4/23/1940 the Rhythm Club fire killed 207 (209) and injured more than 200 of the over 700 patrons listening to music in Natchez, MS on St. Catherine Street. The fire started around 11:45 p.m. in the hamburger stand next to the lobby of the one-story wood frame corrugated steel-clad 4,560 square foot (200’ long) building with only one functioning 3’ inward opening exit door. The windows were nailed shut and the back door was padlocked and boarded shut. The dance hall was a converted blacksmith shop that once had been used as a church, near business district. The fire reportedly began when a discarded match or cigarette ignited the flammable interior finish including dried Spanish moss hanging from the ceiling quickly spread fire trapping the occupants. The Spanish moss draped over interior rafters as a decoration had been sprayed with petroleum-based insecticide. Dense smoke made movement difficult and many died from smoke inhalation. Some occupants were crushed by the crowd attempting to escape. “The fire began as members of the local Moneywasters Social Club were enjoying the song “Clarinet Lullaby”, performed by Walter Barnes and His Royal Creolians orchestra from Chicago.” The Rhythm Club fire is the forgotten nightclub fire. “The club had been a Negro club, staffed and owned by Negroes, patronized by Negroes and the tragedy was not taken as seriously in 1940. Mississippi was still a segregated state, plagued by the Jim Crow laws.”
4/23/1904 three Newark, NJ firefighters died from injuries they received at a three-alarm fire at Box 323. “On April 23, a three-alarm fire, Box 323, for the Weiner Company, a five-story brick factory collapsed, while firefighters were operating at the fire in a hardware factory. During the early stages of the blaze, the three top floors of the five-story brick factory building collapsed without warning, burying a score of firefighters under tons of rubble, killing two firefighters immediately and third died on April 24th and six firefighters had to retire on disability pensions because of injuries rendering them unable to perform their duties.”
4/23/1908 a Waukegan, IL firefighter was fatally injured while fighting a late-night fire at the North Shore Electric Company. “The fire started at a switchboard in the plant and spread quickly, before the on-duty engineer was able to shut off all of the generators and other machinery. The fire department arrived on scene at 11:18 p/m. Within minutes the fire burned through the belt on a large flywheel that was still operating. The flywheel, more than twenty feet in diameter, broke loose, shattered, and sent pieces crashing through the plant walls. Pieces of the wheel were scattered throughout the neighborhood, including a five-ton piece that was hurled more than one block. The injured firefighter was pulling a hose line into the plant when he was struck by the flywheel’s spoke as it burst through the plant wall. He was caught in the spoke as it rolled away from the plant and plowed through two walls of the nearby Waukegan Ice Company, where it struck and killed a spectator.”
4/23/1910 a Manhattan, New York (FDNY) firefighter died as a result of burns sustained while operating at a fire.
4/23/1915 seven Milwaukee, WI firefighters were poisoned by arsenic fumes, all were sent to the hospital. “A small fire at the Sheffield Standard Plating Company on the second floor of 206-208 Canal Street was caused by a thirty-two-gallon cauldron was filled with bubbling chemicals which were boiling and giving off the deadly fumes. Firefighters bailed the cauldron out until they could lift it, and then emptied its contents into the sewer. The wooden floor was smoldering, but there was no fire. A Deputy Chief got one whiff of the fumes which poured from the quarters and then ordered the men of Engine 31 and Truck 6 to get out of the place at once. Some chemicals were giving off fumes which the Chief recognized as containing arsenic, and although there was no fire, he knew that the fumes were more deadly than any smoke or flame. Several hours later he himself was overcome by the poison and five men had been taken to the hospitals. Two firefighters of Truck 6 succumbed in the quarters of their company at 77 Canal Street and were removed to Gouveneur Hospital. A Battalion Chief and firefighter, also of Truck 6, became ill later and were hurried to the hospital also. Then an alarm came in for a small fire in the upper stories of a rear building back of 17 John Street. A firefighter was working there when he sank down. The Fire Department surgeon said he was suffering from poison received at the first fire and sent him to Volunteer Hospital. A Captain of Fire Patrol 1 was also taken sick in quarters, but was not removed to the hospital. Then Doctor said he and the Deputy Chief were not as badly affected as the others and probably would recover without going to a hospital. The Chief said that the Canal Street blaze was like a fire in Milwaukee two years ago, after which twelve firefighters, none of whom complained while fighting the fire, died within twenty-four hours of poisoning.”
4/23/1929 a Louisville, KY firefighter “fell through a skylight at the Jacobs Shoe Company while battling a blaze there. Thirteen other firefighters were injured.”
4/23/1940 a Baltimore, MD firefighter died at a three-story brick grain warehouse heavily involved in fire. “Lines were set up around the building and water was poured on the four-alarm blaze for an hour, when a bulge was noticed in a wall. The members of Truck 6 were ordered to remove the tangle of hose from its extended aerial ladder, so it could be lowered. As four firefighters reached the roof, one of the walls fell with a deafening roar, pulling down the roof with it. The four men clung to the aerial ladder for dear life as a fireball shot from the interior of the building into the sky. Seconds later, another wall fell out onto the street, crushing Truck 6’s rig to the ground. The aerial stood straight for a moment, and then, as tons of rubble piled onto the truck, it began to bend until it snapped off at the turntable, pitching the four men into the blazing wreckage of the warehouse. Disregarding their own safety, firefighters ran into the burning rubble and dug out the four unconscious men. Three of the men were seriously injured and they were rushed to the hospital. The fourth man was found to be dead, his body broken by the fall into the burning debris from the top of the aerial ladder.”
4/23/1996 an Omaha, Nebraska firefighter was killed when the roof collapsed on him at a 4-alarm fire in a commercial building (Dollar General). The firefighter “became trapped in the burning store after unseen fire in the false ceiling caused the roof to collapse. Firefighters made several attempts to enter the store to rescue him, but were pushed back each time by the rapidly escalating blaze. After about 20 minutes, he was rescued and rushed to the hospital, where he later died as a result of smoke inhalation, burns, and severe internal injuries. A 15-year-old was arrested suspected of arson.”
4/23/1910 Lake Charles, LA a fire that started about 4:00 p.m. destroyed most of this city of 15,000 inhabitants leaving 5,000 persons homeless. “A fire destroyed seven city blocks in Lake Charles, Louisiana, causing over $750,000 in property damage. The fire started behind a row of buildings on Ryan Street including the unoccupied Opera House, Gunn’s Bookstore, and a soft drink stand. The fire spread down Ryan Street to the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Historic City Hall, and the Parish Courthouse, eventually destroying a swath of downtown two blocks wide and half a mile long to the southeast. The fire raged for four hours and consumed 109 commercial buildings, residences, government offices, and churches.”
4/23/1884 Greenville, TX a fire that started around 3:30 a.m. in a wood frame grocery store on Lee Street spread to several buildings.