FIREFIGHTER HISTORY 2/7

On 2/7/1904 over 1,231, firefighters worked to control the two-day conflagration; that destroyed over 1,500 buildings and an area of some 140 acres covering most of the central city during the Great Baltimore, Maryland Fire. Firefighters were hampered by unstandardized fire hose connections and equipment. Units responded from New York City, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Atlantic City, and Wilmington. A fire break using dynamited was unsuccessfully attempted. “Much of the destroyed area was rebuilt in relatively short order, and the city adopted a building code, stressing fireproof materials. Perhaps the greatest legacy of the fire was the impetus it gave to efforts to standardize firefighting equipment in the United States, especially hose couplings.” “It is considered historically the third-worst conflagration in an American city, surpassed only by the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, and the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906.” “A small fire in the business district is wind-whipped into an uncontrollable conflagration that engulfs a large portion of the city by evening. The fire is believed to have been started by a discarded cigarette in the basement of the Hurst Building. When the blaze finally burned down after 31 hours, an 80-block area of the downtown area, stretching from the waterfront to Mount Vernon on Charles Street, had been destroyed. More than 1,500 buildings were completely leveled, and some 1,000 were severely damaged, bringing property loss from the disaster to an estimated $100 million. Miraculously, official reports said no lives were lost—although some reports did claim one man perished—and Baltimore’s domed City Hall, built in 1867, was preserved.”

On 2/7/1922 the Lexington Hotel fire in Richmond, Virginia killed twelve of the seventy-two registered guests. The fire apparently started in the basement and rapidly extended up the elevator shaft; “evidence of gross negligence, incompetence and a want of proper regard for the safety and lives of both guests and employees,” were the findings of a special grand jury; however, no criminal violation of the law was found. “The hotel which was built over sixty years ago was of old-style brick and wooden joisted construction. It was located among other old inflammable buildings and was recognized as a serious fire hazard by the city authorities and the insurance interests. An elevator shaft of wood and metal ran up through the center of the building. There were three fire escapes in the hotel two of which were of the stairway and balcony type. The third was simply a vertical iron ladder. There were two open stairways from the lobby floor to the second floor and from this floor to the third and fourth floors there were three open stairways… At the time of the fire, extensive repairing and painting were being done. The hotel was not closed, however, and guests were in their rooms as usual. The fire started in a small room on the second floor near the elevator shaft. This room was used by the painters who had left twelve suits of overalls in this room on the night of the fire. The fire was probably due to the spontaneous ignition of oily rags in the pockets of some of this clothing… The fire spread rapidly up the elevator shaft and was blazing through the roof at least twenty-five minutes before the alarm was received. The delay involved undoubtedly cost several lives The first alarm was received at 4:34 a.m. the second alarm at 4:38 a.m. and a general alarm at 4:55 a.m. When the first truck arrived men were already jumping out of the windows. The fire was blazing through the roof and coming out nearly every window on one side It seems probable that the stairs served as flues for the smoke and heat and were not available. The stairs did not run from the first floor to the top story instead two stairs stopped at the second floor where the fire started and it was necessary to walk down a long corridor before reaching the stairs to the first floor. The fire spread rapidly badly damaging seven other buildings It was finally controlled by the excellent work of the fire department.”

On 2/7/1967 the Dale’s Penthouse restaurant fire killed twenty-five after smoke and flames spread through the high-rise in Montgomery, Alabama, sending a panicked crowd scurrying to a dead end. There were about 100 people finishing dinner when a fire started in the coat room near the entrance, likely caused by “a carelessly discarded cigarette.” An employee tried to extinguish the fire without alarming guests. Smoke suddenly billowed into the dining room and quickly filled the restaurant which set off a panic. Several people broke out the front windows overlooking the skyline and clung to a 3-foot ledge, on the 11th (top) floor as flames shot from the broken windows into the 25⁰F night. Others attempted to use the elevator, but when it reached the penthouse the third time, the elevator lost power and the doors would not open. Firefighters were also stuck in a similar situation. A malfunctioning elevator took them to the top floor, as the doors opened, flames shot into the car. The firefighters were able to escape by wedging the doors partially closed and filling the gap with clothing; they climbed out the top of the elevator and slid down the elevator cables to the basement.

On 2/7/1968 nine individuals, including four firefighters were killed and more than seventy people were taken to the hospital, eighteen of which were firefighters when a series of explosions tore through a sausage factory and the general offices of the Mickelberry’s Food Products Company in Chicago, Illinois. “A gasoline tanker truck, on-site to fill the company’s gasoline tanks, struck a garbage can while driving through an alley, knocking the valve off of the tanker’s discharge pipe. Gasoline poured out of the tanker, ran through an alley doorway, and into the basement of the sausage plant, where a boiler ignited the gasoline. The burning gasoline soon produced two small explosions that spread the fire and led to a buildup of gasoline fumes, which eventually caused a more powerful third explosion that destroyed the two-story general office section of the building and demolished a portion of the sausage factory. The series of blasts leveled the Mickleberry Food Products Company, the brick, and concrete plant in a mixed industrial and residential area just south of Chicago’s Union Stockyards. The first explosion occurred about 4:30 p.m., a half-hour after 85 day-shift production workers had stopped work at the plant. Office workers and a night cleanup crew were still inside. Chicago firefighters had just arrived on the scene and were rescuing office and factory workers when the third explosion occurred. The explosion threw firefighters from their ladders and factory workers trapped on the roof fell into the rubble. Following the explosion, the Chicago Fire Department issued a 5-11 alarm that brought 300 firemen to the scene. The massive response was not only due to the severity of the fire but also because of the number of casualties One witness estimated 25 persons were on the roof and said most of them were blown, bruised, and bleeding, to the street. Nine individuals, including four firefighters and the Mickelberry’s Company President, were killed and more than seventy people were taken to the hospital, eighteen of whom were firefighters. Dozens more with injuries were treated at the scene.”

On 2/7/1983 an early morning fire in an Eau Claire, Wisconsin community-based residential care facility left six elderly residents dead. The 102-year-old Victorian-style, three-story, wood-frame dwelling had been converted to a boarding home and provided care for eleven elderly residents on the first and second floors. “All eleven residents were reported to be ambulatory and capable of self-preservation under emergency conditions.” An unprotected stairway provided a vertical avenue for smoke and toxic gases to travel to the second floor of the building.

On 2/7/2008 the Imperial Sugar Plant explosion near Savannah, Georiga, in Port Wentworth, likely fueled by combustible sugar dust in a silo that stored refined sugar killed thirteen and injured thirty-eight others, including fourteen with serious and life-threatening burns. Crews worked for weeks to extinguish the fire; this was the second explosion within a few weeks, and the first did little damage. “The refinery was large and old, featuring outdated construction methods, and these factors are believed to have contributed to the fire’s severity. The origin of the explosion has been narrowed down to the center of the factory. It was believed to have occurred in a basement beneath storage silos. Investigations conducted by the Department of Justice ruled out deliberate criminal activity in 2013. As a result of the disaster, new safety legislation was proposed. The local economy declined because the factory was closed down. The U.S. Chemical Safety Board released its report on the incident in September 2009, saying that the explosion had been “entirely preventable”. Investigations by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives also concluded that sugar dust was the fuel for an explosion that could have been prevented. By September 2010, 44 suits had been filed in Chatham County Court against Imperial Sugar and/or its cleaning contractor.

On 2/7/1871 a Hartford, Connecticut firefighter “died of the injuries he sustained while operating at Box 26.”

On 2/7/1936 a Salt Lake City, Utah firefighter “died of injuries suffered after falling 35′ from an icy ladder while battling a fire at the Schramm Johnson Drug company building at Broadway and Main Street. With the temperature at 6 degrees, the water had frozen almost as soon as it touched the rungs of the ladder, covering that and the two firefighters with an almost solid sheet of ice.”

On 2/7/1955 two Catonsville, Baltimore County, Maryland firefighters died while fighting a fire at a shopping center. “On arrival, firefighters found the basements of a tavern and a bakery involved in a fire in a shopping center. The fire rapidly spread throughout all the stores in the complex and seriously threatened several nearby exposures, necessitating extra alarms. They and two other firefighters stretched two lines into the new rear addition of the complex. They worked their way through the tavern and down into the basement. As conditions deteriorated, the two firefighters were forced to retreat from the basement and work their way to the roof, assuming that the victims were right behind them. They operated their line on the roof for a while until the fire broke through the roof, forcing the firefighters to retreat once again. The roof collapsed just after they got down. After nearly two hours into the battle, two firefighters were discovered missing. A search was started and after about 30 minutes, their charged hose line was found at the rear of the building. Firefighters followed the line into the tavern and down into the basement, where they found the two missing firefighters about ten feet from the safety of the stairs, buried under debris from the fallen roof and wall. Both men had died from smoke inhalation and their bodies were badly burned.”

On 2/7/1968 a Los Angeles, California firefighter died from burn injuries he sustained at the United States Borax & Chemical Company structure fire after he was trapped in an elevator. “At 10:23 p.m., fire units were dispatched to a reported structure fire at 3075 Wiltshire Boulevard at Virgil Avenue. Upon arrival, companies found nothing showing at the nine-story. A security guard told firefighters there was a small rubbish fire on the third floor. The companies rode the elevators investigating. On the third floor, white smoke was observed oozing from a small hole in the floor of a room near the elevator. Some firefighters along with a security guard entered an elevator and rode to the second floor. At the same time, the second group of firefighters, entered an adjacent elevator and a maintenance worker took them to the same floor. When the first elevator stopped on the second floor, the inner door opened, but the outer door remained closed. Fire and smoke began to fill the elevator. Unknown to the men inside, a fire was burning in a lunchroom and spreading along the second-floor corridor. The men tried pushing the elevator button to take them back to the ground floor but to no avail. The elevator was inoperative. The emergency alarm system in the elevator was not functioning, their hand-held radio calls were not heard, nor were their screams for help. Meanwhile, the other elevator, with firefighters and the maintenance worker also stopped on the second floor. The doors opened to an inferno. Two firefighters and the maintenance worker fled along the smoke-filled corridor. The firefighters found an interior standpipe-supplied hoseline and began attacking the fire. One firefighter was missing but thought to have fled down a front stairway. A firefighter entered the third elevator in the lobby and proceeded to the third floor. The doors would not open and he was soon overcome by smoke. He was later rescued. Eventually, firefighters, using forcible entry tools, pried open the elevator doors and freed the three firefighters and the security guard. As the smoke cleared, the missing firefighter’s body was found partially inside the burning elevator.”

On 2/7/1978 a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania firefighter died “after extinguishing a chimney fire at 528 W. York St., which had extended to a structure. He and three other firefighters were lowering a 35-foot aluminum ladder when it came in contact with a 13,000-volt power line. He was killed instantly, and two others sustained serious burns and electrical shock. The fourth man was thrown clear by the jolt but was uninjured.

On 2/7/2020 a 62-year-old man “and his five-year-old grandson died along with 9 dogs in a house fire Friday night in San Antonio, Florida according to Pasco County Fire Rescue. The man’s 3-year-old granddaughter was also critically injured in the fire. Firefighters said they pulled the man from the home and began life-saving efforts. While working on the man, neighbors told the firefighters that there were children inside the home as well. The firefighters immediately went back inside the burning home and found the two children. Both kids were flown by medical helicopter to Tampa General Hospital, where the 5-year-old died.”

On 2/7/2011 three adults and two children died in a southern Indiana mobile home fire that started from a wood stove on East Denton Road in Crawford County shortly after midnight.

On 2/7/2010 at 11:17 a.m. the Middletown, Connecticut 620-megawatt combined cycle gas- and oil-fired power plant, under construction since February 2008, and was scheduled for completion in June 2010, exploded in the rear of the largest building, the turbine hall, killing six and injuring at least fifty. The explosion at the Kleen Energy plant occurred during a pipe-cleaning procedure, known as a “gas blow,” where natural gas was pumped through pipes to clean out debris.

On 2/7/1930 a fire that started in the kitchen of a house killed three children in Westfield, Massachusetts.

On 2/7/1977 a fire destroyed two buildings housing two businesses and heavily damaged two others on the west side of the courthouse square in the northwest Missouri town of Gallatin, 75 miles northeast of Kansas City.

On 2/7/1973 a natural gas explosion in a convenience store killed three and injured two in the small Jefferson County town of Adamsville, Alabama about 10 miles northwest of Birmingham.

On 2/7/1933 a fire that started in a vacant third-floor unit in a four-family apartment building at 3638 Chestnut Street Natrona, Pennsylvania across from the Harrison Township Town Hall forced seven residents to evacuate. The fire was confined to the second and third floors.

On 2/7/1930 a gas explosion in the Standard Coal Company mine at Standardville, Utah killed twenty of the twenty-nine miners working in the mine. It is believed that “carbon monoxide gas became ignited by spontaneous combustion.”

On 2/7/1916 a picric acid explosion and fire at the Aetna Powder Company in Emporium, Pennsylvania injured four and destroyed a two-story structure. The Company had received “a warning two weeks earlier” that the plant would be destroyed, but it is doubted that this incident was related to German agents. “The building will be rebuilt immediately.”

On 2/7/1902 a fire in the Chicago, Illinois Sanford Building, a four-story structure at 38 Randolph Street, occupied by a paint & oil company and a piano & organ company spread to the ten-story Trude Office Building creating panic among thousands of workers fearing the fire would extend to the entire neighborhood, most of the buildings on the block were deserted. The Sanford building collapsed but explosions from the paint & oil continued.

On 2/7/1902 a fire gutted the three-story Minneapolis, Minnesota Vendome Hotel, on Fourth Street, that left one man dead.

On 2/7/1812 an aftershock from the previous earthquakes near Missouri causes the Mississippi River to run backward for several hours. There were a series of tremors, which took place between December 1811 and March 1812.