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High-tech filming for its day, the early 1960s NBC-TV program “DuPont Show of the Week: Fire Rescue” featured FDNY Rescue 1 in what was perhaps one of the first reality TV shows. Airing for the first time on Sept. 30, 1962, the documentary depicted members as they responded to multiple-alarm fires, rescues, medical calls and other emergencies over a three-month period. Incidents included the death of a firefighter at a fire in the Hell’s Hundred Acres section of Manhattan (today’s SoHo) and a nine-alarm fire in a clothing store in Queens. The off-camera narrator was Walter Matthau.
Photo credit: Photo from Paul Hashagen Collection
PENN YAN, NY: OCT. 6, 1912 – Late at night, smoke seeped into an upstairs bedroom in a home near Keuka Landing. The woman of the house, Mrs. Stowell, was awakened by shrieks of “Fire! Fire!” Her parrot was hopping around inside his cage and squawking loudly in response to the invading clouds of smoke. Leaping from bed, the woman had just enough time to snap up the cage and flee. She then called neighbors, who formed a bucket brigade and stopped the flames that were extending toward a schoolhouse and nearby general store. The parrot was credited with saving not only its owner, but the entire town.
TARRYTOWN, NY: OCT. 16, 1912 – Flames raced through a four-story tenement building, trapping many people inside. Arriving firemen faced an advanced fire situation with very little water pressure. As they struggled to make rescues, an automobile was dispatched to the pumping station to increase the water pressure. When the flames were finally extinguished and the smoke cleared, 79 women and children were left homeless, two young girls were dead and a mother and child were hospitalized, both in critical condition.
PASSAIC, NJ: OCT. 16, 1912 – At 4:30 A.M., flames broke out in the four-story meatpacking plant of the Henry Muhs Co. at Monroe Street and Central Avenue. As the fire began to take hold of the building, 28 horses were led out of a stable and a woman was found lost in the smoke in a second-floor room. Flames quickly engulfed the huge plant and firefighters were further endangered as several ammonia tanks inside exploded, toppling walls outward.
BENICIA, CA: OCT. 18, 1912 – The main storehouse of the Benicia Arsenal at the U.S. military reservation was the site of a huge fire that burned an estimated $1 million in munitions and the buildings housing the explosives. The following day, fire still glowed in the vaults and cellars of the old building, which had served since 1857 as the arms factory and supply station for the Pacific Coast and the Orient. Spontaneous combustion produced by chemical disintegration of nitro powder was believed to have caused the fire.
LYNBROOK, NY: OCT. 26, 1912 – The First Methodist Episcopal Church on Merrick Road was destroyed by a fire in the early morning. Investigators and church officials believed the fire was the work of thieves, who apparently forced their way into the church to steal a new carpet. The church had been undergoing renovations and the new carpet had just arrived. The pastor discovered the fire and noticed a panel broken out of the church’s side door. The flames destroyed the wooden church.
BROOKLYN, NY: OCT. 30, 1912 – For close to a week, a dozen boys had been busy digging a cave in a vacant lot on Hopkinson Avenue near Fulton Street. They had just placed a door across the opening to allow them to crawl inside the cave. It was just after 8 A.M. when the roof of the cave collapsed, trapping several children and scattering others who ran away in terror. The fire alarm box was pulled and Ladder 173 responded quickly. The firemen began digging frantically and uncovered two young boys ages 9 and 12. Sadly, the boys could not be revived. Digging continued looking for several additional boys who were believed trapped, but were later found safe.
SAN ANTONIO, TX: OCT. 30, 1912 – Five Sisters of Charity gave their lives to save the 87 children in their care when a fire swept the St. John’s Orphanage during the early-morning hours. A small boy saw the fire and raised the alarm. The Sisters hurried around the building, waking children and hustling them outside. They continued to re-enter the heavy smoke searching for missing children. Faced with a fierce fire and people trapped, Fire Chief Wright split his men into two teams: rescue and firefighting. Suddenly, a nun appeared in an upper-floor window with a child in her arms. A ladder was raised, but as the chief ascended the figure fell back into the smoke and fire filled the window. Later, she was found, the child still in her arms, in the charred rubble. The death toll was determined to be five nuns and three children. A tragic toll indeed, but a testament to the bravery of the Sisters who saved 84 other children. n