August 1916 Fires

Issue 8 and Volume 11.

In this month’s column, I present historic fires or significant events in the fire service from August 1916. A reminder: Readers are encouraged to share information from their departments.

August 2, 1916: Tonawanda, New York: At 10:30 p.m., a fire alarm was received for a fire in the business section of town. On his arrival, Chief C. Grover Rech was confronted with an advanced fire condition. Two commercial buildings, a dwelling, and several barns were burning briskly. The firefighting force of 60 operated one steam engine, a motor service truck, an aerial ladder, a supply wagon, and five hose wagons. They used seven four-inch double hydrants, the steam pumper, and 7,000 feet of hose to develop 10 hydrant-fed streams and two pumper-fed streams. They were able to keep the fire to the original buildings.

August 11, 1916: Athens, Greece: The Greek steamship Eltheria, bound from Saloniki to Volo and carrying a cargo of oil owned by an American company and 1,200 passengers, mainly disbanded soldiers, caught fire off the island of Skiatho. The captain was able to beach the burning ship on Skiatho, one of the islands in the Aegean Sea. Sadly, 40 people were reported killed and numerous others seriously injured.

August 12, 1916: Johnstown, Pennsylvania: Twenty-five people were killed and 63 were injured in a head-on collision of two crowded trolley cars. The accident took place on the Southern Cambria Traction Company line between Echo and Brookvale, seven miles outside of Johnstown. Several pieces of motorized fire apparatus, numerous doctors and nurses in automobiles, and motor trucks hastily outfitted as ambulances responded. Many of the victims were loaded into automobiles and taken to nearby hospitals.

August 14, 1916: Henniker, New Hampshire: An alarm of fire was received at 1:45 a.m., sending units to a fire in a large 100 × 150 two-story wood building covered with galvanized iron. The fire was believed to have ignited because of spontaneous combustion. The building, part of the Henniker Fiber Company plant, was filled with leather stock, baled paper, and other flammables and was fully engulfed on arrival. Under the command of Chief Marshall, 30 firefighters with two hose wagons and a ladder truck went to work. Using two four-inch hydrants located 500 feet apart and an eight-inch main fed by gravity tanks, firefighters soon had 1,500 feet of hose feeding several attack lines. The battle lasted two hours.

August 19, 1916: Essex Falls, Massachusetts: Several departments were called to a huge fire involving eight wooden ice houses. A delayed alarm allowed the fire to spread dramatically. One hundred firefighters scrambled to get three streams into operation. Using 850 feet of hose with 11⁄8 -inch nozzles, two hand tubs, and a ladder truck, the battle commenced.

August 24, 1916: Brockton, Massachusetts: Nine people were injured when a bolt of lightning struck a vat of denatured alcohol inside the E.L. Gowdy Plant. The plant consisted of three interconnected wood buildings of varied heights. Six people were at work in the vat room when the high-voltage strike occurred. A tremendous explosion followed, blowing out an entire wall. Two men were blown through a window and received serious burns to the face and body. The burning alcohol set fire to the building and quickly caused extension to several nearby homes. Under the direction of Chief William Daley, 67 firefighters operated three steam engines (one tractor drawn), two Westinghouse gasoline engines, six motorized combination hose and chemical cars, and three tractor-drawn ladder trucks. Five hydrant and six engine streams were stretched and used to battle the extending flames. Exhausted firefighters extinguished the fire and then began combing the smoldering wreckage for workers reported missing.

August 27, 1916: Chicago, Illinois: A fire of unknown origin swept through two old wood and brick buildings that were part of the large Swift and Company plant in the Stock Yards. The alarm was received at 8:40 p.m. Arriving companies were faced with an advanced fire, spreading from one fully involved 50-year-old building to a similar exposure. In total, 35 engines, four ladder trucks, and a squad wagon responded. Two hundred firefighters used 15 hydrant and 35 engine streams and worked 24 hours battling the fire.