FIREFIGHTER HISTORY 2/12

On 2/12/1955 a five-alarm fire in a transient hotel killed twenty-nine residents at the Barton Hotel in Chicago, Illinois. The fast-spreading fire roared through a dilapidated 40-year-old “hotel” in the “Skid Row” neighborhood.  Most of the twenty-nine fire fatalities were transients. Many more, including several firefighters, were injured. The Barton Hotel was located at 644-648 West Madison Street. “The Type III ordinary construction brick and joist Barton Hotel was divided into sleeping stalls for 336 persons. Forty-eight stalls were on the second floor, 85 on the third, 117 on the fourth, and 86 on the fifth. The ground floor was occupied by the Standard Store Fixture Company. It is estimated that 245 men were asleep in the five-story building at the time of the fire. Their “rooms” were cubicles about 4 feet wide, 6 feet long, and 7 feet high. The bunks were separated from each other by corrugated iron sheets, topped with meshed chicken wire. An aisle ran between every two rows of cubicles. The chicken wire top was to provide ventilation and to keep the flophouse residents from crawling into each other’s cubicles… At around 2:00 a.m. on a frigid Saturday morning, the hotel’s night manager was keeping warm by sitting close to the radiator in the second-floor office. Hearing a commotion down the hall, he reportedly got up from his chair to see what was wrong. Seconds later, he was confronted by a human torch in the hallway, his hair, clothing, and body completely aflame. A 70-year-old pensioner who soon died from his burns was in the habit of rubbing his body with alcohol and it is believed that ashes from his pipe or cigarette ignited the fumes. As smoke and flames poured from the open door of the burning man’s room, the night clerk pulled the building’s fire alarm, then returned to the corridor in a determined but hopeless attempt to bang on doors and arouse the sleeping tenants… The fire spread quickly, invading the upper floors via an open wooden stairway in the back of the building. Flames blocked escape as thick smoke darkened the hallways. Several men opened their doors to flee, but after breathing in the superheated air and deadly gases, they fell to the floor unconscious and burned to death. Luckier residents reached the front fire escape and climbed down to safety. Others were forced to break windows and climb from ledges three and four stories high… Firefighters knew this was going to be a battle. The hotel’s conditions were appalling and caused the building to ignite in flames very quickly. To add to that, a 20-mph wind spread the flames and led to even colder temperatures in the already below-freezing February morning. The firefighters raced up the steps and led many to safety. The stairs gave way early in the fire, followed not long after by parts of the floors. As heavy streams from water towers, ladders, and deck pipes tore into the building, the fire escapes, and equipment took on coats of ice. As soon as conditions made it possible, a search for the victims was instituted. Most of those found were burned beyond recognition.”

On 2/12/1852 a Boston, Massachusetts firefighter died “while operating at a fire that destroyed a commercial building at the Isaiah Howe’s building at 20 Kingston Street. He was killed when he was caught under a collapsing wall. Several other department members were badly injured.”

On 2/12/1924 a Chicago, Illinois firefighter “died when he fell inside from a three-story unoccupied building fire at 2512 E. 76th Street.”

On 2/12/1951 a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania firefighter “died after inhalation of gas fumes on December 23, 1950.”

On 2/12/1962 a Chicago, Illinois firefighter died while fighting a 5-11 & 4 Specials at 3548 S. Shields Avenue. “The fire started in a building leased by an exporting company and spread to an adjacent building housing the Reliable Paste & Chemical Company. More than 65 pieces of fire apparatus and 450 firefighters responded to the alarm.”

On 2/12/1969 a Bayonne, New Jersey firefighter died while “fighting a fire at 812 Avenue C. A woman was trapped in her top-floor apartment. Firefighters made five attempts to reach her, but they were driven back by heat and smoke.”

On 2/12/1974 a Cleveland, Ohio firefighter died while operating at a four-alarm fire in a vacant four-story brick commercial building at 1430 West 9th Street. The firefighter died of smoke inhalation and burns after he fell through the floor after becoming trapped in the basement.

On 2/12/1976 a Manhattan, New York (FDNY) firefighter “died of pneumonia, which was the result of severe exposure while operating at a five-alarm fire on February 10, 1976.”

On 2/12/1998 two Chicago, Illinois firefighters died after a truss roof collapsed into a structure. “On February 11, 1998, at 10:24 p.m., the Chicago Fire Department received a call from the occupant of a private residence at the rear of a commercial tire service center, at 10611 S Western. The caller stated there was a fire in the interior of the building. Above the parts room was a cockloft where tires, Christmas decorations, and miscellaneous items were stored (believed to be the area of origin of the fire). The cockloft was accessible from the service area. The roof system of the service area was constructed of open wooden bow-string trusses, with unprotected polystyrene insulation glued to the underside. The exterior of the roof was a rubberized material, which had recently been repaired. At approximately 10:30 p.m., the owner of the business arrived to unlock the front door to the showroom. Approximately 8 to 10 firefighters from the first-arriving companies, including the two firefighters who died, entered the showroom; some firefighters reported no smoke showing, and others reported observing a light haze in the showroom, with the odor of a burning car. They opened the door to the service area, where black smoke covering the top one-third of ceiling space was encountered. They entered with a charged 1¾ inch hose line, which was connected to a 2½ inch lead-out line. The firefighters indicated that at no time did any of them feel any excessive heat or see any fire. When the firefighters entered the building, two firefighters from Truck 45 in front of the building, and two firefighters from Truck 24 went to the rear of the building. They ascended ground ladders to the roof to cut ventilating holes in the roof with axes. The firefighters on Truck 24 stated that no smoke or fire was showing when they arrived at the rear of the building; however, they noticed the windows were dark and smoky. One firefighter punched a small hole in one window with an ax tip, and black smoke billowed out. Within 5 to 8 minutes, the four firefighters on the roof had chopped a ventilation hole, approximately 4- or 5-foot square. When they peeled back the opening, black smoke was emitting from the hole. However, within 30 seconds, flames also started roaring up through the opening. All four firefighters immediately picked up their equipment and descended the ladders to the ground. At approximately 10:43 p.m., the 8 to 10 firefighters and officers who were inside the building had advanced some 15 to 20 feet into the service area where thick black smoke was above them. At approximately 10:45 p.m., without warning, hot gases that had accumulated in the 20-foot-high ceiling ignited, causing a backdraft situation. This created a pressure wave, knocking the firefighters off balance and to the floor. The firefighters became disoriented, could not find the hose, and were scrambling and yelling in an attempt to escape the inferno they had been caught in. Additionally, the molten polystyrene insulation from the ceiling area began falling on them. One firefighter later reported that he could hear his fellow firefighters running into and knocking over things, yelling, and screaming, trying to escape from the burning structure. One firefighter dove through the office window to escape the burning building. The escape from the service area was complicated by the 20 cars stored in the service area, the intense heat, heavy black smoke, disorientation, and panic from being trapped. When the firefighters exited the burning structure, an immediate headcount was taken, and it was discovered that two firefighters were missing. Rescue attempts by firefighters to reenter the structure were numerous but futile, as the entire service area became fully involved with fire, prohibiting entry and the rescue of the missing firefighters. Within 30 minutes, the entire truss roof collapsed into the structure. Once the fire was extinguished, the two firefighters were removed from the scene and transported to Little Company of Mary’s Hospital Emergency Room. The first firefighter was pronounced dead on arrival at 1:24 a.m., while the second firefighter was pronounced dead on arrival at 1:32 a.m.”

On 2/12/2018 a Lawrenceburg, Tennessee firefighter “died from injuries sustained in a structural collapse while operating at the scene of a residential structure fire. Two other firefighters were injured in the collapse and taken to the hospital. The fire started in a two-story residence along Lakeview Drive at around 4:30 p.m. According to media reports, crews transmitted a “Mayday Emergency” near 8:00 p.m. when the three firefighters became trapped as the result of a collapse.”

On 2/12/2020 three firefighters were killed, and six persons were injured when a three-story building collapsed in Jammu India. “A building, housing a sawmill, on the ground floor, collapsed during a firefighting operation.”

On 2/12/2015 around 9:45 a.m., an explosion at the factory in Igualada, Spain caused by accidental contact between three chemicals forced “66,000 residents in Òdena, Igualada, Jorba y Vilanova del Camí to stay at home, close windows and doors and avoid going outside.”

On 2/12/1968 a fire at a knitting factory killed nineteen of those who lived in the apartments above the factory in Hong Kong.

On 2/12/1917 thirteen of the sixty-eight guests died in Minneapolis, Minnesota Kenwood Hotel fire around midnight. “An explosion of gasoline in the basement of the wooden building is thought to have caused the blaze.”

On 2/12/1905 the Battle House Hotel fire, in Mobile, Alabama was destroyed, and the adjacent buildings were severely damaged around 10:45 p.m. All of the 147 guests safely escaped.

On 2/12/1899 the George Segelke Building, a pop factory in Lincoln, Nebraska, caught fire by the explosion of gas in a coal stove and was destroyed.

On 2/12/1883 S. Blaiskell, Jr., & Company, a knitting mill, in Kinsterdam, New York was destroyed by fire after a watchman entered the cellar with a lamp causing an explosion of gasoline.

On 2/12/1963 a Northwest Orient Airlines jet crashed and killed all forty-three onboard only minutes after leaving Miami (Florida) Airport in the Everglades.