Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Insurance Press, Vol. 34, Equitable Fire Incidents,

January 17, 1912, The Insurance Press, Vol. 34, Equitable Fire Incidents, page 6,

E. E. Rittenhouse. conservation commissioner, issued this bulletin on Saturday:

Our securities are intact, and the indications are that many records that we at first believed to be lost, will be saved.

For example, our policy-loan papers. Including the policies themselves, were not destroyed. Our securities will be taken to the Carnegie Safe Deposit Vaults as soon as it is safe to mdvc them.

The loss of the building will not reduce the society's surplus, as the structure had not been carried as an asset for the last five years, as it had no market value. No one would want it except to remove it and build on the site, and the cost of removing it would preclude the possibility of anyone purchasing it.

It is impossible at this time to say what the loss of furniture, fittings and documents will lie. but It will not exceed $250,000 and may be much less. The Insurance sinking fund, which the society maintained on the building, may be sufficient to cover this loss.

All offices and departments formerly at 120 Broadway are now at 165 Broadway. The issuing of policies and the paying of death claims were not interrupted: premiums were received and claims paid as usual at the Hazen Building on the day of the fire.

The society Is not negotiating for any property for a site for a new office building, and false and extravagant reports have been circulated in regard to the rebuilding of a new home office. This question will receive consideration, but no action will be determined upon for some time.

The president lias been authorized to arrange such relief as he may deem necessary to those injured, and to the families of those killed, in the destruction of the building: the sum to be distributed is left to his discretion, but is not to exceed $20,000.

There has been no halt In the agency work. Telegrams pouring into the home office from the field uniformly state that the spirit of rising superior to the handicap of the fire will produce an increased business.

One policy for $150,000 was written while the fire was at its height Tuesday morning, and a large number of medical examinations, and applications were completed in the metropolitan district that day. A $400,000 policy was written the next day in Philadelphia.

The volume of applications coming In from the field is unusually large, and all reports indicate increased returns.

The presidential convention and meeting of the general agents' association of the society, arranged for the 17th and 18th of January, will be held as planned, the only change being that the luncheons scheduled for the Lawyers' Club will now be served at the Hotel Astor.


The New York Times narrates that when President William A. Day of the Equitable Life Assurance Society left his new office in the City Investing Building about 9 o'clock on Thursday night, he looked as fresh and natty as If he had not been working sixteen or eighteen hours a day since the fire, to say nothing of the strain put upon him by the calamity itself. Judge Day has been in continuous conference with other officials and directors of the company in that time, and he was entirely inaccessible to newspaper men until last night.

To a Times reporter Judge Day told for the first time some of his experiences at the fire and spoke of the work of reconstruction that was immediately begun.

"I was called out of bed about 6:30 o'clock Tuesday morning," said Judge Day. "by a telephone message from one of the watchmen that the building was on fire. The first thing I did was to telephone to the detective bureau asking that suitable protection be furnished for the millions of dollars' worth of securities in the structure. Then I dressed hastily, put on a big ulster; and hurried downtown. It was between 7 and 7:15 when I got there. I took up a position in the entrance of the United States Realty Building at 115 Broadway, immediately opposite the Equitable Building, and there I found Police Commissioner Waldo. We stood there together watching the fire and the work of the firemen, getting reports from time to time as to what was going on that we could not see.

"Word was soon brought to us that President Giblln of the Mercantile Safe Deposit Company had been trapped. We were told that he had entered the safe deposit premises from the arcade inside the building and that his return by this route had been cut off by falling debris and fire, and that the only way to get him out was by cutting the bars that guarded egress to the street. They told us how he waved a handkerchief at the barred window, but we could not see this from where we were watching. We could see the men at work sawing the bars, though, when they got started.


"When they finally got Mr. Giblin out they brought him across the street to the building where we were. He was on a stretcher, swathed in blankets or some kind of covering. He was taken down Into the engine room, and I waited to follow the firemen downstairs. An ambulance was ready, however, and when I started down the stairs I was told that they were bringing him up. As they did so the litter was brought right past me. Glblln's face was pale but his eyes were open and he was apparently conscious. I said to him. 'Keep un your courage, old man.' and he moved his lips In response. I thought then that he recognized me, but afterward he sent me a message from the hospital without mentioning the incident, and I suppose he did not know me, wrapped up in a big coat, cap, and ear tabs.

"One of the policemen who saw Giblin rescued said to me: 'He's a game man, that Gilpin.' 'Not Gilpin.' I told him. 'His name is Giblin, and he's an Irishman." "That's the right stuff,' said the policeman, who was Irish himself.

"In the meantime I had been joined by Gerald R. Brown, controller of the society, and by H. I. Rosenfeld, insurance assistant to the president. I had told the watchman who telephoned me to get word to Brown, who had to come in from his home in New Jersey. It was about 8:15 when he found me, and Rosenfeld joined us about the same time. I said to Brown. "The building is doomed and we must get new quarters.' I told him to find out what could be done and to meet me at the Hazen Building with the others. When we got together there, Leon Fisher, our auditor, was also on hand, and we went over what Brown had found available.

"We had three or four offers, and decided on the three floors in the City Investing Building. Rosenfeld had been hunting up directors and members of the executive committee, as we wanted their advice, and there were also legal requirements which we thought best to observe, even in such an emergency. We held a meeting at 10, and by 10 :30 these quarters were formally engaged.


"The cashier for the metropolitan district, C. U. Webster, had started the routine business of the day in the Hazen Building at 9 o'clock, disposing of the morning mail, and by 12 he was established over here. During the day he told me that he had taken in $25,000. I was established in my office by 1 o'clock, and we went ahead with our business, with the flames still raging almost across the street.

"The day of the fire the medical staff, working at the Hazen Building, passed on 250 applicants. Twenty-two death claims were filed, of which the papers in three cases were defective. The ofiier nineteen were paid before sundown, r was lure till after 11 o'clock that, night, and the whole administrative staff worked till early in the morning.

"In the afternoon the metropolitan agents of the society had held a meeting uptown and communicated with me by telephone. Then they went to work as if nothing had happened.

"One of the first things we had to do. with alarming reports current as to the extent of our loss, was to reassure our policyholders all over the world. The statement I gave out that the vaults containing the securities and important records were intact, and that the loss of the building entailed no reduction in the society's assets, was telegraphed all over this country and cabled to newspapers abroad, so that it would appear as an advertisement simultaneously with the publication of any alarming reports. This was an expensive way of reaching our policyholders, but I felt that it was warranted in the circumstances. The result was that our general agents all over the country went ahead in fine fettle. I never witnessed more perfect co-operation and harmony than this staff has given me in this extraordinary emergency.

"The worst thing about the fire was the loss of life, and that we all deplore."

Judge Day said that among the many conferences that had kept him busy since the fire started was a meeting of the Mercantile Safe Deposit Company, at which Mr. Giblin was re-elected President. This meeting took place on Wednesday, while Mr. Giblin was in the hospital.

Another meeting, held yesterday, was of a committee of directors, which voted a fund, the amount of which was left to the discretion of the president, but not to exceed $20,000. for the families of the dead and injured. The resolutions recited that the society deplored the casualties and that "these persons were engaged in the discharge of their duties, and were aiding in the endeavor to save the property of policyholders."

The fund will be distributed without discrimination, the family of Battalion Chief Walsh sharing equally with others who lost their lives. The same will apply to those injured, whether in the employ of the company or not.

From other officials of the society further details were learned as to how the great business of the New York office was set in motion in its new headquarters within twenty-four hours after the desks, furniture, files, and some of the other records had been suddenly wiped out. Although a big clerical force had been transferred to the Hazen Building before the fire, the work that was in progress in the old building was of such volume as to employ between 500 and 600 clerks. There was located the cashier's department for the metropolitan district, which alone resembled a goodsized bank.

Then there was the agency department under George T. Wilson, second vice president, and Mr. Rosenfeld. The executive force of the auditor's department was located there. So was the controller's department under Gerald It. Brown, under whose supervision come the mortgage loans and all the assets of the society. Mr. Brown also had charge of the building and of the employment of all the help. The actuary and the mathematician, too, had their men there. The secretary's office was extensive, with several assistants and many clerks. The law department and the executive offices were in the same place.


Everything in these offices was not destroyed, but they might as well have been so far as concerned their immediate usefulness to the hundreds of clerks who could not get at them. The flies of correspondence were all destroyed, including those of the executive department, when the floors fell through.

The problem was to find new quarters, put in new furniture, and get all these departments into operation again. Purchasing agents, under the direction of C. E. Phelps, the treasurer, went after desks and office fixtures before the new quarters had been obtained. Office furniture is hard to get in any quantity on short notice, as many of the dealers carry only samples, from which orders are taken for future delivery. The downtown district was scoured, and furniture began arriving almost as soon as the floors in the City Investing Building had been leased.

There was no confusion as the reconstruction work went hastily forward. Heads of departments got their bureau chiefs together and told them what they wanted done. "Never mind how you do it," they were told. "Just do it." The employes rose to the emergency and took their unaccustomed responsibility to go ahead without consulting with their superiors as if it was an everyday thing. Employes were told whole to report the next morning, and when they came to work the organization was practically completed.

Cashler Webster even received some premiums Tuesday afternoon in the big bare rooms of the new location, without furniture, partitions, carpets, telephones or any of the things that began to be put in place on Wednesday. That morning he had enough desks In place to open the mail and get the day's business under way. During the day the rows of desks grew steadily and his many clerks were put to work, one squad after another.

Directors of the society in Boston, Philadelphia and other cities called up on the long-distance telephone to learn the latest news. These inquiries were still going on yesterday, and most of them received President Day's personal attention. He showed no signs of excitement, but kept steadily at work, his judicial training standing him in good stead.

The first day's business after the fire instead of showing a slump, was about normal, and this was attributed yesterday to the effect of President Day's statement that the assets of the company were intact. It enabled agents to close business that had been hanging fire, because of the very fact that the company could withstand so disastrous a fire.

"The spirit with which the entire operation of the business was taken up and gone ahead with," said Mr. Rittenhouse, was typical of the American characteristic of adapting one's self to circumstances, no matter how unusual. No doubt it would have been the same with any other great American corporation, but it is a striking example, nevertheless."


Tom Longfield is known to pretty nearly every commuter on the northern division of the Erie, for he has a charm that is all his own. He is of English stock, and never in all his life did he have a chance to show the fighting end of his nature until he left the Chambers street ferry and saw a great cloud of smoke over downtown New York on Tuesday morning. Someone told him that the Equitable Building was on fire. Longfield is the custodian of the policy loan board of the Equitable Life Assurance Society. In his care are the records of about $60,000,000 loaned on policies. With these records destroyed there would be serious inconvenience for the company.

Longfield began to lope with that long, swinging stride of the far going and fast going commuter. He reached the fire lines and a policeman shoved him back. He jangled his keys in the face of the policeman and declared that they represented millions. He was shoved back again, but he was used to bucking the line, being a commuter. He kept at it and finally got through.

The office of the loan department over which Longfield presided was on the second floor on the Pine street side. He found a battalion fire chief and explained in a few words the fact that he was the custodian of papers containing the signatures of policyholders.

"It's all up there." said Longfield. "Can you lend me a short ladder?"

The chief knew that the man talking to him was telling the truth. Few men would have asked to be allowed to enter a caldron of fire. He ordered the ladder stretched and assigned three firemen with a line of hose to help the loan custodian. The flames were already in his suite of offices, but the nozzle was opened, and under Longfield's direction the water was played so that about his desk and safe there soon formed a wall of ice. Longfield, with this arctic protection, got the essential records from his office. With both arms packed with books that would show in evidence in civil courts that loans had been made and with a bag of accountants' records be got out of the building to a ladder that was coated thick with ice. Longfield himself was caked with it. Ills firemen stuck by the job. and before they left it Logfield's safe was so thickly coated that it would take a fusing blast to get to the steel.

No comments: