100 Years Ago


SAN LUIS POTOSI, MEXICO: JAN. 1, 1911 — Fire and panic occurred during a New Year's celebration in a church on a hacienda and cost the lives of 17 people. The victims were workers and their families employed on the large estate. The small church building was tightly packed with people when a candle fell onto holiday decorations and smoke quickly filled the area. Many were killed by the smoke and flames while others were trampled while trying to escape the terrible fire.

LONDON, ENGLAND: JAN. 3, 1911 — Word came to the Metropolitan Police that two members of a gang wanted for the murders of three policemen were hiding out in a Sidney Street apartment in the city's east end. It quickly became apparent the police were outgunned and help was summoned. Home Secretary Winston Churchill gave permission to send in troops and was soon on the scene to take command. Army snipers battled with the gang and heavy gunfire was traded for hours. A fire started within the dwelling and the fighting slowed. The fire brigade was ordered to stand fast due to the dangerous armed men inside. After an hour, the building was gutted and partially collapsed. A team of firemen entered to extinguish the remaining fire and remove the dead gunmen. During this operation, a second collapse occurred, seriously injuring a number of firemen. Several months later, District Officer C.S. Pearson of the London Fire Brigade died as a result of his injuries.

NEWARK, NJ: JAN. 3, 1911 — Four alarms were required to subdue a spectacular afternoon fire in the Knickerbocker Storage Warehouse on Arlington Street. Flames broke out on the second floor of the four-story section of the building and firemen battled the heavy fire, hoping to stop its spread within the huge structure. After an hour, flames were seen in the eight-story section of the warehouse and soon raced up an elevator shaft and were bursting from the top-floor windows. Heavy fire in the rear extended to an embroidery factory on Shipman Street and embers rained down on another nearby factory roof and a number of frame dwellings. Fire Chief William Astley's men held these fires and saved all the adjoining buildings.

GREENVILLE, NY: JAN. 3, 1911 — The entire business district and part of the residential section of this Washington County town was left in ruins by an early-morning fire. Flames were fed by high winds and firemen struggled trying to slow the spread, but were hindered by a lack of water in a nearby reservoir. Flames marched from block to block, even as mutual aid departments helped with the fight. A shift in the wind helped the beleaguered firefighters gain the upper hand.

CINCINNATI, OH: JAN. 10, 1911 — On the corner of Vine and Fourth streets stood the 34-story Chamber of Commerce Building, the tallest skyscraper west of New York City and the pride of the local business community. A few minutes after 8 P.M., a grease fire started in the top-floor kitchen of the Business Men's Club and found its way to the timber framing the massive roof overhead. As flames burst out into the dining area, a mad scramble ensued as diners and the wait staff evacuated the area. More than 230 people had to race to safety without their coats into the cold, blustery night. Not everyone escaped as sections of the roof toppled into the building below. Two of the city's leading merchants died in the fire and many firemen were injured as they battled the blaze and dodged collapsing sections of the crumbling building. The million-dollar building was a total loss.

PAUL HASHAGEN, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a retired FDNY firefighter who was assigned to Rescue 1 in Manhattan. He is also an ex-chief of the Freeport, NY, Fire Department. Hashagen is the author of FDNY: The Bravest, An Illustrated History 1865–2002, the official history of the New York City Fire Department, and other fire service books. His latest novel, Fire of God, is available at http://dmcfirebooks.com/.