FIREFIGHTER HISTORY 12/5

On 12/5/1876 around 300 (295) people died and hundreds were injured in a fire that engulfed the Brooklyn (Conway) Theatre in New York; all 900 seats were filled in the L-shaped auditorium built in 1871 with 5 narrow exits and no fire escapes. “The Two Orphans” a play starring Harry S. Murdock and Kate Claxton was in progress when a gaslight ignited some extra scenery stored in the fly space behind the stage, and the flames quickly spread. The crowd panicked particularly in the rear and balcony section despite Murdock’s attempt to calm the audience. “One hundred and three unidentified victims were interred in a common grave at Green-Wood Cemetery, marked by an obelisk, while more than two dozen identified victims were interred individually in separate sections at the Cemetery of the Evergreens in Brooklyn.” “Soon after the fire, the New York Mirror began a campaign to eliminate or regulate many common theatre practices. Its agitation eventually spurred 1880s New York City fire code revisions barring the use of the stage in producing props and scenic elements, barring paints, wood, and construction material from the stage area, and widening theatre exits. Commenting on theatre fires in his December 1905 address to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Society President John R. Freeman found significant antecedents in the Brooklyn Theatre fire to the then-recent Iroquois Theatre fire, the 1881 Vienna Ring theater fire, and the 1887 Exeter Theatre fire: stages crowded with scenery, an onrush of air from opening doors or windows, scant smoke vents over the stage, thus giving rise to an outburst of smoke from under the proscenium arch with concomitant deadly effects upon upper gallery occupants. These observations made twenty-nine years after the fact, resonate with those made on the night of the Brooklyn Theatre fire. Abner C. Keeny, part-owner, and contractor of the building commenting on the fire the following morning believed that the sudden inrush of air from the scenic entrance fanned the fire and triggered its spread from the stage to the theatre at large, leading to the rapid advance of smoke onto the family circle… By the early 20th century, cumulative New York City building code changes and additions required a solid brick proscenium wall, extending from the cellar to the roof, to minimize the risk of a stage fire spreading into the auditorium. Any openings in the wall, such as the large opening made by the proscenium arch itself, required special fire-blocking facilities. Proscenium arches were equipped with non-flammable fire curtains; other openings in the proscenium wall required self-closing fire-resistant doors. Heat-activated sprinkling systems were required for the fly space above the stage. At this time in New York City, uniformed fire department officers became permanent attendees of every theatrical production. These ‘Theatre Detail Officers’ were required to be in the theatre a half-hour before the performance, test the fire alarms, inspect firewall doors and the fire curtain, and, during performances, ensure that aisles, passageways, and fire exits remain clear and accessible.”

On 12/5/2009 more than 156 people died, and 160 more were injured, when a fire destroyed the Lame Horse (Хромая лошадь, “”) nightclub in Perm, Russia; a plastic and willow twig covering on the low ceiling was ignited by sparks from fireworks. “The fire started around 1:00 a.m. in the nightclub Khromaya Loshad (Russian: «Хромая лошадь», “Lame Horse”) at 9 Kuybyshev Street, Perm, Russia. The fire quickly spread to the walls and damaged the building’s electrical wiring, causing the lights to fail. 156 people died and according to initial reports, up to 160 more were injured in the fire; however, many of the wounded lost their lives in the following days in hospitals. The nightclub was in the middle of a celebration of its eighth anniversary at the time. A total of 282 people had reportedly been invited to the club’s anniversary party.”

On 12/5/1900 an Evansville, Indiana firefighter “died after being caught in a wall collapse at the Mesker Foundry and Architectural Iron Works, on 1st and Ingle Streets.”

On 12/5/1902 a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania firefighter “drowned in a fire in the hold of the S.S. Saxon.”

On 12/5/1925 two Buffalo, New York firefighters “died while operating a line from a ladder into a second-floor window at a two-story factory fire when the wall collapsed.  One was killed instantly, and one was critically injured and passed the next day as a result of his injuries.”

On 12/5/1970 a Westford, Massachusetts firefighter “died after suffering smoke inhalation while operating at the Sunny Meadow Farm fire in Chelmsford.”

On 12/5/2002 a Dallas, Texas firefighter died at an attic fire in a 2-story residence. “While fighting the fire from the second floor of the home, he suddenly collapsed. At first, the members of his crew thought that he had tripped over something. They realized that something was wrong when he failed to get up. He was removed from the building and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) was initiated. An automated external defibrillator (AED) was applied, and advanced life support (ALS) level assistance was provided. He was pronounced dead at Medical City Dallas Hospital. The accidental fire eventually went to 2 alarms.”

On 12/5/2017 a Montgomery, Massachusetts firefighter “collapsed while operating on an initial attack line at the scene of a late-night two-alarm chimney fire that destroyed a residential structure. He was treated immediately on scene by fellow responders and transported to the hospital by an ambulance crew where he was pronounced deceased a short time later.”

On 12/5/2019 a West Stockholm, New York firefighter “collapsed while operating at the scene of a house fire in the town of Potsdam. He was transported to Canton-Potsdam Hospital where he was pronounced dead.”

On 12/5/1961 a downtown block in “Woodsville, New Hampshire was destroyed by a fire that broke out at 8:00 p.m. and quickly engulfed the three-story Central Street block. The big wooden 60-year-old building was a total loss. The first floor housed a hardware store, a 5 and 10-cent store, automatic laundry, and an oil company office; the second floor contained lawyers’ offices and the municipal court; the third floor contained apartment units, and only one was occupied. The fire was brought under control at 5:00 a.m.”

On 12/5/1917 the Aetna Chemical Plant, a large munitions manufacturer in Heidelberg, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburg, explosion killed ten and injured twenty-five of the 200 employees working at one of the largest munition plants shortly after 3:00 p.m. The plant manufactured “TNT,” (trinitrotoluene) a high explosive used by the Allies in the European war (World War I), and ordered by the U.S. Government. A fire quickly followed the explosion but “acid fumes from the wrecked portion of the plant quenched the flames a short time.”

On 12/5/1886 the Herzog’s Opera House in Washington, D.C. was destroyed by fire shortly before 3:00 a.m. in the snow-covered building erected by the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) with a large hall on the second and third stories used for concerts and lectures. The fire is believed to have been incendiary.