Galen A. Knapp
Born: July 1823 in New Hampshire
Died: Ashtabula, Ohio 1903
G.A. Knapp was married to Sarah A. (Blanchard) Knapp on April 6th, 1850 in Franklin, Merrimack, New Hampshire and they had two children one daughter Ella J. Knapp and we are not sure about the other.
He was a civil war veteran that enlisted Sept. 18, 1861 and served until 1865. When he left the army, he did receive a pension. His time in the military was hard and he turned to drinking in order to kill the demons of war still raging in his head.
Even though he was the fire chief, the fire department was a volunteer department, so he made his living as a “Tinner.” A local author described him like this – “Mr. G. A. Knapp, who is a tinner by trade, and a man slow and lymphatic in temperament, and one who, for a long time, had been addicted to the constant use of intoxicating liquors; a man every way unfit for so trying an emergency.”
When the fire bell rang that fateful night, Fire Chief, G.A. Knapp and his friends were at the “Good Fellows Gentleman’s Club,” drinking and having a good time while a fierce winter blizzard engulfed the city. Many of the 230 men in the volunteer fire department enjoyed this establishment. In actuality the fire department was more of a gentleman’s club and way of getting out of the house than a true professional firefighting organization.
When Knapp arrived on horseback to the scene of the disaster, he was overwhelmed and quite possible drunk. Many described him as looking bewildered as the glow of the flames from the burning wreck lit his face.
As he made his way down the staircase located near the side of the bridge and led to the valley of the gorge, Knapp ran into Albert Strong who was helping a wounded person up the staircase. Strong was the Station Agent in Ashtabula and the highest ranking railroad official at the scene. Knapp asked Strong where he should put water, but Strong said “we don’t need water, we need help getting the wounded to safety.” However, as fire chief, Knapp had the responsibility of taking charge of scene. Knapp’s men already had their hoses hooked up and were ready to spray water, but were instead ordered to help the wounded. Upset citizens began yelling at the firefighters to throw water, but no water would come. In their frustration, the townspeople and some of the firefighters who broke rank, formed a bucket brigade in an attempt to put out the fire, but it was too little too late. The next morning, upset citizens were demanding answers and an investigation. At the end of the long investigation, Knapp was relieved of his command.