September 1917 Fires

September 1, 1917: New York, New York: Midtown Manhattan units rolled to 210 East 23rd Street at 7:46 p.m. for a reported fire on the fourth floor of a five-story loft building. On arrival, the firefighters found an advanced fire situation involving a chemical company and a book binding firm. Led by Battalion Chief Martin Callaghy and Acting Battalion Chief Michael Martin, the members of Ladder 7 and Engine 16 moved in. As they were advancing an attack line, a 35-gallon tank of acid exploded in the rear of the occupancy. Firefighters were hurled in several directions. Several members were thrown down the stairs while others were driven toward the rear, their escape route cut off. Captain McNamara of Engine 16 and two of his men, all injured and burned by the blast, were trapped at a rear window unable to reach a fire escape. Working in the rear of the building was Firefighter Harry Gray of Hook and Ladder 12 who saw the trapped men above and sprang into action. Without assistance, he grabbed a 25-foot ladder and raised it upward. Still too short to reach the men, he lifted the wooden ladder above his head and rested the butt on his shoulders. One by one, the men climbed down from the blazing room. But for the actions of Firefighter Gray, they surely would have perished. Gray later was awarded a medal of valor. In all, eight members were burned by the explosion.

September 3, 1917: Sisson, California: A fire, believed to be of incendiary origin, destroyed the new sawmill of the Rainbow Lumber Company. The flames started during the absence of the watchman, who was at dinner at the time. The mill had been in operation for only a few days, and firefighters were able to save the recently cut lumber.

September 8, 1917: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: An explosion in the Frankfort Arsenal killed three men and injured 21 people. The blast occurred when a tray of detonators was accidently dropped; this touched off the explosion of 80,000 detonators that were recently completed and stored nearby. The explosion ignited a fire that destroyed three adjacent structures.

September 12, 1917: Great Neck, New York: A fire was discovered in the home of George Kennahan, a local newspaper editor. Both Mr. and Mrs. Kennahan were not home at the time. Members of the Vigilants of Great Neck and the Manhasset-Lakeville Fire Departments responded to the fire at the intersection of Park Avenue and 10th Street. After a difficult battle, they halted the flames, but not before the entire first floor, including the billiard room, was destroyed.

September 12, 1917: Butler, Ohio: Residents and merchants were faced with the devastating effects of a fire that tore through the downtown area. Damages to business and residential properties were estimated at $50,000. Destroyed were hardware and general stores, a dentist office, a meat market, a restaurant, the telephone building, and numerous other buildings.

September 13, 1917: Baltimore, Maryland: Shortly after noon, Box 62 was sounded and Steam Engine 26 responded with Acting Hostler John A. Lang at the reins. As the huge apparatus was turning the corner of Leadenhall and Cross Streets, Lang saw a group of children playing in the street ahead. Turning the horses sharply into the curb, the pumper struck the curb, throwing the driver to the sidewalk. On the back step of the racing engine, Assistant Engineman Timothy V. Welsh saw the driver’s ejection and sprang into action, climbing over the suction hoses and out onto the poles between the horses to gain control of the fallen reins. Despite the extreme danger involved, he was able to reach down and lift the reins into position and halt the racing horse team. Amazingly, the children were unhurt and both men were commended for their gallant conduct.

September 27, 1917: Wrightstown, New Jersey: With the nation at war, fire sentries were doubled at Fort Dix after a fire swept the barracks building of Company F of the 310th Infantry. The Camp Dix Fire Department, using three powerful motor pumps, was on scene and operating within four minutes of the alarm. They were closely followed by three companies of trained firefighters of the 15th New York Infantry and together were able to contain the fire to the barracks and a bathhouse with slight extension to the adjoining barracks. The 200 soldiers displaced by the fire were given temporary quarters.

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Volume 12, Issue 10
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