FIREFIGHTER HISTORY 3/15

On 3/15/1923 seven women and two men perish in a fire following a gas explosion in the basement at the Almshouse in Angelica, New York. “The Allegheny County Almshouse was on the outskirts of this village and opened in 1831. New York State passed a law that required each county to open a poorhouse. At the time, poorhouses were thought to be an economical way to provide relief to individuals and families who could not provide for themselves, although even before poorhouses, taxpayers were paying for relief for these poorest of poor…The fire started from a gas explosion in the basement of the structure where 24 women patients were quartered and quickly spread to the administration building. The building where the women were quartered was 250 feet long and joined a concrete structure where the 29 men inmates were housed. The head stableman at the institution lost his life to rescue women inmates. The night fireman (boiler tender) was killed by the explosion. Six of the women were cremated in their beds and the other was killed when she leaped from the upper window of the blazing building.” “The state mandated these county homes because conditions faced by homeless and indigent county residents before the establishment of poorhouses were even worse. One option for them had been to apply for help from a local “overseer of the poor.” This elected official could provide tax money for food, fuel, clothing, and medical treatment. Another alternative was to auction families or individual paupers who were temporarily sold off to the lowest bidder for a specified period. This indentured them to servitude, oftentimes on farms for a year or more, hence the saying “sent to the poor farm”. Sometimes individuals were grouped and contracted out to the community in the same way. It was a few years before the state finally recognized the need for oversight of the poorhouse system and their findings were appalling. “They are treated barbarously,” said the Allegany County Home in an 1857 state report. An 1864 report by the county physician, went further, saying it had “no ventilation, old, rotten and filthy, and entirely inadequate for the purposes for which it is used … I do not think the aged and sick have proper nourishment.” Those residents in the county home that were thought insane, which is how they were labeled at the time, were confined in a cell, oftentimes tethered with a ball and chain. Mattresses were beds of straw, and “vermin were found in some of the beds … They had no provisions for health or hygiene.” Conditions were so bad across the state, that by 1876, the state required all children over the age of three to be removed from poorhouses and placed in orphanages or foster homes. At that time, there were estimated to be 3,000 children living in poorhouses, oftentimes being tortured by other children and mentally disturbed adults and “supervised” by criminals. It wasn’t until the late 1800s that the New York state addressed the need to account for the insane housed in the poorhouses, many called county homes. In 1883, there were 500 documented insane inhabitants, according to a state database.

On 3/15/1888 two Milwaukee, Wisconsin firefighters were killed, and four firefighters were injured at the West Water Street fire. “One of the most destructive fires to life and property Milwaukee has ever known broke out at 1:45 a.m. Before it was under control the fire gutted a large four-story brick block on West Water Street, opposite the Plankinton Hotel, and buried a smaller building and a squad of firefighters under falling walls. Firefighters worked desperately to save the rest of the square from destruction, the block in which the flames first appeared being practically doomed from the beginning. Half an hour after the alarm was given the north wall of the big building swayed and then fell outward, crushing the frame building next door and falling right upon a body of firefighters. The ruins buried the men, and it was hard work for the rescuers to reach them. The cause of the explosion which started the fire is supposed to have been either paraffin-cement in the shoe factory or gas which accumulated from some leak in the pipes. The explosion was heard for a block and woke up many guests of the Plankinton House. Almost instantly the flames spread over the building, bursting out at every window and fairly eating up the beams of the block.”

On 3/15/1900 a San Francisco, California firefighter died “while operating at a fire, he fell into a light well, and died from the injuries he sustained in the fall.”

On 3/15/1911 a Milwaukee, Wisconsin firefighter died “while operating from a ladder in the bitter cold, at a three-alarm blaze involving the Hilty Lumber Company and yard, he suffered an acute heart attack, brought on by exhaustion, and fell from the lower rungs of the ladder. All efforts to revive him proved futile.”

On 3/15/1912 in Hamilton, Ohio the Butler County Courthouse fire killed two firefighters and injured four others around noon when a 125-foot “iron clock tower above which was a huge bronze bell and a heavy bronze statue of justice” collapsed.

On 3/15/1922 a Chicago, Illinois firefighter died “during a massive fire that destroyed the entire city block bordered by Jackson, Van Buren, Canal, and Clinton Streets. The fire started in the Austin Building on Canal Street and quickly spread to several adjacent buildings, including the Canal Street Station of the “L” train. Flames also crossed Clinton Street to the fourteen-story Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad Building, which burned from the roof downward. Eighty percent of the city’s firefighters responded to the fire, and more than 1,000 fire nozzles were used while battling the flames. The firefighter was killed as he crossed Van Buren Street while carrying wet blankets in support of firefighting operations. He was struck on the head by a piece of stone masonry and transported to Iroquois Hospital, where he was pronounced dead from a skull fracture.”

On 3/15/1956 a District of Columbia (Washington DC) firefighter died “while operating at an extremely smoky and stubborn three-alarm fire inside a three-story brick apartment house at #2325 Minnesota Avenue S.E.”

On 3/15/1957 a Modesto, California firefighter “died from the injuries he sustained while operating at a warehouse fire on Grand Street.”

On 3/15/1993 two Pittston, Pennsylvania firefighters “fell through the floor of a burning structure. The two were killed after the floor gave way, sending them crashing into the basement of the building. The pair were buried under tons of debris, and fellow firefighters had to work more than 14 hours to recover their bodies.”

On 3/15/2019 the Orient Heights neighborhood in East Boston, Massachusetts “was evacuated as firefighters battled a blaze at the New England Casket Company on Bennington Street. The massive fire reached nine alarms and the Boston Fire Department cited heavy smoke as a reason for the evacuation. Residents were allowed to return to their homes about seven hours after the fire started. The fire, which broke out in the afternoon, started on the roof of the two-story building in East Boston. The Boston Fire Commissioner said the building does have a sprinkler system, but the fire was above it. Firefighters first attempted to fight the fire from inside the building but got out due to collapse fears. Crews used ladder trucks for hours to pour water and foam on the flames.”

On 3/15/1994 at 12:47 a.m., an accidental fire at the Pacific Bell telephone exchange interrupted telephone service, including 911 service, for the city of Los Angeles, California that started in a 75’ X 100’ switching equipment room on the 13th floor of the 17-story high-rise telephone exchange building. “The fire, which primarily involved the batteries, resulted in the loss of power to circuits supporting 911 service, normal telephone circuits, cellular telephones and pagers in the city.”

On 3/15/1983 near Odessa, Texas a gas pipeline explosion killed five, a mother, her three young children, and a worker; “after a drill pierced a natural gas pipeline and touched off an explosion” around 7:30 p.m. that destroyed two trailer homes.

On 3/15/1917 the DuPont Powder plant near Wilmington, Delaware suffered an explosion that killed one.

On 3/15/1910 the Cumberland, Maryland city hall that “contained the Academy of Music, the Masonic and Odd Fellows Hall and the city market” burned. The fire destroyed many of the city’s records.

On 3/15/1910 in Lawrence, Massachusetts the Clegg Leather board mill fire was started by “matches caught in the machinery.”

On 3/15/1897 the business section of Elkins, West Virginia conflagration damaged about 16 structures after a fire started in a hardware and furniture store around 7:30 a.m. “Elkins has no fire department, and the flames were soon beyond control, having mostly frame buildings in their pathway.”

On 3/15/1891 the Belton, Texas Courthouse was damaged by a fire that started in the county treasurer’s office on the north side of the building.

On 3/15/1850 the Buffalo, New York conflagration destroyed much of the city including the American Hotel, the Park Church, and numerous stores and dwellings that started about 2:30 a.m. in a restaurant driven by a heavy gale that was blowing from the southwest.

On 3/15/1845 the National Theater fire damaged an entire block of Washington DC.

On 3/15/1769 Moulton Mansion and two stores were destroyed by fire around 4:00 a.m. in Hampton, New Hampshire

On 3/15/1999 Amtrak train and a semi-truck and trailer loaded with heavy steel bars collision killed fourteen at a crossing, 50 miles south of Chicago near Bourbonnais, Illinois.

On 3/15/1892 an elevator accident killed five in Saint Louis, Missouri; when an elevator loaded sheet-iron plate on the second floor “rope broke, and it fell with a crash on the men standing beneath it.”