100 Years Ago

Sept. 2, 2009
CHICAGO, IL: July 1, 1909 — Two explosions tore through the rooms of the American Film Service Co. on the third floor of the Security Building. The blast triggered a serious fire that injured three firemen and killed a night watchman.

CHICAGO, IL: July 1, 1909 — Two explosions tore through the rooms of the American Film Service Co. on the third floor of the Security Building. The blast triggered a serious fire that injured three firemen and killed a night watchman.

COBALT, ONTARIO: July 2, 1909 — A fire began at 4 A.M. in a Chinese restaurant on Paileybury Road and extended to several nearby buildings, then quickly spread throughout this mining town. Both sides of the road for nearly a half-mile were in flames. One man was killed and six were injured by a dynamite blast that was set in hopes of stopping the fire. The blaze left more than 3,000 people homeless and did $500,000 in damage.

LAKE PLACID, NY: July 2, 1909 — The second hotel fire in two weeks struck this resort community when the Hotel Ruisseaumont was badly damaged by flames. A hotel employee escaped the flames only to return to his room in an attempt to retrieve his watch. This lapse of judgment cost him his life. Arriving at the scene, Chief G.B. Merriam saw a woman appear at an upper-floor window, calling for help. Despite horrific conditions, she was rescued, thanks to the teamwork of firemen and guests.

SOUTH BOSTON, VA: July 5, 1909 — A house fire took the life of a 74-year-old Confederate Civil War veteran and five children. The quick-moving fire raced through the home during the early-morning hours, catching all the occupants asleep. One child was thrown from an upper-floor window to escape the flames, but he died from his injuries. The homeowner, his wife and one child did manage to make their way to safety.

OSSINING, NY: July 5, 1909 — A fire believed to have been ignited by improperly discharged fireworks destroyed nearly an entire block of commercial buildings. The flames broke out at 1 P.M. and were not brought under control for five hours. Fueled by varnish and oils, the fire gained major headway and trapped an elderly couple above the flames. Responding firemen, faced with the advanced fire conditions, rescued the couple in the nick of time. The village fire engine was called out for the first time and provided good service.

GLOUCESTER, MA: July 6, 1909 — Sailors from the USS Maine (a battleship commissioned in 1901 to replace the original sunk by an explosion in 1898 that precipitated the Spanish-American War) provided invaluable help to local firemen when a fire was discovered in a large furniture store. Sparks from a bonfire apparently ignited the blaze that soon engulfed an entire block. The contingent of 200 sailors, on shore leave, reported in to the fire chief and went to work helping to save and salvage property threatened by the expanding fire.

PROVIDENCE, RI: July 10, 1909 — Just after midnight, firemen faced a dangerous and spectacular fire in the Texas Oil Co.'s barge Harrison. The barge, filled with 135,000 gallons of oil, was burning furiously and the fire had extended to the wharf and several nearby buildings as the first-due companies arrived. The barge broke up and began to drift from the dock, spewing flaming oil across the harbor. To make matters worse, the flaming vessel was heading directly into the shipping lane where a number of schooners and barges were filled with lumber and coal. A quick meeting of the fire commissioners, the acting mayor and the harbor master sent a fleet of tugboats to battle the flames. The fire was slowly brought under as the tide changed and the blazing oil burned off.

WANTAGH, NY: July 10, 1909 — The lumberyards of the Young Brothers were the site of a serious fire that required mutual aid from the neighboring towns of Bellmore, Amity and Freeport before the flames could be brought under control. Flames jumped the Long Island Rail Road tracks and for a time threatened a number of homes. Train service was suspended as the fire damaged signal wires and other railroad gear.

PATERSON, NJ: July 11, 1909 — The entire fire department rolled to the site of a huge blaze on River Street in the commercial district. Help from Passaic and Lakeville was requested, as the fire spread to a number of homes. A fire in a dry good store on Main Street was reported at the same time and one Paterson engine was sent to the scene. A third fire in a freight car near Cedar Street was extinguished by civilians using a bucket brigade.

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.

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