Monroe County Library System,  Monroe, MI 48162


Bygones of Monroe:


Battled Twenty-four Hours With Last Week's Fire and Are Now Criticized by Some.

While it is generally admitted that no fire department on earth and no amount of hose could have put out the fire last Friday morning that destroyed property to the value of $50,000, there has been more than the usual amount of criticism as to what the firemen ought or ought not to have done.

The principal complainant is Charles Mainzinger, whose warehouse and tannery and contents were destroyed. His story is that his building caught fire from the heat and it could have been saved by only a small amount of water - merely enough to keep the gable end wet; that when Asst. Chief George Renner was asked to render assistance, the latter refused and was heard to remark: "Let it burn," or words to that effect; that he persisted in directing the water to buildings that could not possibly be saved; that finally Mr. Mainzinger himself grabbed a hose and began to drag it to a point from where his building could be reached, but that it was then too late.

Mr. Renner indignantly denies every accusation, especially that he refused any request for aid. In fact he had but little to do with directing the hose. He looked after the connections with the hydrant, making five connections, we believe, and accompanying the hose wagon back to the city for the balance of hose needed; that when he finally took charge of one of the hose at the fire near Mainzinger's building, the latter was almost in ruins; that when George Mainzinger asked for water, Mr. Renner inquired if he could do any good, Mr. Mainzinger replied: "Yes, you can save thousands of dollars." And then Mr. Renner promptly gave him two lengths of hose, turning off the hydrant himself to permit the carrying off of the hose. Much of Mr. Renner's version has been corroborated by eye witnesses. Charles Mainzinger admits that he himself did not go to Mr. Renner before his building caught fire, claiming that he as too busy saving his house. Even if he had, Mr. Renner was under direction of Chief Moses Nadeau, who was working like a Trojan where the fire was hottest. And Mr. Nadeau states that no request for hose was made to him.

As to the general work of the department, they could have but one aim - prevent the spread of the flames as much as possible. In this way they were hampered in many ways. Their side of the story is this.

In the first place the alarm was turned in late. The fire broke out in the horse barn of either John Wahl or the Wahl Brewing Co. It was discovered by Mr. Wahl's son Benjamin, a U. of M. student who was home for the Thanksgiving holidays. The young man had returned from a dancing party and as he entered the house there was nothing amiss. A few minutes later when he went toward the kitchen to get a lunch, both barns were a mass of flames and the house and yard were aglow. He awakened his father and phoned to the night man at the Wahl House, who told Policeman Meier, and the latter notified Central. Had Central been notified first, word would have reached the fire department five or six minutes earlier. The fire had spread so far that Benjamin Wahl, who tried to save the horses or pigs, had to desist after a few minutes, the head and smoke overpowering him.

Further, the mains on O'Brien street are but four inches in diameter. Again, when all the hose were connected up, the pressure, for a time at least, was insufficient and the pipes were clogged with mud. Furthermore, the fire could be reached only from one side, as part of the buildings were along the river, where there is a steep wall, which prevented any work from that direction. The others were across a driveway running the entire length of the district and down which the wind blew whirlwinds of smoke and flame.

The barns that first caught fire were about in the center and the wind was from the northeast, directly toward the brewery, which caught fire almost immediately. There was the gravest danger that the thick cluster of houses to the southwest and the Mitchell paper mill a few hundred feet farther would catch fire, and the only thing for the department to do was to prevent any spread in that direction. Suddenly the wind shifted almost to the southwest, which endangered the two fine brick houses east of the blazing brewery. The firemen, of course, turned their energies toward them and by desperate work saved them. Mr. Mainzinger's warehouse was many feet farther east and not in danger from sparks or flames. Even if it had it might have been easily overlooked, as the two brick houses needed immediate attention and were known to be valuable, whereas it is probable that no one of the firemen knew of the contents of the Mainzinger building and they could not know that the heat was affecting it. Knowing what everybody knows now, it is possible that the building might have been saved, but there is no telling how much other damage might have been caused had the streams of water been taken from the threatened district at the west end of the district.

That the fire engine arrived without a fire started is explained by the fact that he men of the department all rushed to the fire when the alarm was given and were more than busy laying the hose and making connections in order to begin work as quickly as possible. Then Mr. Brodbeck was sent back to get the engine, all the other men being needed where they were.

That the firemen did not shirk their duties is shown by the fact that Walter Hackett's wrist was broken while he endeavored to save the horses; that Mr. Brodbeck's face and hands were fearfully burned from a sudden outburst of fire as he was handling the nozzle, while Louis Percy, his companion, was also painfully burned. At various times the men were overcome by the heat and smoke and had to crawl to safety on their hands and knees. The department, with few shifts, worked 24 hours, Chief Nadeau taking only time enough to drink some coffee.

(Monroe Democrat, December 8, 1905.)

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