In 2009 a section of Trinity Park was set aside as a memorial to Fort Worth firefighters and police officers who were killed in the line of duty.
The centerpiece of the memorial is bronze statues of a firefighter and a police officer flanking a horse.
The statues are a static depiction of a funeral procession in which a horse follows the casket of a fallen comrade. The boots in the stirrups of the horse’s saddle face backward, symbolizing the fallen comrade looking back at life as he or she rides toward the afterlife. This last rite, in a version in which the horse was sacrificed, may date back to Genghis Khan.
One plaque in the memorial honors John Bennett, who on July 31, 1911 was the first firefighter to be killed since the city formally organized the fire department in 1893, according to the Star-Telegram.
In 1911 the fire department still had not replaced its horse-drawn wagons with gasoline-powered trucks. Streets were still unpaved. Buildings were still mostly wooden, wood and coal were burned for heating and cooking, and fires were all too common. The South Side suffered a major fire in 1909, and a year later Fort Worth High School on the South Side burned.
Until 3:30 a.m. July 31, 1911 John Bennett’s commute to “the office” had been a short one: He lived at 2812 Lipscomb, two houses south of fire station 10. The scene of the accident—6th Avenue at Weatherbee Street (today’s Allen Avenue)—was about thirteen blocks from Bennett’s fire station 10. In the clip a doubletree is part of the apparatus for harnessing two horses. (Clip is from the July 31 Star-Telegram.)
The Star-Telegram said John Bennett was the first fireman killed since volunteer Al Hayne (see bust) had been killed at the Texas Spring Palace fire of 1890. Hayne has long been honored as a fallen firefighter, but historian Richard Selcer says Hayne was not a Fort Worth volunteer fireman.
A fund was established for Bennett. Firemen and their survivors did not have many benefits a century ago. Police officers and firefighters were independent contractors.
After the death of John Bennett in 1911, three years would pass before the fire department suffered its second fatality. By 1914 the fire department had changed, modernized. It was using more “auto fire engines,” fewer horse-drawn wagons. It had more neighborhood fire stations. But the dangers had not changed. On July 23, 1914, another fireman—also from station 10—was responding to another South Side fire. A few blocks east of where John Bennett had been killed, a tire of the auto fire engine blew out, and a fireman was thrown from the engine and killed. He was Captain Louis E. Ferguson—the man who in 1911 had been John Bennett’s captain and who had tried to save Bennett as Bennett was thrown from the horse-drawn wagon.
Fire station 10, designed by Sanguinet and Staats and built in 1910, still stands at 2800 Lipscomb Street. Fire stations, like schools, were numbered according to their ward (district). Fire station 10 was in the Tenth Ward. (Old photo from University of Texas at Arlington Library.)
John Bennett is buried in Oakwood Cemetery.
On August 2, 1911 a Star-Telegram reader suggested a memorial to the fallen fireman. It took ninety-eight years, but John Bennett finally got his memorial.