FIREFIGHTER HISTORY 3/16

On 3/16/1993 around 4:00 p.m. a Chicago, Illinois fire killed nineteen residents at 1432 N. LaSalle Street, the Paxton Hotel, an apartment building for low-income people, that spread to several rooms and filled corridors with combustion products in the four-story Type III construction, masonry building, with wood stud lath and plaster non-bearing walls, a steel structural frame, and wood floor and roof assemblies. A central corridor led to three wings, each had a stairway at the end. “The Paxton that night is filled nearly to capacity with 160 residents, most of them poor, elderly, or both.  The blaze started in Room 121 in the southwest section of the structure, roared up stairwells, fed by strong winds that whip into the building as people open windows to get relief from the smoke filling their apartments.  The first call reporting the fire comes in at 4:05 a.m., and two engines, a tower ladder, an aerial tower, a paramedic squad, and a battalion chief were dispatched, arriving five minutes later.  The initial evaluation of the scene revealed heavy smoke coming out of the top three stories and people hanging out of windows on the upper floors.  A full box alarm is ordered, and two additional engines, a ladder truck, and two battalion chiefs were sent to the scene.  The first firefighters found the first-floor hallway to be clear of smoke, but in the southwest corner of the building, they found the stairway on fire as well as two first-floor rooms.  With a 2-½-inch hoseline, firefighters extinguished the fire in the rooms but are unable to control the fire rapidly spreading up the stairway, part of which has already collapsed.  They are forced to withdraw from the building, and as they depart, arriving units saw that things were becoming increasingly dire as the amount of smoke coming from upper-story windows was increasing continuously and more and more occupants were hanging out of windows, calling for help.  Five alarms were ultimately struck with 30 pieces of fire equipment and 20 paramedic vans on the scene.  At first, though, there were more occupants in need of rescue than there were firefighters and ladders.  Buildings, powerlines, and trees made the use of aerial ladders nearly impossible, so ground ladders were deployed as quickly as possible.  According to an analysis of the response, “… firefighters sometimes gauged the need for rescue by the stress in the occupants’ voices … Sometimes firefighters could hear, but not see, an occupant due to the heavy smoke that remained close to the ground engulfing the building; as a result, they placed ladders close to the voice as they attempted to locate the person.” The National Fire Protection Association’s investigation revealed several factors that led to the loss of 20 lives and over two dozen injuries in the Paxton fire.  The report concludes that the factors include (1) fire spread in combustible concealed spaces; (2) stairways without doors; (3) the lack of subdivisions in corridors; (4) the lack of an operating building-wide fire alarm system; and (5) the delay in fire department notification due in part to the absence of fire detection equipment.”

On 3/16/1906 in Camden, New Jersey three firefighters were killed and nine injured in a fire that destroyed the old Sixth Regiment Armory at Bridge and West Streets, when the “great expanse” roof failed.  The fire started in the boiler room and quickly spread to all parts of the structure. “On arrival, firefighters found heavy smoke showing from a corner of a vacant armory. After quickly stretching a line into the building, firefighters thought they had the fire under control when one of the men discovered that the fire was roaring overhead in a false ceiling. Conditions began to quickly deteriorate, and all members were ordered out of the building. Suddenly, a large portion of the ceiling collapsed as firefighters began to exit the building. Thick clouds of smoke enveloped the street, and the two-alarm fire began to rapidly spread throughout the structure. A headcount was taken, and it was discovered that three firefighters were missing. A heroic search effort was initiated, but the heavy fire and smoke conditions prevented any rescue efforts. About three hours later, firefighters were able to enter the structure, where they found three firefighters in a small room near the front of the building.”

On 3/16/1977 two Minneapolis, Minnesota firefighters “died in action at a fire in Vic’s Body Shop at 2212 Hennepin Avenue South. They had just entered the basement in search of the seat of the fire when a rapid build-up of intense heat and very toxic smoke trapped them.”

On 3/16/1978 a Chicago, Illinois firefighter “died after he was struck on the head by falling plaster during a fire. He walked to the ambulance and went unconscious at 5445 S. Federal Street.”

On 3/16/1988 a Franktown, Colorado firefighter “was electrocuted when he came in contact with an electrical power line as he tried to rescue a stray cat. Franktown firefighters were asked by residents to rescue the stray cat which had been on the pole for two days to prevent children from rescuing the cat themselves.”

On 3/16/2000 a Delmont, South Dakota firefighter died while operating at a wildland fire. “The fire was the result of a controlled field burn that was being conducted by some local citizens that got out of control. The conditions were dry with winds of 40 miles per hour. The fire was in a very deep winding ravine. A hose was being added to an attack line when a wind gust blew up an area that had been thought to be previously extinguished. The fire spread rapidly up a hill and engulfed him. He had responded directly to the scene from a nearby town and was not wearing protective clothing. He was severely burned over 60 to 80 percent of his body.”

On 3/16/2017 a five-alarm fire destroyed a six-to-seven-story apartment building under construction in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina. The fire started shortly before 10:00 p.m. at 314 W. Jones Street at the Metropolitan apartment complex.

On 3/16/2014 four people died in a fire at a hospital’s in-patient building in central China’s Hubei province that started on the ground floor around 4:20 a.m.

On 3/16/1940 the Willow Grove #10 coal mine explosion killed seventy-two near St. Clairsville, Belmont County, Ohio. “The Bureau of Mines declared the explosion to be caused by an excessive shot of black powder which stirred up “bug dust” and coal dust and ignited a flame.”

On 3/16/1931 a private sanitarium fire killed five in a three-story frame structure in Jamestown, Rhode Island.

On 3/16/1928 an explosion at the Hercules Powder Company, a subsidiary of the DuPont Powder Company, killed four and injured several around 9:00 a.m. near  Valley Falls, New York. The explosion damaged several homes in nearby towns.

On 3/16/1911 in Cantonsville, Maryland Saint Charles College, a preparatory school, was almost completely destroyed by a fire that started in the furnace room in the basement of the main building and extended through the flooring to the first story. “None of the 200+ faculty and students were killed or injured. Sacred vessels and vestments, along with thousands of priceless manuscripts and books were lost.”

On 3/16/1898 a fire killed six and left fourteen people missing. The fire destroyed several businesses on Wabash Avenue Chicago, Illinois. The started on the sixth floor, where a large number of chemicals were stored, which exploded, flames spread rapidly, about 400 occupants were present, many were “cut off from elevators and stairways the frantic occupants began jumping from the windows.”

On 3/16/1887 in Norwich, Connecticut St. Patrick’s Catholic Church was damaged by a fire that “was caused by a careless altar boy dropping a coal from the censer.”