Rekindles: March 1997

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.

March 3, 1897: PHILADELPHIA A major fire raced through the power house of the Union Traction Co. at 13th and Mount Vernon. A crane was being moved inside the structure when a chain struck a generator, setting off a violent explosion and fire. Two men were run over and killed by responding fire engines.

March 4, 1897: SYRACUSE, NY A strong wind pushed flames through the Barnes bicycle factory on East Water Street. Three alarms were transmitted, bringing the entire department to the scene. The fire both jumped the street and extended to the adjoining structures before the fire was brought under control.

March 4, 1897: BOSTON A gas main explosion in an excavation site at Tremont and Boylston streets killed eight people and injured 50. Two leaking six-inch mains ignited violently and exploded as a streetcar filled with people passed. Flames quickly spread to streetcars and stores already wrecked by the blast. Within moments, the streets were filled with broken glass, injured people and dense smoke. A large crowd pressed in on firemen and only by falsely reporting that a second blast was about to occur was the throng moved back.

March 4, 1897: WORCESTER, MA Fire devastated the Goulding Block on Main Street. Fire moved from building to building until the entire business area was threatened. Mutual aid units responded from Boston, Springfield, Fitchburg and Leicester before being brought under control. Three firemen were seriously injured.

March 6, 1897: INDIANAPOLIS One of the oldest playhouses in the nation, the Park Theatre, was destroyed by fire. Two chemical engines responding to the alarm collided, killing one fire horse.

March 6, 1897: GREENFIELD, MA Young boys were blamed with an arson fire that caused 75 pounds of explosives in a powder house. Two men shoveled snow frantically on the flames to prevent the detonation of 500 additional pounds of powder.

March 9, 1897: BROOKLYN, NY Four people died as the result of a tenement house fire on the corner of Canton Street and Auburn Place. One woman jumped from the fourth floor and another dropped her baby and jumped after it; all were killed. A young boy was credited with rescuing another infant from sure death. The boy dashed through smoke and flames with the baby in his arms. He received burns to his face and hands.

March 11, 1897: BUFFALO, NY Gale-force winds drove fire through the old Chicago House at Washington and Exchange streets. Three residents were killed by the flames. Firemen battled large crowds, strong winds and heavy fire to rescue many trapped people.

March 14, 1897: ST. LOUIS Flames spread from the fourth floor of a dry goods company building on Eighth Street and Washington Avenue and the structure soon was fully involved. Firemen were battling the blaze when the east wall collapsed. One fireman was killed immediately and another was critically injured by the falling bricks. A third fireman was thrown from the water tower across the street and through a plate glass window.

March 20, 1897: SALEM, CT The old Seminary of Music Vale was destroyed by a fire caused by a defective flue. The school, started in 1839, developed musical talent before music conservatories were founded. Fire destroyed the original buildings in the 1860s.

March 28, 1897: SPANGLER, PA A fire that started in a smokehouse destroyed the post office, a hardware store, a stable, one home and some outbuildings. Firefighters were hampered because of a fear that powder stored in one of the buildings might explode.

CENTENNIAL CELEBRATIONS: The Westbury, NY, Fire Department marks its 100th year of service on March 22, 1997. Founded as Westbury Hook & Ladder Company 1 a century ago with 17 members, the department purchased a horse-drawn fire wagon for $250 and equipped it with a 35-foot extension ladder, a hand pump, 24 buckets and 150 feet of hose. The department was not supported by taxes, so a fee of $5 was charged to put out each fire … Marlboro, NY, Hose Company 1 celebrates its 100th anniversary in 1997 … The Quincy, FL, Fire Department marked its centennial on Jan. 12,1997.



A most unusual fire situation occurred during New York City's St. Patrick's Day Parade in 1899. Along the parade route on Fifth Avenue between 46th and 47th streets stood the seven-story Windsor Hotel. Two hundred seventy-five guests were registered but many other people had taken positions at windows overlooking the parade.

A burning match set ablaze lace curtains in the front parlor on the second floor. Flames soon filled the parlor floor, raced down the open corridors and roared up the open stairs, fueled by the elaborate decorations and furnishings. Fire then burst through the windows on the Fifth Avenue side of the building. The parade halted. The music stopped. The crowd stood in muted silence as people began appearing at the hotel windows.

Ladder 7 arrived and Fireman William Clark, not waiting for the aerial to be put in position, raised a 35-foot portable ladder. From atop this, he built a chain of scaling ladders to a fifth-floor window to reach two women. Fireman Edward Ford of Ladder 20 climbed the chain of scaling ladders made by Clark, crossed over the sills and entered the adjoining window. Inside, engulfed in dense, hot smoke, Ford found a woman on the floor entangled in a rope she had tried to use to exit the fire building. Ford lifted the woman outside the window so she could breathe, then called for help. Clark returned to the top of the scaling ladder and managed to swing himself across to the next window. He entered the smoky room and together they were able to free the woman.

They now had to move her across the face of the building five stories above the street to the ladder. Clark swung back across the building, then, standing on the ledge, stretched toward Ford and the victim. Ford, holding her in his arms, leaned far out the window. The crowd gasped as the woman was passed between the firemen. At one point, she was completely suspended between the men. In this dramatic fashion she was taken to safety.

Paul Hashagen

Compiled by Paul Hashagen