FIREFIGHTER HISTORY 11/28

On 11/28/1942 the Cocoanut Grove nightclub fire killed 492 occupants and 166 people were injured in Boston, Massachusetts, as fire swept through the nightclub, some patrons died at their tables as toxic smoke rapidly spread through the club. “Panicked victims ran to the only exit they knew, a revolving door that jammed or other doors that opened inward. The fire swept through Boston’s most popular nightclub, the Cocoanut Grove in less than 30 minutes, traveling through the four main rooms. “The Cocoanut Grove was a restaurant/supper club (nightclubs did not officially exist in Boston), built in 1927 and located at 17 Piedmont Street, near Park Square, in downtown. Piedmont Street was a narrow cobblestoned street located near the Park Square theater district, running from Arlington Street to Broadway. The Cocoanut Grove had been very popular in the late 1920s, due to Prohibition, but had fallen on hard times during the 1930s. It became very popular once again during the early years of World War II. The Grove was ‘THE’ place to be in 1942. The building was a single-story structure, with a basement beneath. The basement contained a bar, called the Melody Lounge, along with the kitchen, freezers, and storage areas. The first floor contained a large dining room area and ballroom with a bandstand, along with several bar areas separate from the ballroom. The dining room also had a retractable roof used during warm weather to allow a view of the moon and stars. The main entrance to Cocoanut Grove was via a revolving door on the Piedmont Street side of the building.”… The cause of the fire was an apparent spark that ignited the combustible decorations on the ceiling. At about 10:15 p.m. a busboy had been ordered by a bartender to fix a light bulb located at the top of an artificial palm tree in the corner of the basement Melody Lounge. It is believed that the bulb had been unscrewed by a patron desiring more intimacy with his date. Due to the lack of light in the area of the palm tree, the busboy lit a match to locate the socket for the light bulb… “The Melody lounge, kitchen, and storage rooms located in the basement were constructed out of reinforced concrete and brick masonry. The walls in the foyer were covered with artificial leather over structural concrete. The Melody Lounge was also decorated with artificial palm trees with lights. In addition to the Club, the Broadway Lounge contained plywood walls covered with artificial leather and had a wood floor that was connected by a passageway. The exits from the lounge included a main door and passageway to the Main Dining Room. The front exits included a revolving door and a panic fire door that was locked to prevent non-paying customers from entering… “A moment later, several patrons thought they saw a flicker of a flame in the palm tree of the ceiling decorations. As they watched, they saw the decorations change color and appeared to be burning, but without a noticeable flame. After several moments, the palm tree burst into flames and the bartenders tried to extinguish the fire with water and seltzer bottles. Some patrons started for the only public exit from the Melody Lounge, a four-foot-wide set of stairs leading to the Foyer on the first floor. As other furnishings ignited, a fireball of flame and toxic gas raced across the room toward the stairs. A wild panic ensued and attempts to open the emergency exit door at the top of the stairs were not successful. The fireball traveled up the stairs and burst into the Foyer area, where coatrooms, restrooms, and the main entrance were located. Amid cries of “Fire, Fire”, customers quickly moved toward the exit. After a small number of people exited, the revolving door became jammed due to the crush of panicked patrons. Observers outside could only watch in horror as relatives and friends were crushed by the weight of the crowd surging against the jammed door. The fireball then exploded into the Dining Room area, where a majority of the patrons were crowded together into small chairs and tables, awaiting the start of the 10:00 p.m. show, already fifteen minutes late. It was later estimated that more than 1,000 persons were inside the Grove at the time of the fire. As with the Melody Lounge, panic ensued and customers attempted to find an exit. Unfortunately, many exits were either locked shut or were not easily identified or accessed by the crowd. The fire now had complete control of the premises, with a tremendous rise in temperature and high levels of toxic gas. In a strange coincidence, at 10:15 p.m. the Boston Fire Department received and transmitted Box 1514, located at Stuart and Carver Streets, located about three blocks from Cocoanut Grove. Upon arrival and investigation, firefighters found an automobile fire on Stuart Street. After quickly extinguishing the fire, a firefighter noticed what appeared to be smoke coming from Cocoanut Grove. As they began to investigate, bystanders ran toward them to report the fire. Upon arrival at the Grove, firefighters found heavy smoke condition emanating from the entire building, with both patrons and employees escaping from the building. At 10:20 p.m. the Boston Fire Alarm Office (FAO) received Box 1521, Church and Winchester Streets, apparently pulled by a civilian bystander. The fire chief at the scene ordered his aide to skip the Second Alarm and request the Third Alarm, via fire alarm telegraph, from Box 1521, which was transmitted at 10:23 p.m. followed by a Fourth Alarm at 10:24 p.m. A Fifth Alarm was transmitted at 11:02 p.m… Eight days before the fire a Boston Fire Department fire inspector had conducted a “match test” on the decorations and found them to be “non-flammable” and concluded that the club was in “good” condition…”  Notable code changes from this tragedy include exiting requirements, combustible interior finish materials, emergency lighting, and automatic sprinkler protection.  The definition of places of the assembly was expanded to include places that are similar to Cocoanut Grove.

On 11/28/1889 in Boston, Massachusetts a Thanksgiving Day fire took the lives of four firefighters and one retired firefighter. The fire went to eight alarms, including mutual aid. “They were all killed by falling walls of the Ames Building, on the corner of Kingston and Bedford Streets during this massive fire. This was the General Alarm Fire for which Box 52 was sounded at 8:00 a.m. (Bedford & Lincoln Streets) and was also known as the “Thanksgiving Day Fire,” the Steamer of Engine Company 26, the Aerial Truck of Ladder Company 13, and the Water Tower were also destroyed, and the Steamer of Engine Company 22 was badly damaged.” The widows got $300 in pensions.

On 11/28/1947 two Manhattan, New York (FDNY) firefighters died from injuries they sustained when the roof they were operating on collapsed during a five-alarm fire.

On 11/28/1959 a Douglaston-Queens, New York (FDNY) firefighter “died from injuries sustained in the performance of his duties at Box 6995, Queens.”

On 11/28/1976 a Lockport, Illinois firefighter “died while fighting a fire at a thirty-six-lane bowling alley around 10:00 p.m. Firefighters advanced a hoseline from a tanker, there were no fire hydrants nearby. The firefighters had just reached the seat of the fire at the far end of the building when the water supply ran out. As the firefighters turned back, they realized that flames were in the ceiling above them. As firefighters were following the hose line back out of the building, the fire caused the truss roof to collapse. Two firefighters were able to escape with minor injuries, but one was trapped less than thirty feet from the exit and killed by falling debris.

On 11/28/1996 around 4:30 p.m., a fire in Branford, Connecticut carpet store and warehouse killed a firefighter when the building’s wood roof trusses collapsed on seven firefighters engaged in an interior attack. The building’s 60’ wide 120’ ordinary and wood-frame structure had lightweight wood trusses roof with a 60’ clear span and did not have any fire detection or suppression systems. The fire started in the store’s office area. Initially, fighters reported smoke coming from the roof of a carpet store and found light smoke showing near the roof eaves.

On 11/28/2016 a Dirección de Bomberos Tijuana firefighter died “after becoming trapped in a collapse with another firefighter. The members on scene were able to get the other firefighter out, but with 150 firefighters on scene, they were unable to him.”

On 11/28/2018 a Logansport, Indiana “fire that killed six people, including four children, was being investigated as a possible criminal case. The call for the fire came out around 1:50 a.m. in the 4300 block of Pottawatomie Road on the east side of the city. They rescued two adults, a mother and an adult son, who were at the hospital. They were expected to survive. At a press conference, authorities provided an update identifying the ages of those killed. The children who died were a 3-month-old boy, a 1-year-old girl, a 3-year-old girl, and a 10-year-old girl. The 3-month-old, 1-year-old, and 3-year-old were children of a 25-year-old mother, who was also found dead. Police also found a 42-year-old male, who is the father of the 10-year-old girl… When firefighters arrived at the home, they went on the attack and tried to get inside and rescue the others, but they were unsuccessful. The home was 80 percent involved with heavy fire at the time…. The house is in a rural, non-hydrated area, so they had to truck in water to battle the flames. Crews were out of water within five minutes, and they had to stop fighting the fire until more water could be transported to them. Also, freezing temperatures made it difficult.”

On 11/28/1986 a fire in a patient’s room at the Riverside General Hospital (Riverside, California) killed five patients and gutted a patient’s room. Smoke spread horizontally and vertically into smoke zones adjacent to the area of fire origin and heavy smoke-filled corridors and in several other patient rooms because nurses did not close the door to the room of origin.

On 11/28/1922 the Covington, Georgia High Point School House fire left two dead and thirty-eight injured while ninety-nine children were engaged in studies.

On 11/28/1908 in Silver Springs, Florida a head-on train collision killed five.

On 11/28/1928 in Hutto, Texas two trains collided killing three.

On 11/28/1910 an asphalt mine explosion killed nine in Jumbo, Oklahoma.

On 11/28/1908 a Marianna, Pennsylvania mine explosion killed 200.