Rekindles: November 1996

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. Nov. 3, 1896...

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November 1872: Sickness Fells Boston's Fire Horses

In November 1872, the Boston Fire Department was enduring a severe bout with equine influenza. Many of the 93 horses the department relied on to transport its 21 engines, 10 hose wagons and two hook-and-ladders were too sick and weak to answer the alarm bells.

On Saturday evening, Nov. 9, fire alarms were transmitted for a blaze in a six-story building in the commercial section of the city. Radiant heat soon spread the fire to nearby structures and arriving firemen could do little to slow its progress due to poor water supply. (Chief Damrell had complained about the lack of water in the area but the city government failed to take any action.) With conditions deteriorating rapidly, Damrell sent out a call for mutual aid. Thirty departments from five states would respond.

For 18 hours, firemen battled the raging fire. The narrow streets became like blowtorches as flames leaped from building to building. As more firemen arrived, they were placed along three fronts and a stand was made, using 42 steam engines. By early Sunday afternoon, the fire was under control but despite the heroic efforts of many firefighters 13 people were dead nine of them were firemen. One square mile of the city was burned out and 776 buildings were destroyed. Losses totaled $75 million.

As a result of the fire, the department was reorganized under a Board of Commissioners. Companies in high-value sections of the city were manned with full-time paid firemen. New companies were organized and a fireboat went into service. Fire prevention efforts, building regulations and the water distribution system were improved.

Paul Hashagen

Flashback 1976

Jan. 4, 1976: WILDWOOD, NJ A fire that was apparently set by an arsonist did more than $1 million in damage to seven boardwalk stores.

Jan. 7, 1976: NEW YORK One firefighter was killed and another injured when the floor of a supermarket collapsed during a fire. This was the first of nine line-of-duty deaths suffered by the FDNY in 1976.

Feb. 2, 1976: BOSTON More than 300 firemen fought a general-alarm blaze in the Jamaica Plain section of the city. The loss was put at more than $1 million. Five firemen were injured.

Feb. 7, 1976: NEW YORK The first provisions of the city's new fire code for high-rise office buildings were scheduled to take effect. Local Law 5 was designed to remove the principal cause of fire deaths but an injunction was immediately brought against the city to stop the law, contending it was unfair and that the city itself was the biggest violator of the law. Eventually, the law was enacted.

March 31, 1976: NEPAL A fire destroyed $6 million in property and left at least 2,000 people homeless.

April 2, 1976: ST. LOUIS A fire that apparently started in an abandoned warehouse destroyed the surrounding buildings, then spread to two others. Secondary fires broke out on rooftops as far as a mile away as a result of high winds.

April 2, 1976: WORCESTER, MA A four-alarm arson fire took the lives of five people and injured five others.

May 3, 1976: BOSTON Boston Herald-American photographer Stanley Forman won a Pulitzer Prize for "Spot News Photography" for a sequence of pictures of a fire, including photos showing the five-story fall of a woman and her niece as a fire escape collapsed.

May 6, 1976: CLEVELAND Twenty-nine frame dwellings were ravaged by fire as firefighters battled flames and 40 mph winds. No injuries were reported.

June 16, 1976: CULVER CITY, CA At least one person was killed and 14 injured by an explosion and fire at a construction site after an underground fuel line was ruptured by a tractor. A block of buildings nearby was set ablaze by burning tar and debris from the blast.

June 16, 1976: VAN NUYS, CA Fifty people were treated as a result of a fire in a pool chemical supply store. Toxic chlorine fumes spread over a wide area.

July 1976: CHICAGO Two separate arson fires set two weeks apart took the lives of 13 people.