February 1917 Fires

June 12, 1924: Five alarms were transmitted for a fire that began in the basement of a wood turnings factory at 814 East 5th Street in Manhattan. The fire spread to two other buildings including a feather and down factory. (Photo courtesy of the Paul Hashagen collection.)
June 12, 1924: Five alarms were transmitted for a fire that began in the basement of a wood turnings factory at 814 East 5th Street in Manhattan. The fire spread to two other buildings including a feather and down factory. (Photo courtesy of the Paul Hashagen collection.)

February 2, 1917: Chicago, Illinois: More than 30 people were buried when two three-story buildings collapsed as the result of a gas explosion at 811 West 14th Street. The fire department arrived and began to battle the fire within the shattered ruins of the building. The explosion had such force that pieces of glass were imbedded in homes more than a block away. One hundred men worked overnight within the smoldering, ice-covered ruins digging for survivors. In all, 10 people were killed and more than 13 were injured.

February 3, 1917: Union Hill, New Jersey: Members of the volunteer fire department were seriously injured while battling a fire in a condemned building. The structure, the International Pipe Cleaner Company at Francis Street and Hudson Avenue, had been condemned two weeks earlier. While battling the fire, members were crushed beneath a collapsed wall. Two members, Firefighters Ferdinand Fielder and Gustave Messner, both lawyers, suffered severe burns and other internal injuries. It was feared they were mortally injured.

February 10, 1917: Boston, Massachusetts: Flames broke out in the 10-story Hotel Lenox at Exeter and Boyleston Streets in the Back Bay district. The fire was discovered at 5:10 p.m. on the second floor. The fire department, under the command of Chief Peter McDonough, went to work rescuing those trapped and extinguishing the spreading flames. The fire shot up the elevator shaft from the third to tenth floors. Despite a temperature of 10°F and a 50 mile-per-hour gale force wind, ladder and aerial trucks made numerous rescues on the upper floors. Many women and children were carried down ladders to safety. All but one of the hotel’s 250 guests escaped.

February 12, 1917: Minneapolis, Minnesota: Thirteen lives were lost during an early morning fire in the Kenwood Hotel. Sixty-eight guests were asleep in the hotel when a gasoline explosion in the basement ignited the fire. Spectators piled boxes against the wall to build a makeshift fire escape. When the first fire apparatus arrived without ladders, infuriated spectators attacked the firefighters. The captain of Engine 4 suffered a serious head injury but continued working. As the other units arrived, a life net was used to catch a number of people trapped on the upper floors.

February 13, 1917: Hoboken, New Jersey: The Holland-America liner Noordam, being held at her pier because of German submarine risks, suffered a fire in coal stores in the below deck hold. The ship, which was ready to sail to Rotterdam with 8,500 tons of grain, had been sitting for 12 days at the company’s pier at the foot of Sixth Street. When the fire was discovered, crew members attempted to extinguish the smoky fire. When none of the crew returned, would-be rescuers were lowered one by one into the hold, only to be pulled back up unconscious. The Hoboken Fire Department responded and members of Engine 1, wearing smoke helmets, entered the hold and rescued the remaining unconscious crew. One of the six crew members died because of the fumes. The fire was so deep-seated that it was necessary to flood the hold to extinguish the flames.

February 15, 1917: Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania: For the third time in 15 years, and for the second time in one week, the business section of this community was swept by flames. The first two fires were incendiary in origin, and the latest fire was also believed to be intentional. Two brick buildings on Main Street, a department store with a lodge above, were destroyed. The town had recently purchased a chemical engine but it was not yet in service. With no modern equipment available, the firefighters rolled out their old hand pumper and went to work. The flames were soon out of control and help was requested. A motor fire engine from Corning was sent but became stalled in deep snowdrifts.

February 18, 1917: Baltimore, Maryland: A fire of indeterminate origin threatened the records of the British Consulate inside the Macht Building. The mysterious, early morning fire featured an explosion that blew out the plate glass windows of a first-floor tailor shop. Rumors of sabotage ran rampant. Fire officials believed a backdraft was the cause of the blast. Firefighters braved the thick smoke and battled the stubborn flames, stopping the spread before it could reach the third-floor consulate. Secret Service agents then swarmed the building, investigating the cause of the fire.

February 21, 1917: New Britain, Connecticut: Nine fires, which police labeled as incendiary, terrified this community overnight. The fire department made quick work of each of the fires, but nerves were on edge. Thousands of foreigners work in the city’s various munitions plants. As word spread of the fires, these people became excited. The first fire was started in a cellar of a house where a dozen Swedish families lived. As fire after fire was discovered in different parts of the city, help was summoned from nearby fire departments. Waterbury sent a ladder and a hose company. Hartford, Bristol, and Plainsville also sent companies. The state militia was called out to restore order. This was on the heels of several munitions plant explosions the previous several weeks.

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April 2017
Volume 12, Issue 4