no permanent injury will result.

HACKETT is 31 years of age, and has been in the fire department for about one
year. He is unmarried and has boarded at Sycamore and Fifth streets. During his
connection with the Fire department he has been assigned to Company No. 4.

Capt. LINEHAN is 41 years of age and the father of three children. He has been
a member of the Fire department for many years and as captain of the Company
No. 4 has an excellent record for efficiency.

Twenty-seven Families Homeless

The losses include twenty business concerns and twenty-seven homes, that number of families being made homeless. The heaviest loss of course falls on the chair factory. In addition to all its brick buildings, machinery and stock, it loses
800,000 feet of hardwood lumber which when once on fire furnished excellent
fuel. The unused foundry building of the Western Malleable & Gray Iron Co.,
was partly stored with chairs belonging to the chair company and these were all
burned. In all the other houses burned, the contents were as a rule saved
because othe occupants had plenty of time to take out their household goods.
The chair company carried 90 per cent insurance so it is stated and is
therefore well protected, but the foundry was only insured for $4,500, while
all the smaller buildings destroyed were insured for about one-half their
value. The owners therefore will suffer considerably by the fire losses.

Among the property threatened was the tannery of Mayor MUELLER, the WILSON
house, and the post office, flames burning all around these buildings.
Considerable dockage along the slip that connects with the harbor and the chair
factory also was burned. The docks are the property of the chair company.

City of Darkness

Since the fire the city has been in complete darkness every night, the electric light plant, which was in the chair factory, having been destroyed. The lighting
plant was built by the company in 1891 and supplied the town with 2400-candle
power lights. The dynamos have, of course, been destroyed with the balance of
the apparatus in the power house, but all the wiring and lamps still remain
intact. The council may decide to purchase new dynamos but just what
arrangements will be made have not yet been determined. Until that time the
city will remain dark. All private users have had to substitute oil lamps.

Notes about the Fire

It took only 20 minutes to unload the first Milwaukee fire engine after its arrival
here but 7 minutes for each of the other two engines.

Engineer KRUKE had a narrow escape from a horrible death. He was dragged out of the force pump house but a few seconds before the walls of the dry house
crushed down upon it.

Five thousand dollars will hardly pay the damage to household goods incurred
through the hasty moving out of many families at Sunday night's fire. Much has
been broken, some lost, other articles bruised and soiled, and probably a small
quantity stolen. Goods were so widely scattered that for several days some were
unable to locate all of their belongings.

Selfishness cropped out in unexpected place last Sunday night. There is no
question that the fire could have been checked at Main street when the run-way
collapsed, and all the northern part of the fire swept district saved, had it
been possible to get the hand engine from across the harbor promptly. But it
was nearly 45 minutes before stupidity could be made to see the necessity for
the change, and then it was too late.

Carpenters and contractors and masons are already up to their necks in work. If
fine weather continues there will be a building boom right away. Let everyone
who can build of brick.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Betty Fields-Mueller February 22, 2013 at 03:54 PM
Wow! I had never heard of this tragedy. Thank you for the story and the pictures. It really put into perspective what a huge catastrophe this was for the city of Port Washington.
C Schmidt February 23, 2013 at 12:56 PM
What a pleasure to pause, really pause, and read the way this tragedy was penned! The human side...the emotions. Well written!


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