50th Anniversary: Tru-Fit Clothing Company Fire

Donald W. Heinbuch details the ceremony that took place to honor six members of the BCFD who were killed at the Tru-Fit Clothing Company fire on Feb. 16, 1955. V. B. Morris remembers the fire in his article "The Baltimore City Fire Department's Worst...


Feb. 16, 2005, started out as a sunny day with the temperature hovering just above 50 degrees. Just about noontime, a weather front blew in from the west, bringing cold rain showers and blustery winds. The Baltimore City Fire Department had planned a ceremony to honor six of its members who were...


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Feb. 16, 2005, started out as a sunny day with the temperature hovering just above 50 degrees. Just about noontime, a weather front blew in from the west, bringing cold rain showers and blustery winds. The Baltimore City Fire Department had planned a ceremony to honor six of its members who were killed at the Tru-Fit Clothing Company fire on Feb. 16, 1955. The ceremony was scheduled to begin at 6:30 P.M. and the weather was causing great concern that the ceremony would have to be relocated from the site of the tragic fire in the 500 block of East Baltimore Street to the Baltimore City Fire Museum and quarters of Box 414, six blocks to the north on Gay Street. As a decision was being made, the skies cleared, but the cold northwesterly winds remained. The decision was made to proceed with the original plan at the Baltimore Street location.

On Feb. 16, 1955, Box 12 at Baltimore and Frederick streets was sounded at 9:02 P.M. for a fire at the Tru-Fit Clothing Company at 507-509 East Baltimore St. This location was less than a block away from the quarters of Engine Company 32, Truck Company 1, Hose Company 1 and Deputy Chief 2. Confronted with a very smoky fire in a three-story commercial building, additional alarms were sounded quickly. The second alarm was transmitted at 9:06, the third alarm at 9:13, the fourth alarm at 9:33, the fifth alarm at 9:49 and the sixth alarm at 10:17. During the years that Baltimore City used a fire alarm system based on bells, street boxes and prescribed responses with box assignment cards, only six alarms would be listed for each box. If additional alarms were needed, the next-closest street box would be used and was known as "the adjacent box."

Shortly before 10:55 P.M., a collapse of the rear one-story section of the building occurred, burying many firefighters who were involved in the overhaul operation. Fire Chief Michael H. Lotz, who was also injured, ordered three additional alarms from "the adjacent box," which happened to be the "house box' of Truck Company 1 on Gay Street just south of Baltimore Street. This call summoned additional units to assist in the rescue and recovery of those who were buried and trapped in the debris.

This year's ceremony commenced at 6:30 P.M. with simulated dispatch messages that were broadcast over the department's 800 megahertz radio system and simulcast through a patch to one of the department's VHF channels as well. Those in attendance at the ceremony heard the dispatch message through the public address system at the podium. As the names of those who were lost 50 years ago were broadcast, a wave of emotion swept through the audience. The surviving family members were especially impacted, as were retired members of the department and others who were on the scene of the tragic fire 50 years ago.

Baltimore City Fire Chief William J. Goodwin Jr. offered an inspiring message to everyone, offering assurance that those who were lost will not be forgotten. He unveiled a commemorative plaque that will be placed on the wall of Baltimore's Central District Police building just opposite the site of the fire. Goodwin presented replicas of the plaque to the presidents of the fire officers' union and the firefighters' union for display at their respective headquarters, which both happen to be former Baltimore City firehouses.

Fire Commissioner Stuart Nathan concluded his remarks from the podium by saying, "We must never forget them. We will never forget them." Several speakers gave personal accounts of their experiences at the scene of the fire. Included was James Crockett, who is the current president of the Board of Fire Commissioners and one of the first African American members of the Baltimore City Fire Department. He recalled that all of the city's off-duty members reported back to work on that fateful evening and that he and others dug through the rubble to rescue or recover those buried in the collapse. Retired Captain John Harvey described his experiences surrounding the moment of the collapse and his perception of what is was like to remove the dead and injured from the debris.

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