January 20, 1912, New York Times, "Records Show Delay At Equitable Fire,"
High-Pressure System Not Called Into Use for an Hour, Though Johnson Said Otherwise
Chief Kenlon Is Silent Declines to Discuss the Case---Commissioner Also Refuses Now --- Relief Funds Grow
Records of the Water Department disclosed yesterday that the high=pressure sustem was not used at the Equitable Building fire on Tuesday of last week until the forth alarm had been sent in, or after the fire had been burning over an hour.
Fire Commissioner Johnson said a few days ago, in defending Chief Kenlon and the entire department from charges made in The Evening Post of delay in handling the fire, that even though there had been an interval of twenty-one minutes between the sending of the first and second alarms, the number of high-pressure hydrants used on the first alarm was the equivalent to the extra apparatus which the second alarm would have brought.
The fire started at aabout 5:15 a.m., and the first alarm, because of the act of the Equitable watchmen in trying to fight it unaided, was not turned in until 5:34 a.m. Between 5:34 and 5:55, when the second alarm was puklled, the fire was being fought, according to Commissioner Johnson's statement, "with four companies and the high-pressure streams."
The records show, however, that the high pressure was not turned on until 6:23 a.m. At the department's office it was said that not until that hour had the pumping station been ordered to turn on the water. From 6:23 a.m. on the morning of Jan. 9, the high pressure remained on until 4:37 p.m. on the evening of the 12th. According to these records, therefore, the third alarm, at 6:01, and the fourth, at 6:03, were sounded before any call was put in for the high pressure and the fifth alarm, at 6:28, was sounded five minutes after the high-pressure alarm. From the time the first alarm was sounded to the time the high pressure was turned on was an interval of forty-nine minutes. During that time eighteen engines and five trucks had been called to the fire.
Deputy Water Commissioner Bennett explained yesturday how the Water Supply Department checked up fire alarms aas well as calls for the high pressure.
"In the pumping stations, where the high pressure is generated," he said, "every fire alarm in the city is recorded just as it is recorded at Fire Headquarters. If an alarm from one of the boxes in the high-pressure districts comes in the engineer in charge immediately turns on the engine pumps and raises the pressure to 125 pounds.
"The box where the alarm was sounded for the Equitable fire is at Pine and Nassau Streets, just outside the high-pressure zone, which extends east of nassau Street and north of Maiden Lane. This alarm, though outside the high-pressure zone, was recorded just as all others are, but the high pressure was not turned on, for the engineer in charge, under these circumstances, is allowed to turn it on only in response to an official request from the chief officer at the fire.
"At 6:23 the request came over the department's special telephone from Chief Kenlon. The pumps were immediately turned on and the pressure kept up to 125 pounds."
When asked specifically if by some chance the high pressure could not have been turned on before 6:23, the Deputy Commissioner said:
"Sometimes it may happen that there is a fire in the high-pressure district at the same time that there is one outside of it, in which a request from the Chief at the second fire would not be necessary. But in this case there was no such other fire. There was no high-pressure until 6:23 o'clock."
Fire Commissioner Johnson, when asked yesturday afternoon what he had to say in reply to the statement from the Water Department contradicting his own statement, said:
"I have nothing to say."
"Are the charges unfounded?"
"I have nothing to say."
Chief Kenlon was seen at his home, 44 Morton Street, last night. He had not heard of the new development in the controversy growing out of the first charges of delay in fighting the fire, he said. When a reporter handed him a copy of yesterday's Evening Post containing an account of the case, he looked at it and then said:
"I have nothing to say."
"Do you deny the charges?"
"I deny nothing," he said, "I simply have nothing to say."
Forty men continued the search in the Equitable ruins all last night for the body of Frank J. Neider, the missing watchman. The digging was confined near the vaults of the Mercantile Safe Deposit Company, from which many additional securities had been taken during the day. A huge pile of debris near the rear of the vaults is being reduced rapidly, and it is at the bottom of this debris that the body is expected to be found.
Benjamin Strong, Chairman of the committee collecting benefit subscriptions from tenants of the Equitable Building, reported yesterday that $89,788 had been collected. Among the subscribers are the Mutual Life Insurance Company for $10,000, and the National Exchange, National Bank, the Union Pacific Railway Company, and the Southern Pacific Company, each for $5,000.
J.P. Morgan & Co., collectors for the proposed new relief fund for the benefit of the members of both the Fire and Police Departments, reported total collections yesterday amounting to $34,043. Among the new subscribers are the National Park Bank, for $2,500; Speyer & Co., $1,500, and the United States Mortgage and Trust Company, for $1,000.