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    Default The Vendome test

    June 17th, 2007 marks the 35th anniversary of the Vendome fire that killed 9 Boston Firefighters. This story appeared in the Op -Ed sectoion of Saturday's Boston Globe...

    The Vendome Test
    By David Kruh | June 16, 2007


    "THE FIRST ACT of bravery for a fighter," one Boston Fire Department veteran is fond of saying, "is when, as a recruit, you sign the papers to join." These days, when new recruits show up for their first day of training, they are taken to the intersection of Commonwealth Avenue and Dartmouth Street. There, they are shown the brilliant black memorial sculpture of the Vendome Memorial, dedicated to the nine men who lost their lives fighting a blaze at the old Vendome Hotel on June 17, 1972.

    The names of the men are starkly etched -- Paul Murphy, Joseph Saniuk, Thomas Carroll, Richard Magee, John Jameson, Charles Dolan, John Hanbury, Joseph Boucher, and Thomas Beckwith. Recruits are told that while the odds of surviving a career with the Fire Department are good, the memorial is a reminder that there are no guarantees. T fare back home is offered to those who are not ready to make that sacrifice.

    That no recruit has yet to take the subway home is a tribute to the nine.

    First built in 1872 on Dartmouth Street, the Vendome was called by its owners "one of the most palatial and most elaborately furnished hotels in the world," a claim backed up by five dining rooms, a 320-seat mirrored banquet hall, and, in a nod to the social mores of the late 19th century, "an entrance for ladies on Dartmouth Street." Thomas Edison himself supervised the installation of an electrical system that ran lights and a passenger elevator. The glittering hotel quickly became a Boston favorite, hosting a sitting president (Grover Cleveland) along with many other dignitaries. Things were going so well that in 1880 the hotel expanded onto Commonwealth Avenue.

    The popularity of the hotel led to the fateful decision, around 1890, to carve a new ballroom out of several rooms on the first floor. To create the larger space, the main load-bearing wall that ran across the first floor of the building was removed, which left only a single cast iron column to support the weight of the four floors above. Nobody could have possibly imagined the sequence of events that would doom the building and nine of the men whose job it was to save it from a fire 80 years later.

    By the late 1960s the Vendome was long past its glory days, and it was sold to a developer who would convert the hotel into condominiums. On June 17, 1972, about a year after conversion work began, workers were busy sandblasting the exterior when inside, on the first floor, someone noticed smoke drifting down from the stairwell. A workman ran to the corner of Newbury and Dartmouth and pulled Fire Box 1571. It was 2:35 pm. The first responders arrived to find heavy smoke filling the upper floors, and they quickly called for a second alarm. Within an hour and a half, four alarms were struck and more than 100 firefighters were working to contain the blaze.

    Looking back, many of the men say there was nothing spectacular about the fire at the Vendome. Stubborn, the way fires in century-old buildings can be. And smoky, too. The Fire Department switchboard was deluged with calls from people watching the Red Sox game on television who saw smoke rising from the Back Bay. But firefighters did their jobs with their usual efficiency and pluck. At one point men from Ladder 15, who were above the fire on the fifth floor, got caught in a maelstrom of heat and smoke so thick from the fire below that had to escape through a window and down an aerial ladder. Then, as District Fire Chief Leo Fahey wrote in his report , the men took "a short breather out on the street and back into the building they go."

    By late afternoon the fire at the Vendome had been contained, and the chief ordered that the Canteen, a mobile refreshment stand, be opened, signaling a symbolic end to the fire. That didn't mean the job was done, though. Up on the fifth floor, on the Dartmouth Street portion of the hotel, tired firefighters were busy "raking" the ceiling to expose the last remnants of the blaze. It was tough work, and they were glad to see Richard Magee, John Hanbury, Tom Carroll and other men from the night shift showing up early to relieve them. Equipment and jokes passed between the men as they switched places.

    Another early arrival, 14-year veteran Jim McCabe, had just stepped into the back section of the hotel when he saw Carroll raking the ceiling. McCabe made a joke to Carroll, who had recently been promoted to lieutenant, about not getting his hands dirty. Carroll never had the chance to reply. Without warning, at 5:28 pm, the rear section of the Hotel Vendome collapsed with a roar that shook the Back Bay.

    The next thing Jim McCabe knew, he was buried under a pile of rubble two stories high. He didn't know it yet, but he was one of 17 firefighters who had gone down with the building. The dust had barely begun to settle when the remaining firefighters swarmed over the pile, many digging with their bare hands to reach trapped comrades. Some, like McCabe, lived to tell of their ordeal. Nine men would receive last rites and their relatives a visit from a department chaplain. Father Dan Mahoney would go to the Arlington home of Tom Carroll and tell his wife, "he's in God's hands now."

    "Yes," she replied, "but I need him, too."
    Rest in Peace, Brothers...

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    Paul Murphy, Joseph Saniuk, Thomas Carroll, Richard Magee, John Jameson, Charles Dolan, John Hanbury, Joseph Boucher, and Thomas Beckwith.
    NEVER FORGET
    September 11th - Never Forget

    I respect firefighters and emergency workers worldwide. Thank you for what you do.

    Sheri
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    Honorary Flatlander

    RAY WAS HERE FIRST

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    There is a good lesson in this tragic event - even though it would not have helped these Brothers - the lesson is:

    even in the overhaul and cool down stages, the job is not completely done and over till the last truck leaves.

    We are all "guilty" of those thoughts when the fire is finally out, and the breaking down of tools and equipment starts, and the release of resources back to their houses. Vigilence starts to fall off - again I say that even knowing these things would not have helped the outcome of this event - I only make the point as a gentle reminder, not criticism.

    That no recruit has yet to take the subway home is a tribute to the nine.
    An awesome show of strength and honour to those who have gone before.

    Rest in Peace Brothers.

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    NEVER FORGET!!

    This fire was a main reason for a lot of the fire prevention laws today. Too bad something like this had to happen to get to where we are today.
    Jason Knecht
    Assistant Chief
    Altoona Fire Dept.
    Altoona, WI

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    Thank you for remebering the members that were lost that day.

    I am a Boston fireman. While I was at Moon Island we visited the memorial with the other FFOP's. The Drillmaster was explaining what happened on that fateful day. As we were looking at the building we couldn't help but hear sirens and see fire apparatus flying down the street. None of us had any previous fire department experience and had no idea why all of these trucks were surrounding the building (which is now luxury condos). Apparently, while we were there learning about the memorial the Vendome had an electrical fire. What we had witnessed was a "struck box" which consists of 3 engines, 2 ladders, 1 rescue and a District Chief.

    Kind of ironic.
    Last edited by NortheastFF; 06-18-2007 at 12:53 AM.

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    And we owe it to Tom Carroll and every other FF LODD to learn the lessons taught so others may live.What started out as a "simple"building modification RADICALLY changed to load bearing ability in the building,The old cast iron support column could not stand the increased loading and suffered catastrophic failure and the loss of nine of Boston's best along with many others injured. Pay attention on your inspections,you never know when the items you see may save your life later. These lessons and many others are well recalled in writings of Commissioner Leo Stapleton(Ret). I regard the Commish as one of the most street smart Chiefs I know.A lot has been learned thru his musings and I've had the pleasure of several wonderful conversations with him over the years. Never Forget! T.C.

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    Quote Originally Posted by NortheastFF View Post
    Thank you for remebering the members that were lost that day.

    I am a Boston fireman. While I was at Moon Island we visited the memorial with the other FFOP's. The Drillmaster was explaining what happened on that fateful day. As we were looking at the building we couldn't help but hear sirens and see fire apparatus flying down the street. None of us had any previous fire department experience and had no idea why all of these trucks were surrounding the building (which is now luxury condos). Apparently, while we were there learning about the memorial the Vendome had an electrical fire. What we had witnessed was a "struck box" which consists of 3 engines, 2 ladders, 1 rescue and a District Chief.

    Kind of ironic.
    Funny how stuff like that has a habit of "popping" up sometimes. Just seems to give a bit of strength to a situation occasionally.

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    Never heard of this fire before. Went to Boston this weekend for a family wedding, first time we had ever been there. While driving down Commonwealth, I saw the piper practicing and really made no thought. Then on the way back up, we saw uniforms and more apparatus gathering, and I noticed the bunk coat and helmet of the memorial. Now this is Boston, walking distance to Wrigley, on a sunday when the are playing the San Francicso for the first time in 80 some years. I actually find a parking space, the only one I saw. So of course I stopped. It was a nice ceremony, and to be there on a Fathers day, as it was then, made that much more of an impact.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rescue101 View Post
    And we owe it to Tom Carroll and every other FF LODD to learn the lessons taught so others may live.What started out as a "simple"building modification RADICALLY changed to load bearing ability in the building,The old cast iron support column could not stand the increased loading and suffered catastrophic failure and the loss of nine of Boston's best along with many others injured. Pay attention on your inspections,you never know when the items you see may save your life later. These lessons and many others are well recalled in writings of Commissioner Leo Stapleton(Ret). I regard the Commish as one of the most street smart Chiefs I know.A lot has been learned thru his musings and I've had the pleasure of several wonderful conversations with him over the years. Never Forget! T.C.

    I assume the column failed and this caused the collapse? Was this due to damage to fire damage to the column? Increased load from water?

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    Quote Originally Posted by neiowa View Post
    I assume the column failed and this caused the collapse? Was this due to damage to fire damage to the column? Increased load from water?
    A combination of old, cast iron beam construction weakened by fire, the extra weight of water, and the shifting of the loads themselves created the collapse.
    Jason Knecht
    Assistant Chief
    Altoona Fire Dept.
    Altoona, WI

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    EAT CHEESE OR DIE!!

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    Actually it was a little more complicated than that.The Hotel was being renovated.In the process over the years,parts of a load bearing wall were breached/modified and if I remember correctly the support columns were also thinned out to make more room.I think they had also done something in the basement that affected the load carrying ability of that wall.In any event the combination of these factors along with the concentrated weight of firefighters and water were more than the cast iron support column could take.The end result was the tragedy we all know as simply the Hotel Vendome. T.C.

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    Quote Originally Posted by cretinbob View Post
    Never heard of this fire before. Went to Boston this weekend for a family wedding, first time we had ever been there. While driving down Commonwealth, I saw the piper practicing and really made no thought. Then on the way back up, we saw uniforms and more apparatus gathering, and I noticed the bunk coat and helmet of the memorial. Now this is Boston, walking distance to Wrigley, on a sunday when the are playing the San Francicso for the first time in 80 some years. I actually find a parking space, the only one I saw. So of course I stopped. It was a nice ceremony, and to be there on a Fathers day, as it was then, made that much more of an impact.


    Hey Pal, where were you again????

    Wrigley is in Chicago!! In Boston it is FENWAY, no one should confuse the two.

    I am guessing that you are young and new to firefighting. Any one who has been around for 5 years or longer has studied about this incident.

    I hope that you stopped and paid your respects to the fallen Brothers!
    Stay Safe and Well Out There....

    Always remembering 9-11-2001 and 343+ Brothers

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    With the Vendome fire on the 17th and Charleston on the 18th, June is a sad month for us. My thoughts go out to all of the families involved and their firefighter families. The strangest part is losing 9 of our fellow firefighters in both incidents.
    Last edited by dday05; 06-19-2007 at 08:23 PM.

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    I found the info I was trying to recall.The book is Boston on Fire by Stephanie Schorow. A very interesting read that gives a short version(pgs 185 and 186)on the Vendome fire and the collapse. T.C.

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