Rekindles: March 2004

March 2, 1904: MORRISTOWN, NJ

March 3, 1904: LAWTON, OK – More than 5,000 people joined firefighters as a raging prairie fire closed in on the town of Lawton. The fire line was two miles long in the shape of a semi-circle. As the fire line was held, hundreds of volunteers, bringing water from every possible source, chased the brands that landed on the wooden structures of the town. More than 100 separate fires sprang up only to be quelled by the tireless citizens. The able work of the firefighters and their bolstered reserves held the damage to less than $1,000. Other nearby counties were not as lucky – as many as five people perished in the waves of fire.

March 4, 1904: BROOKLYN, NY – In a cool and orderly fashion, 2,200 students of Public School 32, at Hoyt and Presidents Streets, marched through smoke as their music teacher pounded away at the piano. Despite the dense smoke from a fire, probably caused by a student’s discarded cigarette in a second-floor coatroom, the students marched through the waves of smoke under the guidance of the principal, a former military man.

March 5, 1904: PERTH AMBOY, NJ – A fire, caused by a boy stepping on an unlit match, started in the basement of a dry goods store and spread with lightning speed. Flames spread throughout the building as the firemen worked to exhaustion with their hand pumpers. A steamer was sent from Staten Island and helped to extinguish the blaze.

March 5, 1904: NEW YORK CITY – Four firemen were seriously injured and several others narrowly escaped injury as they were broadsided by a trolley car in Manhattan. The eight-ton horse-drawn hook and ladder apparatus of Ladder 7 was responding to a fire when the trolley car failed to yield the right-of-way and smashed into the fire truck. The driver of the fire truck drove the horses to the left as the tiller man swerved to avoid the collision. The trolley driver had already cut power and jumped from the front seat. Trapped firemen struggled to free each other as the fire officer ran down the fleeing trolley driver. The truck was totaled and the trolley driver was arrested.

March 7, 1904: ELMIRA, NY – An arson fire believed to have been set in the cigar store underneath the stage area of the Lyceum Theatre was quickly out of control and spreading to the nearby exposures. The flames leaped from building to building until the entire block was aflame. Several liquor stores and the Auditorium Theatre were among the first structures to burn. Mutual aid was requested from Elmira Heights and Horseheads.

March 13, 1904: ESSEXVILLE, MI – A fire that apparently began outside the building swept up and into the dormitory of the Holy Rosary Academy, trapping students and nuns inside. As the dense smoke filled the building, several children and a nun were forced to jump.

March 19, 1904: ELIZABETH, NJ – A fire that started in a barrel-making section of a refinery spread quickly. Flammable liquids spread across the Staten Island Sound and ignited causing a large-scale floating fire front. With severe water problems, firemen struggled to stop the fire’s spread. Fresh and salt water relays helped to hold the flames.

Time Capsule

Construction workers were just making their way back up the huge steel skeleton of the future Hotel Darling on 46th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues after breaking for lunch. Rivets were flying and steel was being swung into place when, at 1:30, a loud explosion- like sound was heard. Within seconds, the towering steel collapsed into the structure’s sub-cellar, bringing with it scores of workers. A dense cloud of dirt and dust filled the streets as steel rained down upon the construction site, the street and all the surrounding buildings.

Arriving firemen were faced with a tangled mountain of steel with the moans and cries of the trapped workers echoing off the neighboring structures. Frantically, the rescue work began as worker after worker was freed from his metallic tomb. Seven men were rescued from the cellars. One rescue operation required more than three hours and the breaching of two foundation walls from the cellar of an adjoining structure. Fifteen people were killed by the collapse.

Paul Hashagen, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a retired FDNY firefighter who was assigned to Rescue Company 1 in Manhattan. He is also an ex-chief of the Freeport, NY, Fire Department. Hashagen is the author of FDNY 1865-2000: Millennium Book, a history of the New York City Fire Department, and other fire service history books.