Firefighting in Manitowoc County, Remembering John P. Hall
In the “History of Manitowoc County”, written in 1905 by Ralph Plumb, he described, “fire companies made up of volunteer bands of male residents were organized, and, although at first there was little apparatus, nevertheless the needs of the day were met.”
It wouldn’t be until the late 1850s when the village of Manitowoc focused on purchasing a fire engine. Previously it was thought that fire engines were costly and volunteer bucket brigades were doing a fine job. Charles Esslinger became village president and said, “Perhaps we should order two. One for the north side and one for the south side.”
One fire engine, a hand pumper, arrived in Manitowoc in October, 1857. “It was a handsome machine, mounted on four high wheels with long pumping handles along each side of the tank. A 20-foot hose was attached to the apparatus. The handles accommodated three pump men on each side.”
John Harmon, a Manitowoc Herald Times reporter in the 1950s and 60s wrote a series of local history articles and shared the tragic story of the first Manitowoc County firefighter killed while on duty, Firefighter John P. Hall, in the early morning hours of January 14, 1906.
“Charles Taylor, night watchman at the Wisconsin Chair Co. factory at Sixteenth and Franklin Streets, Manitowoc, checked his pocket watch. The time was 9:28 pm. It was a cold Saturday.”
“Charlie had just lit his pipe and settled into a chair in the warm furnace room at the factory when he heard what he thought to be someone slamming a door. The watchman roused himself and turned to go back upstairs. He heard another muffled thud.”
“A large explosion split the air, hurling Taylor back into the basement. In a matter of seconds flames licked out of windows of the paint room at one of Wisconsin’s largest chair factories. The watchman crawled out of the cellar to sound the alarm. …”
“Chief Kratz and his loyal firemen were handicapped from the start. Water pressure was low and a faulty valve on the standpipe at North Water Street caused trouble. Firemen could scarcely reach the second story of the building with streams from the lines. The glow in the sky and the crackle of flames attracted a crowd of more than 1,500 persons who braved the cold of the night to view the spectacular blaze.”
“John P. Hall, a 39-year-old man who had been on the Manitowoc blaze fighting force three years after coming from Manistee, Michigan, was removing a ladder from the blazing structure. A wall buckled under the heat and a shower of bricks caught him. Fellow firemen raced to the rescue, risking their own lives to save their trapped comrade.”
“Dr. Max Staehle was on the scene and he acted quickly, summoning a carriage to take the injured man to the hospital. Hall died some 20 hours later of internal injuries and a broken leg.”
Hall came to Manitowoc in 1894 from Michigan and began working at the North Side Fire Station in 1903. He lived on Huron Street with this wife, Katherine Beeven, and four children – Evelyn, Winifred, Olive, and Raymond. After the death of her husband, Mrs. Hall received her husband’s salary, which was $50 per month, for three months and then the family would receive $25 a month. She would come to operate a hotel in Manitowoc for a number of years.
The building was considered a total loss. It was built a few years prior to the fire by John Schuette for the Wisconsin Canning Company. The Wisconsin Chair Company of Sheboygan had purchased the building and employed 168 workers.