Wishing you a happy, prosperous, and safe New Year…
As we meet new opportunities let us not forget the lessons of the past.
On 1/1/1853 the first practical fire engine was presented to Cincinnati, Ohio becoming the first city in the world to use a steam fire engine, named “Uncle Joe Ross” after a city council member. Invented by Abel Shawk, Alexander Bonner Latta, and Miles Greenwood; other steam fire engines had been developed but were not practical. “Latta has long been touted as the first inventor of the steam fire engine, (Uncle Joe Ross in 1852). This claim has since been disproved. John Braithwaite 1828 built an experimental steam fire engine in London. He along with John Ericsson had, by 1833, built 4 more engines that were used in France, Russia, and Berlin. Paul R. Hodge produced a steam fire engine in New York in 1840-41. Like most myths, this one will no doubt continue. In March of 1852, a Cincinnati locksmith named Abel Shawk, a railroad locomotive builder named Alexander Bonner “Moses” Latta, and an iron-foundry owner named Miles Greenwood, joined forces to build the world’s first successful steam-powered fire engine. Their demonstration was so successful the city of Cincinnati contracted with them to build a fire engine for them. Shawk’s quick-steaming boiler, which could heat the water to steam in under 10 minutes, made the steam fire engine practical. Latta lent his locomotive expertise to the steam engine, pump, and chassis. Shawk and Latta, along with Latta’s brothers Edmundson and Finlay Latta formed the A. B. & E. Latta “Buckeye Works” to build the engine. Greenwood’s factory was used to build the engine called the Uncle Joe Ross after the city councilman who had championed the building of the engine. Miles Greenwood, who was also a city councilman, became the city’s (thus the world’s) first professional paid fire chief running the first paid fire department. The Ross was so popular that in 1854 the citizens of Cincinnati raised the funds to buy a second fire engine aptly named Citizen’s Gift. A young apprentice was working for Shawk and Latta in their factory, Chris Ahrens. When Shawk and Latta sold their business in 1863 to Lane & Bodley, a local machine shop, Chris Ahrens became superintendent of fire engine construction. Five years later Ahrens bought out the Latta fire engine business, renaming it C. Ahrens & Company… About 1891 Ahrens merged with Clapp & Jones of Hudson, New York; Silsby of Seneca Falls, New York; and Button of Waterford, New York to form the American Fire Engine Company… The Ahrens-Fox fire engines were manufactured in Cincinnati, Ohio, from 1852 to 1977. From 1869 to 1903, Ahrens steam fire engines outsold all but two other brands of steam fire engines in the United States; Silsby (Seneca Falls, NY) and Amoskeag (Manchester, NH). From 1915 to 1939, Ahrens-Fox was the third-largest selling motor fire apparatus manufacturer in the U.S., after American-LaFrance (Elmira, NY) and Seagrave (Columbus, OH), with the fire engine division of Mack Trucks (Allentown, PA) finishing a very close fourth.
On 1/1/1963 the Fretz Building in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania burned on New Year’s Day 1963, a very cold and windy day with temperatures hovering near thirty degrees. “Shortly after 5:00 p.m., the fire department began receiving reports of a fire in the Fretz, located on the northwest corner of 10th and Diamond Streets. Among the numerous fire alarm boxes pulled by civilians to report this fire, fire alarm box 95 at 12th Street and Susquehanna was received and struck out at 5:17 p.m. bringing a first alarm response of four engine companies, two ladder companies, and two battalion chiefs… Built in 1903, the Fretz Building was an eight-story, irregularly shaped building that housed numerous manufacturing and commercial concerns as diverse as clothing and food preparation. The structure was bounded by Diamond Street on the south; the rears of two-story row dwellings on Warnock Street on the west; Susquehanna Avenue on the north; and the Reading Railroad on the east, which ran overhead diagonally from 10th and Diamond Streets, north westwardly towards Warnock Street and Susquehanna Avenue. The western perimeter of the building was over 500’ in length, from Diamond Street to Susquehanna Avenue… Engine 2, Ladder 3, and Battalion Chief 6 were the first due responding from their station at 2031 N. 7th Street. Traveling a block and a half north on 7th Street and three blocks west along Susquehanna Avenue, the first arriving companies found the entire eighth floor of the building well involved in fire and beginning to rapidly spread downwards. Without getting out of his car to further “size-up” the situation, the Batt Chief ordered the second alarm at 5:19 p.m. … Numerous shafts and stairways throughout the building enabled the fire to spread with frightening speed. Within the next four minutes, the upper four floors were completely involved in fire. The Batt Chief ordered the third alarm at 5:23 p.m. He understood that the building was beyond saving and that the major firefighting concern would be to curtail the spread of the fire in a densely populated and densely developed area… The Deputy Fire Chief (Deputy Chief 2) responding from his quarters at 6th Street and Lehigh Avenue, took command after the third alarm. Faced with an extraordinary exposure problem, as tongues of flame 500 feet long emanated from the building, he ordered the fourth, fifth, and sixth alarms at 5:29, 5:30, and 5:33 p.m. Boxcars and a railroad tower on the 10th Street side of the building were quickly consumed. A fuel oil depot and feed and grain warehouse, situated between the Reading Railroad and 10th Street, were the next major exposures in the fire’s eastern path. Although the fuel oil depot was destroyed, the feed and grain warehouse was saved by the building’s automatic sprinkler system and firefighter-operated streams… The Deputy Fire Commissioner and Chief of Department responded from his nearby Kensington home upon notification of the third alarm. By the time of his arrival, radiated heat and the fear of falling walls emerged as a major concern. The Chief ordered the seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth alarms between 5:35 p.m. and 6:29 p.m. Guided by an ever-expanding orange and red glow in the sky, companies responding from as far away as the Somerton section of the city and Southwest Philadelphia were assigned to various positions surrounding the building… The homes on Warnock Street behind the building were in imminent danger from both the heat and possible wall collapse. Firefighters initially working on the rooftops of these dwellings experienced sunburn-like discomfort from the fire’s intensifying heat. Despite the commotion within the neighborhood, many of the residents on Warnock Street were unaware of the fire raging behind them as police and firefighters began to evacuate these homes. New Year’s revelers in a bar located on the northeast corner of Warnock and Diamond Streets had to be strongly persuaded to move to a safer location. The western wall of the Fretz Building collapsed onto Warnock Street demolishing the homes in its path… Despite the loss of the homes on Warnock Street, the beginning of the building’s collapse enabled firefighters to get the upper hand on the fire. As portions of the building began to collapse into the center and the fire consumed this material, the influence of the many master streams surrounding the structure began to take effect, enabling the Fire Chief to declare the fire under control at 8:29 p.m. Although Philadelphia firefighters were faced with one of their greatest challenges under adverse conditions, still some blessings accrued. First, there were no major injuries to civilians or fire department personnel. The only minor injury befell the Chief as he slipped on a patch of ice and sprained his wrist. Second, by virtue of the fire occurring late in the tour of the day shift personnel, personnel from the on-coming night shift were readily available. The entire day shift was held over until after 9:00 p.m. Finally, the fire department operated with approximately twenty-five “high-pressure” engine companies. These companies consisted of two pieces of apparatus, typically a hose wagon and a pumper, and carried a 3½-inch hoseline. Because the fire occurred in the City’s high-pressure firefighting district, it was not necessary to keep both pieces of apparatus on the fireground. Thus, some pumpers were released to be manned by on-coming “C” platoon personnel, creating “make-up” companies… The cause of this fire was determined over the next few days. Because of the long New Year’s weekend, the heat in the building had been shut off. However, the absence of heat increased the risk of frozen water pipes in the building, the building’s sprinkler system had been turned off as well. However, to prevent frozen pipes, an electric space heater had been rigged-up on the building’s eighth floor adjacent to an elevator penthouse. The space heater set fire to the flooring beneath it, which was considerably splintered. The splintered condition of the floor created a dry, tinder-like condition which accelerated the rapid spread of fire across the eighth floor.
On 1/1/1886 a Detroit, Michigan firefighter died from the injuries he sustained after being caught in a collapse.
On 1/1/1913 a Portland, Maine firefighter died as a result of inhalation of nitric acid fumes from a carboy spill, which occurred in the basement at H.H. Hayes Drug Store, at Middle and Free Streets. Several of the firefighters were sick and even more became ill back in their firehouses. Ambulances transported seven men to the hospital, and many more were sent home and tended to by their doctors.
On 1/1/1932 a San Francisco, California firefighter was dragging a hose across the vaulted ceiling at the Saint Ignatius Church at Fulton and Cole when a large panel gave way under him. He and another firefighter struck a balcony sixty feet below, both were rendered unconscious. Both men were taken to Park Emergency Hospital, where it was found that one firefighter had suffered a fractured skull, two broken arms, and a punctured lung; he died a short time later at the hospital.
On 1/1/1940 a Philadelphia Pennsylvania firefighter “died from smoke inhalation at 1324 S 5th Street.”
On 1/1/1945 a Manhattan, New York (FDNY) firefighter died after responding to a fire in a third-floor apartment. The fire was started by a short circuit when the Christmas tree lights were turned on. The men of Engine 40 entered the fire apartment only to be driven out by heavy smoke conditions. After leaving the apartment, a firefighter was discovered missing. The men reentered the apartment and found him unconscious. All the members of Engine 40 were overcome by smoke while fighting a fire in an apartment house.
On 1/1/1960 a San Francisco, California firefighter “died from the injuries he sustained while operating at a fire on O’Farrell Street.”
On 1/1/1961 a Buffalo, New York firefighter “was operating a hand line on New Year’s Eve from a ground ladder at a fire at 680 Clinton Street. The roof had buckled causing the walls to collapse, crushing him and another firefighter. He succumbed to his injuries on January 1, 1961.”
On 1/1/1969 a Chicago, Illinois firefighter “died after he was trapped in a burning building during a fire at 6346 N. Clark Street. He and several other firefighters were handling a hose line on the second floor of the building when their hose stopped working due to the subzero temperatures outside. The firefighters retreated as the flames erupted around them, but he was unable to escape. Initial rescue attempts were hindered by the thick ice that coated the building, but firefighters were eventually able to retrieve his body.”
On 1/1/1978 a three-alarm fire that started in Chelsea, Massachusetts on New Year’s Eve and continued to New Year’s Day January 1, 1978, at 172 – 174 Pearl Street claimed the lives of a firefighter, two young brothers, and their babysitter, in a tragedy that has stunned the city. Frantic efforts to revive the victims proved fruitless. A third youngster, a three-month-old baby, a cousin, was saved from the blaze, before the firefighter was fatally overcome, the babysitter tossed the infant from a second-story window to an unidentified passerby. The blaze, which also saw 13 local firefighters overcome or injured during its fury, started shortly after 11:00 p.m. Saturday, New Year’s Eve. Fire investigators immediately determined that the fire was the work of an arsonist. The blaze was reported set in a first-floor bathroom.
On 1/1/1990 two West Burlington, Iowa firefighters died after they became disoriented in a structure after advancing hose line into a Health Club Fire
On 1/1/1991 a Montclair, New Jersey firefighter died while operating at a three-alarm fire at 376 Ridgewood Avenue in Glen Ridge. The blaze, which was discovered just after 3:00 a.m., was started when some holiday decorations were ignited by a chandelier.
On 1/1/1997 a Schuylerville, New York firefighter died in a building collapse during a fire. Four “firefighters were operating the nozzle at the scene of a restaurant fire early on New Year’s Day when the ceiling collapsed, and a flashover occurred. Two of the firefighters were able to escape. A rescue team placed a nozzle through the front window to cool down the area where the firefighters were trapped. They located and removed one of the trapped firefighters.”
On 1/1/2017 twenty-three people were killed, and seventeen others were injured when a ferry caught fire near the Indonesian capital, Jakarta. The boat caught on fire about 1.6 km (1 mile) out of port on its way to Tidung Island, a popular holiday destination in the Thousand Islands district, north of Jakarta. “The manifest from the boat said there were about 100 people on board, but we believe that the passenger vessel Zahro Express was carrying about 250 people. The fire started when a power generator on the boat short-circuited.
On 1/1/2014 a Marianna, Florida house fire killed four on New Year’s Day in Jackson County; the fire began around 7:45 a.m. Ten people were inside the house, six escaped, but four died. Smoke alarms woke six children, all under the age of 8. It is believed that an overloaded extension cord caused the fire.
On 1/1/2014 in Minneapolis, Minnesota an explosion and fire destroyed a century-old building in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood. The incident injured at least fourteen people, six critically; the fire damaged an immigrant-owned grocery store and the 10 apartments above it.
On 1/1/2011 a Redmond Washington apartment fire killed five, a father and four sons ages 10 or younger, in the 12-unit, three-story wood-frame building. The fire was reported around 2:30 a.m. at the Sammamish Ridge Apartments and heavily damaged three units.
On 1/1/2011 a Universal Orlando Resort ride was evacuated after a fire engulfed a roof structure under which the ride carries visitors. No major injuries were reported. “An employee noticed smoke rising from Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls, a log float ride at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, around 5:00 p.m.”
On 1/1/2009 a nightclub fire killed fifty-nine and injured more than 200 in Bangkok, Thailand as a fire swept through the Santika Club packed with more than 1,000 New Year’s revelers shortly after midnight. The club only had one door for the public.
On 1/1/1954 a Boothwyn, Pennsylvania home was destroyed by a gas explosion and fire in a second-floor apartment at 1615 McKay Avenue. The explosion was caused by a heating unit gas leaking in an unoccupied upper apartment at about 6:00 p.m.
On 1/1/1935 the Gaffney, South Carolina County Home was destroyed by fire, five aged inmates were killed and fifteen injured in the brick structure that housed fifty-two elderly men in the Cherokee County institution around 2:30 a.m.
On 1/1/1918 two Norfolk, Virginia blocks were destroyed by fire in the heart of the business district, including the Monticello Hotel. “A man was killed and a score or more injured in a series of explosions and fires which believe were incendiary.” The fire started just before dawn in the Granby Theatre on Granby Street, and spread rapidly, as the firefighting operations were hampered by frozen fire hydrants, low water pressure, and near-zero temperature.
On 1/1/1900 a fire and explosion at Comanche, Texas destroyed two sides of the public square. The fire started in the two-story rock-building hardware store and ignited dynamite on the west side of the square at about 11:50 p.m. The fire extended to the north side of the square, and several buildings were damaged.
On 1/1/1899 the Goodwin Block on Front Street in Exeter, New Hampshire was destroyed by fire.
On 1/1/1842 the Detroit, Michigan conflagration destroyed the area between Woodward and Jefferson Avenue, Griswold, and Woodbridge Street that started in the New York & Ohio House, on Woodward Avenue on the mild but windy night.