FIREFIGHTER HISTORY 12/4

On 12/4/1980 Stouffer’s Inn of Westchester (Harrison, New York) conference center fire killed twenty-six and injured at least forty of the approximately ninety-five occupants who were attending meetings in several conference rooms. Seven bodies were found in a closet that the panicked occupants mistook for an exit. The exact cause of the fire remains undetermined. Some believe that the start was an electrical fire that originated in an exit access corridor outside the meeting rooms classified as assembly and rapidly spread through the hotel. Other local investigators suggest that the fire was incendiary, involving the ignition of flammable liquid. The carpet in the vicinity of the common and the north and west corridors “could not be explained by the burning of material in the area.” A survivor claimed he saw a “river of fire” moving along a corridor ceiling “faster than a man can run. Occupants were faced with rapidly deteriorating, untenable conditions that impeded their escape. Highly flammable wall and floor finishes led to a rapidly moving flash fire that enveloped the hallway of the conference area.” … “Among the fatalities were 13 high-ranking executives of Arrow Electronics Inc., then the nation’s second-largest electronics distributor. Employee stock options, deferred compensation payments, survivor death benefits, additional accounting costs, hiring replacements, and personnel relocation charges resulting from the deaths cost Arrow Electronics more than $5.5 million pre-tax, or approximately $3 million in net after-tax, expenses.” The 3-year-old 366 guest room hotel was not protected by a sprinkler system. This fire occurred not two weeks after the MGM fire in Las Vegas that killed 84.

On 12/4/1881 two Minneapolis, Minnesota firefighters died fighting a fire that destroyed four flour mills on 1st Street and 6th (Portland) Avenue South. “Flames starting in the Pillsbury “B” Mill had spread to the Excelsior Mill south of it and were threatening the Minneapolis Mill to the north.” The two firefighters “were on 1st Street when a violent dust explosion in the Minneapolis Mill blew out its walls, burying them in the debris.”

On 12/4/1891 a Brooklyn, New York (FDNY) firefighter was killed while operating at a fire when he fell through the roof of a building at 608 17th Street.

On 12/4/1899 a Chicago, Illinois firefighter was killed while fighting a “4-11 alarm industrial fire” on West 21st Street between Loomis and Throop Streets. “The fire started in the drying room of the John A. Gauger & Company and Hardy Brothers & Foley molding manufacturers and spread quickly throughout the two-story factory. “Firefighters were operating a hose line inside a shed adjacent to the burning building when the factory’s east wall collapsed. Excessive smoke limited their visibility, so the firefighters were unaware of the collapse until thousands of bricks flattened the shed and buried them under the debris.” The firefighter was successfully extricated from the rubble, but he died while being transported to Cook County Hospital.

On 12/4/1902 a Cleveland, Ohio firefighter died while operating at a major fire involving a factory. He was killed, and several other members of his company were seriously injured, when they were caught under a collapsing wall.

On 12/4/1905 a Birmingham, Alabama firefighter was electrocuted while on a ladder during a fire.

On 12/4/1931 a gas main on Cedar Street in Berkeley, California detonated; killing a firefighter and two civilians and leaving many others, among them firefighters, with crippling injuries and disfiguring burns. The disaster began as a basement gas leak in the Saunders house. “When two teenage boys attempted to fix the leak themselves, a fire erupted.” Moments after firefighters “arrived to fight the flames, Berkeley was rocked by the enormous explosion that killed a firefighter and two others and had ordinary citizens from all over north Berkeley pressed into service as ambulance drivers for the 70 people who were injured by the blast. Neighbors who had gathered near the Saunders house to watch the fire were mown down by the flaming timber, chunks of metal, and shards of glass that were catapulted into the surrounding crowd by the force of the blast. Those who escaped immediate injury ran in to rescue those who were buried or trapped in the rubble. Miraculously, all members of the Saunders family survived the fire, although their home was reduced to splinters and ash. A second firefighter would die on December 7, 1931, from the injuries he sustained.

On 12/4/1967 a New Haven, Connecticut firefighter died from the injuries he sustained after falling through a skylight.

On 12/4/1978 three Etobicoke, Ontario, Canada firefighters died at the Kimberly-Clark warehouse fire on Disco Road, involving big bales of rolled paper. “The Sprinkler system had contained the fire, but during the overhaul of a fire, three firefighters were killed instantly when 600-pound paper rolls, 5 feet in diameter, stacked 18 inches apart and 20 feet high, became unstable and toppled over burying them.”

On 12/4/1984 a Los Angeles, California firefighter died in a fire set by burglars. The criminals set three separate fires in the one-story building that burned for several hours before flames finally spread to the huge attic and broke through a portion of the roof. Firefighters found heavy smoke and fire showing on the interior of the building and in the massive attic area. Crews advanced a hoseline into the burning ballroom area, a rapid flashover occurred across the ceiling and conditions quickly deteriorated, forcing firefighters to evacuate. Once outside, it was quickly discovered that one firefighter had not come out of the building and was missing. Conditions continued to further deteriorate, forcing the rescue teams from the doomed structure. The missing firefighter was later found about 75 feet away from the hoseline. No one was ever arrested in connection with the fire.

On 12/4/2021 a Sterling, Illinois firefighter died in the Line of Duty during the early hours, after the floor collapsed beneath him while fighting a mutual aid house fire in rural Rock Falls.

On 12/4/1976 a fire in a first-floor room of this two-story motor lodge in Concord, Massachusetts spread to an adjoining room and filled a 320’ first-floor corridor with intense heat and dense black smoke. Guest room exited directly to the outside on the first floor and to balconies from the second floor; there were no fatalities.

On 12/4/1900 thirty guests narrowly escaped a hotel fire in Naugatuck, Connecticut when one of the oldest landmarks in this town, the Naugatuck Hotel, was destroyed by fire at about 3:30 a.m. The origin of the fire is unknown. About thirty guests were sleeping at the hotel at the time the fire started, but all escaped safely.

On 12/4/2012 an arson fire at an underwear factory in southern China’s Guangdong province killed fourteen young women; after a former worker who was angry about less than $500 in unpaid wages set the fire. He spent about 40 yuan (the U.S. equivalent of $6.00) on gas used to start the fire.