BUFFALO, NY: MARCH 27, 1912 – Built on Buffalo’s highest hill, the massive Masten Park High School could be seen from nearly every part of the city and was known as “the school on the hill” for its white facade and lofty towers. Around 10 A.M., a fire broke out in one of the towers and the fire gong sounded. The 1,200-strong student body believed it to be a fire drill and marched out onto the cold, slushy grounds only to be surprised to see smoke pouring from the top floors of the castle-like building. As the fire department responded, teachers and students dashed back inside to save musical instruments and a collection of treasured American flags. Further salvage efforts were stopped after a section of the roof collapsed. The school was a total loss, although the library was unharmed and all the books and materials were recovered.
Photo credit: Photo from Paul Hashagen Collection
MIDDLETOWN, NY: MARCH 4, 1912: – Apparently worried by financial troubles, a local justice of the peace drove his wife from their home at gunpoint. He then set more than a dozen fires in their home before escaping. Firemen arrived to an advanced fire situation that nearly destroyed the home. The magistrate was at large and considered dangerous for several days before he was apprehended.
PROVIDENCE, RI: MARCH 7, 1912 – After battling a stubborn fire on South Water Street, 20 firemen were caught beneath a falling four-story brick wall. Their comrades dug them out and 11 of those trapped were taken to the hospital, with two of them in serious condition.
WINNIPEG, MANITOBA: MARCH 9, 1912 – While the crew at Station 3 cleaned up from a small hay bale fire, an arsonist was roaming nearby streets. At the rear of 776 Main St., the Radford-Wright Door and Sash Co., the arsonist saw an old shed attached to the main building. Gathering some kindling next to some boxes, he set his fire and moved away to watch. Twenty minutes later, the rear of the three-story building was blazing and Station 3 was rolling to the scene. Inside the building on the second floor and 35 feet from the back wall were two large vats of naptha (a volatile aromatic liquid, very similar to gasoline) and dipping oil used in the priming process. Captain Dewitt ordered the men inside to the rear of the building where flames were auto-exposing to the second floor. As the men moved into position, a massive explosion tore through the building, blowing the roof off and crumbling the walls. Killed in the blast were five civilians and Firemen Edward Molyneux and Charles McPherson (the department’s first line-of-duty deaths). The arsonist was later arrested and sent to a mental hospital.
CHICAGO, IL: MARCH 9, 1912 – A fire in the Barnett Hotel on South Clark Street killed six people and seriously injured 20 more. Most of the lodgers were asleep when the flames broke out, trapping them in their rooms. A panic caused a stampede on the fire escape, injuring several people exiting the burning building. Several men hung by their fingertips from window ledges as firemen scrambled to put nets in place. Several spectacular rescues were made over ladders as firemen hurried to reach those trapped above. The demand for rescue was greater than the available equipment and several men were forced to jump to their deaths.
NEW YORK CITY: MARCH 27, 1912 – An early-morning fire started in the third floor rear of a five-story loft building at 623 Broadway in Manhattan. With the flames appearing to be under control, Chief Kenlon began releasing units until flames were discovered in the adjoining buildings. Firemen had to deal with bursting lengths of hose and a team of runaway horses dragged a hose wagon through empty downtown streets. Five alarms were needed to bring the blaze under control.