Tuesday, January 24, 2017


On April 12, 1927, a spectacular fire engulfed scaffolds wrapping arround the Sherry-Netherland Hotel in Manhattan.

A dispatch in the next day's  Portsmouth Herald of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, said:

"Like a huge torch that could be seen for many miles, the superstructure between the 30th and 38th floors of 559-foot Sherry Netherlands Tower, under construction at 59th St. and 5th Ave., burst into flames last night.

"The fire was in wooden scaffolding atop the completed 20 stories of the structue. Firemen were handicapped in reaching the blaze, as the equipment was found inadequate for sending any quantity of water to that height."

An excerpt from the book "One Summer in America, 1927" provides a detailed account:

"On a warm spring evening just before Easter 1927, people who lived in tall buildings in New York were given pause when wooden scaffolding around the tower of the brand-new Sherry-Netherland Apartment Hotel caught fire and it became evident that the city’s firemen lacked
any means to get water to such a height.

"Crowds flocked to Fifth Avenue to watch the blaze, the biggest the city had seen in years.

"At thirty-eight stories, the Sherry-Netherland was the tallest residential building ever erected, and the scaffolding – put there to facilitate the final stages of construction – covered the top fifteen stories, providing enough wood to make a giant blaze around its summit.

"From a distance, the building looked rather like a just-struck match.

"The flames were visible twenty miles away.

"Up close, the scene was much more dramatic.

 "Sections of burning scaffolding up to fifty feet long fell from a height of five hundred feet and crashed in clattering showers of sparks in the streets below, to the gleeful cries of the spectators and the peril of toiling firemen.

"Burning embers dropped onto the roofs of neighboring buildings, setting four of them alight."

"Firemen trained their hoses on the Sherry-Netherland building, but it was a token gesture since their streams could not rise above the third or fourth story.

"Fortunately, because the building was unfinished it was unoccupied.

"People in 1920s America were unusually drawn to spectacle and by 10 pm the crowd had grown to an estimated hundred thousand people – an enormous gathering for a spontaneous event.

"Seven hundred policemen had to be brought in to keep order.

 "Some wealthy observers, deflected from their evening revels, took rooms in the Plaza Hotel across the street and held impromptu “fire room parties,” according to the New York Times.

"Mayor Jimmy Walker turned up to have a look and got soaked when he wandered into the path of a hose.

"A moment later a flaming ten-foot-long plank crashed onto the pavement near him and he accepted advice to withdraw.

"The fire did extensive damage to the upper reaches of the building, but luckily did not spread downwards and burned itself out about midnight.

"The flames and smoke provided some welcome diversion to two men, Clarence Chamberlin and Bert Acosta, who had been flying in circles in a small plane above Roosevelt Field on Long Island since 9:30 that morning.

"They were doing so in an attempt to break the world endurance record set two years earlier by two French aviators."

Friday, January 20, 2017


Fire in an abandoned factory at the corner of Knickerbocker and Bleecker in Brooklyn destroyed four blocks and 45 homes during the New York City blackout on July 13, 1977.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

DUBUQUE - 1946

On June 9, 1946, fire broke out in the Canfield Hotel in Dubuque, Iowa, killing 19 people and destroying the original four-story building built in 1891; a six-story brick section added 35 years later survived.

The fire broke out in a closet near the cocktail lounge on the ground floor.

Like many hotels of the era, the 200-room Canfield Hotel was serviced by an open stairwell. There were no sprinklers. Other fire precautions, if any, were most likely antiquated.

Hotels of that era were plagued by a lack of capital improvement owing to the Great Depression and shortages of building material during World War Two.

1946 was an especially deadly year. Two weeks before the Canfield blaze, on June 5, 1946, a fire at the LaSalle Hotel in Chicago killed 61 people. On Dec. 7, 1946, a fire at the Winecoff Hotel in Atlanta killed 119 people.

Presentation by Senior Captain Harold Cosgrove
Dubuque Fire Department at 23rd Annual Iowa Fire School

First of all, Gentlemen, I am not an authority on fighting hotel fires, or any other kind for that matter. I just happen to be another fireman who was on duty when we pulled into a bad one

I think most every fireman dreads a call to an un-sprinkled hotel or institution at night where a life hazard exists.

The Dubuque firemen are not bragging about the Canfield fire. It was not a perfect job on our part. None of them are, and like the Monday morning quarterback, the next day we could have done better. Any time a community has a fire that takes the lives of 19 persons, and a property loss of $200,000 there isn't much to feel proud of, but comparing the Canfield to the LaSalle or the Wynecoff, ours was a small job.

Bob asked me to describe how it looked as we pulled in and what we did about it. I won't go into detail as to the construction of the building other than to say it was built in 2 sections, a brick wood joisted old part, four stories high, with lobby and tap room on the first floor, and guests rooms above, and so-called fire proof annex, six stories in height. Fire doors protected the annex floors where the corridors joined.

Due to the pending lawsuits, I will not attempt to give the cause of the fire, but it must have been a "flash" as a woman patron of the tap room died five feet from the stool on which she had been sitting. We received a simultaneous alarm at 12:39 a. m. from a street box on the corner opposite the hotel, and also telephone alarm from the hotel night clerk. Seventeen men responded to the first alarm, with 3 pumpers and an aerial truck. We smelled smoke when about 2 blocks from the hotel. As we turned the corner it was a sight we won't forget for a while. Flames were belching from the entire first floor of the old section, and had enveloped the only outside fire escape on the old section. The base of this escape terminated at the tap room entrance.

After sounding a third alarm I started to circle the building. A man was hanging at arm's length from a third floor window. He dropped with a thud. People were shouting and screaming as smoke poured from over their heads in most of the windows. I knew we had a "race with death." After ordering the officer of an engine company that was stretching in to abandon his line and get the net off the truck, we called for citizens to help man it. About ten responded. Before we could raise it shoulder high, a woman jumped from the third floor. We caught about five or six when they had the aerial ladder raised and were going up after them.

It was then that we experienced the only trouble we had with our civilian help. I ordered the net brought to the front of the building. They shouted, "Let's get these down first." I said, "There's a lot more on the other side." They came along and we caught six more there. One woman kicked off her slippers before she jumped and then turned a double somersault on the way down.

The only stream kept in operation was used to wet down the fire escape which people were trying to use and couldn't , due to the flames. One man was dying on the second floor landing off the escape, and another was trapped on the third floor. This man jumped into the net. As fast as they jumped we would dump them onto the ground and raise it for another. Sometimes we had to move the net to catch the falling body as much as five feet.

The flames were now racing through the building and as we took the net to the south side the picture was worse. A grandmother with her grandchild stood inside the third floor window, holding the child on the window sill. I begged her to push the child out and then jump. She slumped to the floor pulling the child into the room. Both died. A man and his wife were sitting on a window sill on the fourth floor with a suitcase between them. He pushed his wife off then threw the suitcase into the net, jumped onto it and broke his back. Seven net holders were injured by luggage being thrown down by victims. One man received a lacerated face by being kicked as a person rebounded after striking the net.

The most firemen helping to hold the net at any one time was five, and on account of telephone wires, it was hard to judge where to stand. We were also afraid more than one would try to come down at the same time. A woman struck her neck on the rim of the net and died. It put a bow in the iron frame. It was getting hard to see the victims by now in the upper windows, due to the smoke from below, and it was hard for them to see us.

The hardest net catches were those from the fifth and sixth floors. The impact was terrific it they failed to strike near the center. One man we caught from the sixth floor told us that the net looked as big as a silver dollar, but felt like a feather bed. I believe this was a slight exaggeration , as he received a broken leg and fractured pelvis. Most of those who jumped from above the fourth floor suffered some injuries but all seemed glad to be down regardless of bumps. They landed in al positions. Some stiff legged, on backs of necks, on hands and knees, and about every way possible.

The net rescues took about ten minutes and only one net was employed. That's all we had with us. Twenty-seven were caught, 26 lived and the woman who struck the rim died. Twenty-one persons were rescued by ladders of various lengths. This took about 40 minutes although anyone not rescued from the old section in 15 minutes died, because the roof fell in about that soon after we arrived. One man rescued by ladder died from burns. It was 15 minutes before we made any effort to extinguishment. We had to use all manpower for rescue work. Chief Kirch and Senior captain Thomas Hickson directed extinguishment operations after they arrived, using deck pipes and other major stream equipment. Nine pieces of apparatus and 57 firemen worked at the fire.

As department drillmaster, I can appreciate the grumbling of the men because they have to keep doing evolutions over and over, but repetition pays dividends because the men will do that evolution automatically when they have to on the fire scene.

As I see "Bob" has the stop watch on me. I will just say one more word: "Let's not forget," it can happen in your town.


Dubuque, Ia. -- (U.P.) -- STANLEY E. SCHIBSKY, Minneapolis, wrote the management of the Canfield hotel two weeks ago for a reservation and asked for a second-floor room because he feared being trapped in a fire. He wrote that he had been in hotel fires before, and that he believed a room on the second floor was safer. Accordingly, he was given a second-floor room, and was occupying it when the Canfield hotel fire broke out. He died in the flames. [Waterloo Daily Courier, Waterloo, Iowa; June 10, 1946]

Tuesday, November 15, 2016


In 1931, members of the Detroit Fire Department served soup to the needy during the Great Depression from fire stations across the city, starting with Engine Co. 1.


Dr. Harry Archer was born to a prominent New York family. He attended Columbia University and received an M.D. degree from Bellevue Medical College in 1894. Since his childhood he loved the FDNY, not unlike many youngsters in the City. But after becoming a physician, Dr. Archer dedicated himself to New York's Bravest.

Perhaps to the disappointment of his family, rather than becoming a private physician to New York's high society, he accepted a salaried position with Aetna Life Affiliated Companies with the proviso that he could, and would, leave his office to attend greater alarm fires.

On March 7, 1907, Dr. Archer was appointed to the Department with the rank of honorary Battalion Chief and was designated a Medical Officer. Though never receiving compensation for his medical services to the FDNY, there is no doubt that this was his full-time job.

Whether by horse, bicycle, his Locomobile outfitted with bell and Maltese cross, or by "bus" - the 1914 FDNY Ambulance he designed - Dr. Archer's appearance at second and greater alarms was a matter of routine. But once at the scene, he was not satisfied with merely tending to the wounds, major or minor, of the firefighters.

On multiple occasions, Dr. Archer entered burning or collapsed buildings to treat firefighters and civilians alike. At the Equitable Building fire in 1912, he made his way into the basement vaults of the building to administer aid to trapped firemen. For this action, he received his first medal of valor.

He was cited a total of four times during his career including the Department's highest award, the James Gordon Bennett Medal, for his participation in the rescue of two workmen trapped in a building collapse at 39 to 41 Eldridge Street in Manhattan. Dr. Archer himself became trapped briefly when a second collapse shook the building as he was making his exit.

Twenty-four years later, at the age of 78, Dr. Archer was still at it, this time crawling through the rubble and debris to spend over ten hours on a freezing New Year's Eve to try to keep two firefighters, Battalion Chief William Hogan and Fireman Winfield Walsh, alive. They were trapped in the collapse of a loft building at 749 Broadway. Dr. Archer administered plasma to them, perhaps the first time this was done outside of a hospital in other than a combat setting, as well as broth through feeding tubes. Unfortunately, both men succumbed to their injuries but not until several days after their ordeal.

In 1939, Mayor LaGuardia asked him to serve as Second Deputy Commissioner which he did until 1940. To do so, he had to resign his honorary position and rank.

Dr. Archer's activities earned him the respect of his professional colleagues as well as the firefighters he treated. Perhaps the first Fire Surgeon to truly embody that title, he became nationally known for his expertise in treating toxic gas poisoning, having developed ground-breaking treatment modalities. Some times his methods were "low-tech." He was known to stock woolen Navy watch caps in his ambulance that he would make injured men wear on cold, wet nights.

Though the firefighters who benefited from Dr. Archer's intense concern and caring are of a generation long since passed, his memory lives on. In 1947, a medal was endowed in his name. It is awarded every third year to one of the three previous Bennett Medal recipients. In 1956, Commissioner Cavanaugh unveiled a plaque in Headquarters honoring Dr. Archer's sixty years of devotion and service to the members of the Department. In 1958, a fireboat was commissioned in his name.

From from findagrave.com

Wednesday, October 12, 2016


Fire Prevention week falls in October,  marking the anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire of Oct. 9, 1871.

President Calvin Coolidge
proclaimed the first National Fire Prevention Week on Oct. 4–10, 1925, noting fires claimed 15,000 lives across the U.S. the prior year.

"This waste results from the conditions which justify a sense of shame and horror; for the greater part of it could and ought to be prevented," Coolidge said.

"It is highly desirable that every effort be made to reform the conditions which have made possible so vast a destruction of the national wealth."

In 2015, fires caused 3,280 civilian deaths, 15,700 civilian injuries, and $14.3 billion in property damage, according to the National Fire Protection Association.


Thursday, October 6, 2016


On Jan. 13, 1969, fire broke out at the Everglades Fertilizer Plant in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and burned for three days, fueled by tons of toxic chemicals.

Yellow smoke billowed from the site and drifted over the city.

Of the the 100 firefighters at the blaze, more than a quarter were diagnosed with cancer.

In the years that followed, many succumbed to the disease.

Their average age was 60, according to a history of Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue.

Firefighters were equipped - if at all - with 
canister masks that filtered out toxic gases, primitive forerunners of today's self-contained breathing apparatus.

It was a witches` brew, and you had these guys inhaling it," said fire Lt. Stephen McInerny, quoted in a  1990 article in the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel.