Rekindles: June 1998

If there was a significant fire or emergency that occurred 100 years ago in your department, or your department's 100th anniversary is coming up, please drop us a line for possible inclusion in "Rekindles" in an upcoming issue.

JUNE 2, 1898, was a busy day for firefighters across the country with major blazes in:

  • NYACK, NY - The Prospect House, a hotel built in 1876, caught fire and burned to the ground. The cause of the fire was under investigation.
  • LINCOLN, NE - Fire destroyed the Worthington Academy. This was the state's Episcopal college and losses were $65,000.
  • BOSTON - The building in the Grove Hall District that once housed Doctor Cullis' Home for Consumptives was destroyed by fire.
  • WHITE PLAINS, NY - Flames jumped from one barn to another until six barns on Orawaupum Street were blazing.
  • HOWARTH, NJ - The wood-frame schoolhouse/church building caught fire and was left as smoldering ruins.

JUNE 5, 1898: PHILADELPHIA - A wholesale druggist and dealer in fancy articles suffered a large fire in his structure on Chestnut Street. Firefighters held the flames to the original building but smoke and water slightly damaged goods in an art dealership next door.

JUNE 5, 1898: LEBANON, PA - The ground trembled and buildings shook for miles around when an explosion occurred in the Colebrook Furnace No. 1. The explosion resulted when molten iron ate through the bottom of the furnace and hit the canal water below. Several men working at the plant were injured and calls went out immediately for the fire department. Fifty tons of molten iron and cinders were thrown all over the plant, setting numerous fires. Firemen were able to contain the blaze and tend to the injured.

JUNE 8, 1898: PLAINFIELD, NJ - A major fire swept though the factory building on the corner of East Fourth and Washington streets. Fireman Frederick Barker was praised for saving the company's books from the blazing structure.

JUNE 8, 1898: ITTABANA, MS - A fire of near conflagration proportions raced through the business portion of town. Firefighters faced flames leaping from building to building and were only able to save two structures as the smoke finally cleared.

JUNE 10, 1898: SPRINGFIELD, MA - Flames erupted at about 1 A.M. in the Orange Furniture Co. and spread throughout the structure. Firemen also faced extending fire and radiant heat affecting a turbine plant and sewing machine company.

JUNE 11, 1898: DETROIT - An early-morning fire destroyed the Case Power Building on Congress Street. The entire contents of the building and some of the finest business structures in the city were damaged. The fire started in a fourth-floor drying room and extended rapidly. Firemen were able to stop the flames' advance across a small alley and extinguished a fire as it started in a nearby church spire. Buildings surrounding the fire all suffered damage as the firemen beat back the waves of heat. Six firemen were severely burned and cut by glass.

JUNE 13, 1898: PHILADELPHIA - The extensive plant of the Philadelphia Oil Refining Co. was visited by flames during the night. The entire plant was threatened but due to the efforts of nearly the entire fire department and the plant's workers the flames were held in check. Five alarms were transmitted, bringing 22 companies and four police and fire boats to the scene. Flames ignited barges filled with paraffin and oils and other flammables. Firemen prevented the wall of fire from spreading to other barges nearby and eventually brought the fire under control.

JUNE 14, 1898: NEW YORK CITY - A collision between Hook and Ladder 13 and a large express wagon occurred on the corner of Third Avenue and Eighty-seventh Street in Manhattan. When the dust cleared, all the firemen picked themselves up unharmed but one of the fire horses was severely injured. After a close examination, Battalion Chief Joseph Shaw asked a police officer to shoot the horse, which was painfully writhing and kicking in the street. The firemen then reverently removed the harness from the horse and quietly returned to their quarters.

JUNE 16, 1898: BROOKLYN, NY - Firemen raced to a building fire on Summit Street and the East River. Four alarms were transmitted, bringing 12 engines, two water towers, six hook and ladders, and two fire boats to the scene. During the blaze, a large iron pulley fell from its overhead perch and landed on two firemen, injuring them seriously.

JUNE 20, 1898: TRACEY, CA - A fire caused by the explosion of a gasoline stove caused the destruction of the entire business portion of the town. Three blocks of closely connected buildings burned one after the other as firemen frantically tried to get ahead of the wind-fed flames.

JUNE 20, 1898: JERSEY CITY, NJ - While responding to a false alarm, Battalion Chief John Hogan and his driver, Fireman Dash, were injured when the car careened into an iron water main near a canal.

CENTENNIAL CELEBRATION: A fire in Bergman's Bakery on Rockaway Avenue caused the 800 residents of Valley Stream, NY, to set out to create a volunteer firefighting brigade. The first company in what would become the Valley Stream Fire Department was organized on June 24, 1898.



In 1921, the Cleveland Clinic opened to provide both quality medical care and to provide for medical research with laboratories and a statistical records base. Four prominent doctors helped to fund the center and pioneered important surgical techniques and procedures while working there.

At about 11:30 A.M. on May 15, 1929, an explosion in the basement X-ray room rocked the four-story building. Something, possibly a carelessly discarded cigarette or an overheated steam pipe, caused stacks of X-ray plates to begin smoldering. The nitrate celluloid film gave off nitrogen dioxide gas. The room's fire door failed to close and poisonous fumes began to pump out. The lethal clouds of smoke worked their way up throughout the clinic, pouring out through ventilator shafts and up stairways. The films exploded and burst into flames. Within moments, a second explosion and fire rolled out of the storage room and worked its way down the hall toward the stairs.

People inside were quickly being overcome by the smoke. Even people outside, pressing close to the building trying to help those trapped within, were soon overcome by the deadly gases. The fire department arrived quickly but firemen were repeatedly driven back as they attempted to enter the front doors.

Three alarms were sounded as ladders were raised, and life nets were opened below the people at windows calling for help. Two firemen did manage to make entry through a roof skylight using a rope and together with other firemen working through hatch covers pulled 15 people up to safety.

The area around the clinic was soon filled with the dead, the dying and those affected by the smoke. Some of the victims did not feel the effects of the poisonous smoke until hours or even days later. The fire killed 125 people and several firemen were hospitalized as a result of the toxic smoke. Nitrate celluloid would no longer be used for X-ray films; acetate film would become a safe substitute.

Paul Hashagen

Compiled by Paul Hashagen