On Aug. 1, 1918, just before midnight, a fire alarm sounded at the Fleischmann Yeast Factory on Peekskill’s riverfront. Firefighters from Cortlandt Hook and Ladder Co. No. 1 and other companies rushed to the scene to battle the flames that engulfed the 100 foot wide by 200 foot long plant and that shot up a hundred feet in the air, according to the New York Times account of the event. Within four hours the fire had destroyed more than $100,000 worth of grain and property and taken seven lives.
Seeking to knock out flames from the top of a ladder, Lieutenant George Cassalls climbed the ladder first. As he climbed, the firefighters noticed the burning brick wall was bulging at the center. As Cassalls neared the top part of the wall collapsed and buried the lieutenant. As several others rushed to save him, the entire wall came crashing down, burying six more firefighters, making the Fleischmann Fire the most tragic the then-village of Peekskill had ever seen, according to an article in the local paper published Aug. 3, 1918.
Almost 100 years later, Peekskill fire officials and city officials are still honoring the heroes lost in the 1918 Fleischmann Fire.
During a brief ceremony Wednesday evening, Chief Jim Howard, Chief Lenny Varella, Deputy Chief John Esposito and members of Peekskill’s fire departments, the Westchester County Pipe and Drums band, Mayor Mary Foster, former Peekskill mayor and current County Legislator John Testa and city officials, gathered to pay their respects to the seven who lost their lives Aug. 1, 1918 at the Firemen’s Memorial Park on John Walsh Blvd.
The ceremony was held in front of a stone memorial that lists the names of the deceased and focused on the importance of remembering those who gave their lives for others. The memorial was installed in May, 1991 at the John Walsh Blvd. location.
“You can’t forget the memory of these guys. They sacrificed their lives,” said Chief Esposito of the Centennial Hose Company, who has been participating in this ceremony since 1965.
"When you lose a member of the family, you always pay hommage to them," Foster said, mentioning the of a city sanitation worker as the loss of a city "family member." "It is important to continue this tradition."
The ceremony included a reading of the Firemen’s Creed, the ringing of the bell for those who were lost and injured as well as an invocation and benediction by Bishop Michael Champion.
The men who died in the 1918 fire were:
- Dr. Charles R. F. Greene, Department Surgeon and ex-Assistant Engineer
- Clarence J. Lockwood, Captain of Cortlandt Hook and Ladder CO. No. 1
- James H. Selleck, First Lieutenant of Cortlandt Hook and Ladder Co. No. 1
- Lewis A. Barmore, Second Lieutenant of Cortlandt Hook and Ladder
- George A. Cassells, ex-President of Cortlandt Hook and Ladder
- John Torpy, fireman
- Walter Cole, warehouse employee
The injured were:
Harry Hart, fractured ribs; Kelly William, broken leg’ James Manning, nine cuts about the body Ray O’Donnell, broken leg.