Mount Vernon, NY Gas Main Accident, Apr 1904

Noise At Mount Vernon Saves Its Citizens

Firemen and Police Arouse Citizens to Peril of Gas

Commuters’ Cold Breakfasts

Accident to Main Threatens People With Asphyxiation, But Strenuous Measures Drive People Out of Doors.

Special to the New York Times.

Mount Vernon, April 18.-After its night of wild alarms Mount Vernon arose to cold breakfast and a census-taking. It didn’t wake up, for it hadn’t been asleep. Its fire engines, which had spent the hours of darkness charging about the streets, whistles blowing and gongs clanging, and its police, whose clubs had known no rest, had seen to that. It didn’t boil coffee nor did it cook eggs. Its gas wasn’t turned on. It counted noses, found nobody had been asphyxiated, ate what it could, and rendered thanks.

“I guess nobody has any kick coming, even if there wasn’t any gas to get breakfast with,” said Gilbert Angevine, Chief of the Fire Department and head deputy of the Street Commissioner’s Office. “Mount Vernon is a neighborly place. Everybody in town had rather be kept awake all night than to know that a human life had been lost to guarantee their rest.

“It was about ten o’clock last night when I heard that the gas had gone out all over town as a result of the accident to the main on Eighth Avenue, and I knew right away that something ought to be done. I saw Mayor Brush and he agreed with me.

“Vice President Stratton of the gas company rang up the police station, which is next door to police headquarters, just as soon as he learned of the accident, and said that he had roused all his employees and had told them to go house to house and wake up everybody so that they could protect themselves. Mayor Brush had a talk with Sergt. Grant, who was in charge at the police station, and the Sergeant put all his men at work along the same line.

“Mount Vernon has 25,000 inhabitants, and there are nearly 5,000 houses in the city limits. Of course the gas company’s employees and the policemen couldn’t wake up the whole town. It seemed to me that the best thing to do was call out the Fire Department. Every Company was given a district, and the men were instructed to see to it that the inmates of every house in the territory assigned were all awakened and made to understand just what danger they were in. The department has a siren whistle, which works by compressed air and can be heard for miles. I had the whistle turned loose.

“Then I put every engine on the street, with the instructions to keep the gongs blowing and the whistles blowing, and not to pass a single house until somebody came out to see what the trouble was. By 10:45 o’clock the town was seemingly awake, but we kept the noise up until 2 o’clock.

“There were some families which were waked up to two or three times. Naturally they felt pretty sore. First a policeman would come along and rap on the front door with his nightstick until he got an answer. The head of the house would thank the policeman, chase around and see that the gas was off, and just about the time he was getting back to sleep, a volunteer would dash up to his front door. Afire engine, with its steam whistle going and its gong clanging, would happen along and supply a concert until he appeared for a third time. We were not taking any chances.

Sergt. Grant’s policemen had a lively time. Their orders were, when they reached a house which was dark, and could not arouse the people within, to force an entrance. Patrolman Lynch, a fearless officer, broke in through the rear window of a dark house on Elm Street. Up stairs, sleeping peacefully, was a three-year-old baby boy. There was not another soul in the house. Lynch is a bachelor. When the baby commenced to cry he was frantic. At last he solved his predicament by taking the youngster to the family next door, who tended it until its parents returned.

Half a dozen houses in all were forcibly entered by the police. In most cases it was found, Chief of Police Foley said, that there was no trouble from gas fumes, but that the inmates were simply sound sleepers. Only two families, those of J.H. Martens and Charles Buckley, both on Westchester Avenue, suffered any ill-effects. There were narrow escapes from asphyxiation in these households, but yesterday all ill-effects had disappeared.

The gas was not turned on until noon today. The Westchester Lighting Company, which supplies Mount Vernon, also furnishes light for Pelham and Pelham Manor. In these towns similar to those enacted in Mount Vernon were witnessed. The Fire Departments and police forces were called out and every family aroused and warned.

Vice President Stratton said this afternoon that the trouble with the main had been repaired, and that the gas supply was all right once more. The company could have turned on the gas within a few hours after the accident last night, but it preferred to wait until daylight rather than running the risk of causing the loss of a single life.

The New York Times, New York, NY 19 Apr 1904