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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Staff Chief John R. Frazier Jr. offered his remarks from the perspective of the son of a chief officer who was called to fight the fire. Chief John R. Frazier Sr. had responded as an acting battalion chief. At this year's ceremony, Frazier presented bricks that he had recovered from the debris to Goodwin, the presidents of the unions and the president of The Box 414 Association for its museum.

Surviving members of the fire from the BCFD and others who were on scene provided many stories associated with the events at time of the collapse. Firefighters sliding down wooden truss ladders, some clinging to parts of the building, descriptions of how it feels to fall several floors, and vivid recollections of the aftermath in terms of facial expressions and statements made by those who "just got out in time" are very representative.

One compelling recollection was of Captain Martin C. McMahon, head of the ambulance service, administering morphine to a trapped lieutenant amid the debris and rubble. McMahon, who subsequently retired as an acting deputy chief, and who was known as the father of Baltimore's EMS and a pioneer in the integration of what is now known as CPR into the fire and EMS service, unfortunately died the week preceding the ceremony.

At the conclusion of the ceremony on Baltimore Street, many of those in attendance marched behind the Baltimore City Fire Department's Color Guard and the Bagpipe Band from the Baltimore County Fire Department to the Baltimore City Fire Department's Memorial Statue at Gay and Lexington streets. This short impromptu parade of two blocks filed past apparatus and firefighters who were positioned along the curbs of Gay Street. Included was a floodlight wagon from the Fire Museum of Maryland that had responded to the fire. A memorial wreath was placed next to the statue by the Baltimore City Fire Department's Emerald Society.

The evening concluded with a reception at quarters of old Engine 6, now the quarters of The Box 414 Association. The association's museum featured helmets of those lost at Tru-Fit and other related memorabilia.

Six members lost at the fire at The Tru-Fit Clothing Company fire was the greatest loss sustained in the modern era of the Baltimore City Fire Department. More than 20 were injured and required hospitalization. Thirty-five engine companies, 10 truck companies, four hose companies, one water tower company, seven battalion chiefs, two deputy chiefs and more than 20 other specialized apparatus/vehicles responded. The investigation of the fire has never been officially closed. The file is still open.