Fire Buffs promote the general welfare of the fire and rescue service and protect its heritage and history. Famous Fire Buffs through the years include New York Fire Surgeon Harry Archer, Boston Pops Conductor Arthur Fiedler, New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and - legend has it - President George Washington.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016


The following tale is based on a speech by former President Gerald Ford on being Vice President of the United States.

In 1922, a general alarm fire broke out in the ballroom atop the Willard Hotel in downtown Washington, and firefighters evacuated the guests - including then Vice President Calvin Coolidge.

As the time passed, Coolidge grew tired of waiting in the street and decided to return to his hotel room.

As he headed for the stairs, a fireman demanded identification.

"I am the Vice President," Coolidge said.

The fireman asked: "Vice President of what?"

"Vice President of the United States," Coolidge said.

"Then get back here," the fireman said. "I thought you were Vice President of the hotel."

Tuesday, September 27, 2016


Fire station wrecked by wave

On Jan. 15, 1919, an industrial storage tank burst, sending a wave of molasses coursing through Boston's North End at an estimated 35 miles per hour.

A recollection published by The Atlantic magazine said:

"The destructive flood threw people and horses about, smashed buildings, and even damaged the steel supports of an elevated railway.

"Rescuers had to wade through knee-deep molasses and sticky debris to reach survivors.

"Twenty-one people died in the disaster, another 150 were injured, and the cleanup lasted for weeks"

At its peak, the wave towered 25-feet over street level. 


Standard Telegram - Bridgeport, Connecticut

BOSTON, Jan. 15. - Probably a dozen persons were killed and 50 injured by the explosion of a huge tank of molasses on the waterfront off Commercial street, today. Tonight the only bodies identified were those of a fireman, GEORGE LEAHY, and two residents of tenements in the vicinity, MRS. BRIDGET CLOUGHERTY and WILLIAM A. DURFEE. A large number of the injured were taken to the Relief hospital.

The tank was owned by the Purity Distilling company a subsidiary of the U. S. Industrial Alcohol company of Cambridge. Two million gallons of molasses rushed in a mighty stream over the streets and converted into a sticky mass the wreckage of several small buildings which had been smashed by the force of the explosion.

The greatest mortality apparently occurred in a city building where a score om[sic] municipal employees were eating their lunch. The structure was demolished. Another city building also was torn from its foundations and two women occupants were severely injured.

A section of the tank wall fell on a fire house crushing it. Three firemen including LEAHY who was killed, were buried in the ruins. The rest of the tank wall crashed against the elevated structure of the Boston elevated railway in Commercial street damaging three spans, suspending all traffic on the line which connects the north and south stations.

A small dwelling on Copps Hills terrace slid into the street, apparently sucked down by the receding tide of molasses. MRS. CLOUGHERTY was thrown through a window and killed.
A trolley freight car on the street was blown from the tracks. Several persons passing were knocked down. It was thought tonight that DURFEE was one of these.

Wagons, carts and motor trucks were overturned. A number of horses were killed.
Sailors' Rescue Party.

The first rescue party was a squad detailed from the State Nautical school ship Nantucket. Scores of ambulances army, navy, police, hospital and Red Cross, were quickly on the scene. The bodies recovered were taken to the Northern Mortuary and the injured were hurried to Relief hospital. Many firemen and city employees began the task of removing the wreckage.

The work of all the men was greatly hampered by the oozing flood of molasses. It covered the street and the surrounding district to a depth of several inches and very slowly drained down into the harbor. To hasten this process the firemen turned on several streams of water.
By nightfall all of the injured had been cared for, and nine bodies had been taken to the mortuary. Throughout the night the search for additional bodies in the wreckage was kept up.

The district was closely patrolled tonight.

During the night two other bodies were identified as those of JAMES LENNON, a motorman, and JOHN M. SEIBERLICH, a blacksmith, both of the Roxbury district. LENNON was a brother-in-law of the late JOHN L. SULLIVAN, the prize fighter.
The men killed were teamsters and employes of the city who were at work in the city street department yard adjoining the electric freight yard where the explosion occurred.

The molasses spread over the street to a depth of two or three inches. Many of those killed or injured were covered with molasses and could not be readily identified.
Buildings Crumble.

Fragments of the great tank were thrown into the air, buildings in the neighborhood crumbled up as though the underpinnings had been pulled away from them, and scores of people in the various buildings were buried in the ruins.

The explosion knocked over the fireboat house of Engine 47. One of the firemen was blown into the harbor. Two others were pinned in the ruins and a fourth was not accounted for.

A nearby tenement house fell in. Two women and a man were taken from the ruins, all injured.

Thirty-five persons were removed to hospitals and many others received medical attention and were sent to their homes.

Eighteen city employees, eating their noon luncheon in an office building in the public service yard were caught in the building when it collapsed. Virtually every man in the structure was either killed or hurt.


Oct. 17, 1966
New York (Associated Press) -- Three aging buildings in an historic corner of downtown Manhattan billowed with flame and choking fumes today in a blaze that may have brought death to 12 firemen -- the greatest single loss of life in the department's 101 years of operation.

Six firemen were killed and six others were feared dead, and 17 were injured in the basement of a three-story building on Broadway, just south of Madison Square and across the street from the Flatiron Building, the city's first skyscraper.

The collapse of four floors in the buildings, said to be 75 years old, heaped a "huge mass of debris" upon the lost firemen, said Fire Commissioner ROBERT O. LOWERY.

"So it's going to be slow and tedious, this business of spotting the firemen and recovering their bodies," he said.
A search for the victims by rescue teams with oxygen masks was cut short when a floor threatened to buckle and firemen raced from the building as their commander shouted, "Get out! Get out! Everybody get out!"

Later the rescue crews returned with sledge hammers and acetylene torches to break a glass and steel grating on the sidewalk in an attempt to reach the trapped men.

Six hours after the first alarm at 9:55 p.m. Monday, tongues of flame still poked from windows and black smoke spread through the streets.

Mayor JOHN V. LINDSAY and Fire Commissioner ROBERT O. LOWERY, each standing ankle deep in water, looked grave as they watched rescue operations.

LOWERY, who had fought back tears when he announced that 12 of his men were missing, said, "There always hope -- but it's pretty grim."
LINDSAY, wearing boots, a rubber coat and leather helmet, shook his head and stared at the scarred building.

"I'm just heartsick," he said.

The fire broke out in the basement of 7 E. 22nd St., a four-story building, then spread west to 904 Broadway and north to 8 E. 23rd St.

Firemen, working in relay teams and carrying oxygen packs, entered the flaming structures, but could not bring them under control as fumes and intense heat drove them back to the street.

The trapped firemen were caught either by a backdraft or gas explosion, LOWERY said.

The impact apparently broke down a wall, sending the men into the heart of the inferno.

At the height of the blaze, 200 firemen and a disaster unit with eight doctors and seven nurses were at the scene.

The medical team treated several men as they emerged from the building.

"We were in the rear fighting the fire," said fireman JOHN DONOVAN. "I was gasping for air, then I suddenly felt myself go through the hole. Some of my men pulled me up by the collar. My buddies are still down there."
Listing Of The Firemen Who Lost Their Lives:

Lieutenant JOE PRIORE, 42, Engine 18.
Fireman JAMES V. GALANAUGH, 27, Engine 18.
Fireman JOSEPH KELLY, 35, Engine 18.
Probationary Fireman, DANIEL L. REY, 26, Engine 18.
Fireman BERNARD A. TEPPER, 41, Engine 18.
Lieutenant JOHN J. FINLEY, 54, Ladder Company 7.
Fireman JOHN G. BERRY, 31, Ladder Company 7.
Fireman RUDOLPH F. KAMINSKY, 33, Ladder Company 7.
Fireman CARL LEE, 29, Ladder Company 7.
Battalion Chief WALTER J. HIGGINS, 46.
Chief's Aide WILLIAM F. McCARREN, 44.

Monday, September 26, 2016


The mayor of Boston blamed the popular dance "The Charleston" for triggering the catastrophic collapse of the Pickwick night club on July 4, 1925.

Investigators determined otherwise, concluding chronic structural problems brought down the Pickwick and not the foot-kicking Charleston.

Box 1471 was transmitted at 3 a.m. summoning the Boston Fire Department.

A second alarm followed.

Firefighters, police and transit authority workers bore through furnishings, lumber, steel and concrete.

A contemporary newspaper account said:

"Without warning the fifth floor of the building collapsed, carrying with it the fourth and third floors.

"The tons of stone, plaster and bricks crashed through to the second floor on the 150 merry makers.

"With a roar that was heard for blocks, the second and third floors were carried down into the basement with their cargo of dead and dying."

When the rescue effort was over, 44 people were dead and many others were in hospital.


Rocco Carparto - a professional singer known as ``Teddy Williams'' - watched the disaster unfold, according to a newspaper account:

"Just as the plastering began to come down over our heads there was a rumble. Next was a sound like a muffled explosion. Then the beams began to fall. The whole building seemed to topple."

"Just how it happened I don't know and I guess nobody does. I made a jump for the stairway. But the stairway had dropped and I tumbled down."

"My leg was twisted and thought it was broken, but I managed to get out of the way before the mass of struggling men and women came falling down to the spot where I had landed."

"As I stumbled out of the ruins of the building I could hear the screams of the men and women behind me. I will carry that sound in my heart to the end of my days. I tried to go back and help out but my leg crumpled under me."

"There must have been between 100 and 200 men and women in the Pickwick club

"Most all of them were eating and dancing."

Saturday, September 24, 2016


On July 6, 1944,  a
 circus tent burst into flames during a matinee performance in Hartford, Connecticut, ultimately claiming 168 lives - many of them children.

Sad-faced clown EMMETT KELLY, mourning "the little children who have for so many years give me my living," carried out their bodies from the ruins.

Some were trampled in the rush to escape rapidly moving flames, including a girl whose identity was a mystery for decades.

Police called her "Little Miss 1565" - for her morgue number.

In 1991, investigators said they determined her name was 
 Eleanor Cook, age 8, who was partial to hair ribbons, cats and dresses.

HARTFORD, Conn., July 7 (United Press) - Five officials of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey circus were charged with manslaughter today while state, county, and municipal authorities pushed a searching investigation into the disaster of fire and panic under the big top in which 139 persons, 80 of them children, died.

While authorities questioned through the night canvas-men, performers, roustabouts, and members of yesterday's matinee audience of 10,000 that saw an acre and more of canvas dissolve into flame above its head, 20 or more of the 214 injured crowding all local hospitals were in dying condition and it was feared that the ultimate death toll would reach 150.

Mayor WILLIAM H. MORTENSEN headed a committee of nine officials conducting an investigation paralleling the coroner's and early today he issued a public statement making two charges:
 (1) The circus tent, the largest in the world had been sprayed with paraffine which had been melted in gasoline
 (2) a steel runway, used to bring animals in and out of the big top closed off an entire end of the oval, obstructing exits.
Approximately 60 bodies were found jammed against the runway, he said.

Authorities, it was learned, were concentrating upon the spotlights perched high in the corners of the biggest tent in the world belonging to the greatest show on earth, which at the instant the fire broke out were illuminating The Flying Wallendas, a high wire aerial act, in their white, hot glare.

A number of witnesses said the fire first appeared directly above one of the spotlights which were so high they appeared to be almost touching the slanting roof of the tent.
At first the fire was merely a red spot, tiny in comparison to the great sweeping acres of canvas to which it was an uncontrollable destructive force.

One second later it had grown to the size of the roof of one of the small, white cottages of the typical Connecticut countryside which so many in the audience had left to see a dazzling array of death defying performers and laughing clowns and were never to return.

With an audible swishing sound it raced toward the center poles and 50 feet below 10,000 men and women momentarily went insane, stamping, kicking, and climbing over one another, and, tragically, hundreds of small children occupying as children will at a circus, the very front seats.

It was all over in 15 minutes, that rapidly did the flames spread over the acres of canvas and dump their ashy remnants down to set the tiers of seats on fire.

Then performers and audience alike rushed into the flame-encircled arena to carry out the bodies of the dead, the dying and the injured.

Hartford Fire Department Assignments 

1st Alarm - Box 82 - Clark & Westland St. - 2:44 p.m.
          #7     900' - 1" nozzle - hydrant front of lot on Barbour Street
                   3 hours, 17 min. Capt. McDonald - pumper worked.
          #2    800' - 1 1/4" nozzle - hydrant front of lot on Barbour Street
                   2 hours, 5 min. Capt. Kirby - pump used.
          #16  1000' - 1 1/4" nozzle - hydrant at 337 Barbour Street
                   2 hours, 46 min. Capt. Yacavone - pump used.
          Truck #3   Lt. Curtin, assisted on lines and rescue work.
          Truck #4   Lt. Connors, assisted on lines and rescue work.

2nd Alarm - Box 828 - Barbour Street & Cleveland Ave. - 2:44 p.m.
          #14    800' - 1" nozzle - hydrant - off #7 pump in front of circus lot.
                    1 hour, 41 min. - Capt. Potter
          #4     800' - 1" nozzle - off #7 pumper
                    1 hour, 40 min. - Lieut. Kelliher
          #3     450' - 1" nozzle - hydrant 132 Cleveland Avenue
                    2 hours, 23 min. - Private E.M. Daley
          Truck #1  Paul Wychodil - assisted on lines and rescue work - 56 min.

Sent by Headquarters on adjacent box - 2:49 p.m.
          #5    1350' - 1" nozzle - hydrant 132 Cleveland Avenue.
                   2 hours, 27 min. Capt. Griffin.


Pandemonium Comes as Flames Break Out in Circus Tent
By Edward Bunn

HARTFORD, Conn., July 6 (International News Service) - There were seven in my particular family group at the circus when the flash fire consumed the main tent.

We were sitting in the fourth row from the top tier.

The animal act had just finished, about 15 minutes after the matinee performance began.

We sat back to watch for the next entrance, when suddenly there was a cry of "fire."

Instantly the crowd took up the shout.

Pandemonium broke loose.

Right off the main entrance, a section of the tent about five feet square was ablaze.

While I glanced in the direction of the fire it spread past the main entrance, ever wider and ever upward and within five to six minutes it seemed that the whole main tent was a fiery canvas.
A capacity crowd filled the big tent and thousands rushed toward the main entrance, which by now was being used as the main exit right through the flames.

I'm sure most of the casualties were caused there, for the people trampled over one another.

Circus attendants tried their best to maintain order, but with the big tent fast turning into a fiery shroud it was a case of everyone for himself.

Try as the attendants did, and they really did make an effort to maintain order, there was no holding back the crowd to divert them to better exits where exit would have been more tacile [sic].

By now the canvas behind me had begun to blaze furiously.

I gathered my group about me and we clambered to the top drop from where all of us jumped about 15 feet and squeezed under the guy ropes to safety.

It was a narrow escape for us and I wonder now why others in the upper rows did not attempt the same manner of escape instead of surging around among the thousands in the arena.

HONOLULU, DEC. 7, 1941

Photos from top: Damaged fire engine at bomb crater, bullet-riddled Hickam fire station, Captain John Carreira

On Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and surrounding military and civilian targets and the Honolulu Fire Department sent Engines 1, 4, and 6 to Hickam Field.

The attack crippled Hickam Field's hydrant system, gutted the base fire station and destroyed its engines, forcing f
irefighters to draft water from bomb craters in between waves of Japanese aircraft.

Three Honolulu firefighters died in the attack:

Captain John Carreira
Captain Thomas Macy
Hoseman Harry Pang

Six others were injured:

Fire Lt. Frederick Kealoha
HosemAn Moses Kililikani
Hoseman John A. Gilman
Hoseman Solomon Naauao

Hoseman Patrick McCabe
Hoseman George Correa.

All were awarded the Purple Heart, the only civilian firefighters in the U.S. to receive this recognition.


Photo: 209 Capitol Street Development

On March 4, 1949, seven firefighters died in a fire and collapse at the F.W. Woolworth & Co. store in downtown Charleston, West Virginia.

A dozen or more were injured.

Firefighters Richard Gilmer and J.P. ``Jigs'' Little were manning a cellar pipe when the first floor fell into the basement.

Gilmer survived.

``I didn't hear or see no more of Jigs at all,'' Gilmer recalled at a memorial service 50 years later.



Charleston, W. Va. (Associated Press) -- Seven firemen were trapped and burned to death Friday as a million dollar fire raged out of control for eight hours in two dime stores.

At least 15 others were injured, two critically, in what was described as the most disastrous blaze in the city's history.

Listed in critical condition at a hospital were Capt. CHARLES CLENDENIN, 39, overcome by smoke, and CARL WIBLIN, 25, burned about the face, hands and chest.

Attendants said both had been placed in oxygen tents.

Exhausted firemen wept as the bodies of their comrades were brought out of the Woolworth store basement after the fire was brought under control at noon.

It apparently started in the basement and was well developed when a policeman spotted it at 4 a.m.

One squad of firemen worked down a circular stairs into the basement.

Others took hoses into the first story.

The floor suddenly gave way.

Blazing piles of merchandise, cartons of stock and counters crashed into the basement.

They carried some of the fire fighters along and some of those below were buried up to their arm pits.

"It seemed like the whole store was coming down," said ROY C. HILL, 30-year-old rookie fireman who was swept into the basement but managed to get out.

SHAWKEY JONES said he was able to climb over the debris up to the first floor.

"I reached down and got one of the men by the arms," he related. "I don't know who it was, I couldn't see. I pulled on him and tried to get him out of there. He slipped back away from me."

The dead firemen are:


Most of them were caught when the floor collapsed.

COATES, a Negro, went in after the trapped men and didn't return.

All the city's fire fighting strength was mobilized as the blaze swept through the three-story Woolworth building and jumped to the roof of the adjoining Kresge store.

They are located on Capitol Street, the main business thoroughfare.

The Woolworth building was burned out.

The roof of the Kresge store burned and partly collapsed.


According to website

The Woolworth Department Store in downtown Charleston, WV was a "whites only" department store that caught fire and burned on May 5th, 1949.

Among the seven firefighters who died battling the fire, were two black firefighters, Richard McCormick and U.S. Army veteran George Coates. Had McCormick and Coates tried to sit down to eat a sandwich or have a cup of coffee at the Woolworth’s lunch counter the day before the fire, they would have been denied.

This store was certainly not alone in their "white-only" policy, as several other downtown lunch counters did not allow blacks until 1958. 

The tragedy served as a catalyst for African-Americans in the Charleston area that led to several protests in the 1950s and would lead to city-wide sit-ins and boycotts in the late 1950s. In that year, sit-ins and boycotts organized by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) compelled most store owners to change their practice.



On April 12, 1999, Atlanta firefighter Matt Mosley was lifted by helicopter to rescue a crane operator trapped above a mill fire. Mosley, of Squad 4, lightened the tension by telling operator Ivers Sims "he could knock off early," CNN said. The pilot, Boyd Clines, responded to an appeal for assistance after an earlier rescue attempt failed at the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill.


In 1932, Thelma the fire horse passed away and into fire service lore.

In its June 27 edition of that year Ti
me Magazine reported Thelma served for 27 years as the ``private fire horse of Archie Goodwin, private fireman of Auburn, N.Y.''

According to Time:

"A sleek, black pony, Thelma was too small to be a real fire horse. So was her master. He was rejected by Auburn's fire department because he stood only 5 ft. 2 in. He turned his barn into a miniature fire station, installed a gong which registered all city alarms, bought a small buggy which he painted red. Then he bought Thelma, trained her to run from her stall at the sound of the gong.''