November 1916 Fires

Issue 11 and Volume 11.

November 4, 1916: Asbury Park, New Jersey: Secret service agents assigned to protect President Woodrow Wilson assisted in a spectacular rescue of four women trapped by a fire in the Hotel Summerfield. The women, one of whom was the wife of the president’s stenographer, were trapped on the third floor and in danger of being suffocated by the thick smoke that filled the three-story wood-frame building. As the fire alarm sounded at 12:10 p.m., two of the secret service agents, Edward Starling and John Slye, were among the first to reach the hotel. Fifty people in the dining room exited the building quickly, as the two agents and several firefighters entered the smoke-filled building and made their way to the third floor. There they found the women trying vainly to find a way out. Other firefighters had thrown ladders to the windows and the women were carried safely to the street. The fire in the basement was then extinguished.

November 11, 1916: Altoona, Pennsylvania: In the morning hours, Mrs. A.M. Wasson and her sons, Alton and Robert, were busy milking cows in their barn when a thunderstorm rolled in. A bolt of lightning struck the barn, igniting a fire. A dozen gallons of milk, the result of the day’s milking, were used to extinguish the flames-a bit more expensive than water but just as effective. The barn and all the stock were saved.

November 19, 1916: Roscoe, New York: A fire broke out at 2:00 a.m. in a bowling alley and billiard rooms of B.A. Furher. The entire interior was ablaze and spreading to other buildings as the alarm was raised. The fire quickly took hold of a meat market, a hardware store, and a garage as firefighters arrived. A woman was injured after jumping from a second-floor window to escape the heat and smoke. Because of low-pressure problems, help was sent from Liberty and Livingston Manor. At the height of the fire, thieves took advantage of the confusion and stole valuable property. The march of the fire continued, igniting a jewelry store, hotel, pharmacy, department store, theater, barber shop, storehouse, barn, and house. In all, 16 buildings were destroyed.

November 19, 1916: San Francisco, California: Responding firefighters were faced with a spectacular fire that illuminated the sky above Telegraph Hill. The fire started inside the Roma Macaroni factory near the top of the hill. The firefighters battled the fire for more than an hour and were able to rescue an unconscious factory watchperson. As the flames spread to adjoining buildings, personnel were also able, with some difficulty, to rescue a woman and child trapped in a neighboring structure.

November 21, 1916: Baltimore, Maryland: Preparations for the afternoon races were underway at the Bowie track when a fire started in a racetrack stable. Within five minutes, the frame structure was fully engulfed in flames. Jockeys and hostlers risked their lives by entering the blazing structure and were able to rescue 88 horses, some with their manes and tails singed. Sadly, eight horses perished in the fire. One horse, Yellowstone, valued at $10,000, was one of the season’s best two-year-olds and had already won five straight races. One popular horse, Father Riley, was removed to safety but broke away and dashed back into the flames.

November 22, 1916: Bronxville, New York: It was just before noon when neighbors notified Mrs. Colt that there were flames on the roof of her Maple Street home. Skeptical at first, she had just been in the attic and smelled no smoke, but the alarm was transmitted. The only horse-drawn fire apparatus originally responding, North End Hose Company, narrowly avoided a deadly collision as they headed to the scene. As the rig began descending a steep hill with a difficult turn at the bottom, a trolley car began ascending. To avoid striking the trolley, the fire apparatus swerved hard and the brakes were applied. One of the horses slipped, ending up between two trees with its horse collar damaged. The company could no longer respond. Back on Maple Street, the fire produced a thick smoke condition on the second floor, hampering extinguishment. All the family belongings on the first floor were removed to safety. Chief Wallace arrived and sent in a general alarm. He then directed the hand-pumped hose streams, which had effective results. The fire was contained to one large section of the roof.

November 25, 1916: New York, New York: An assistant building engineer working in a loft building on the southwest corner of Lafayette and Fourth Street heard screams and cries of pain as he returned to the building after his meal. Inside, he found a young woman with her legs wedged between the elevator edge and a beam. The police officer on the beat saw her predicament and called for Rescue 1 of the Fire Department of New York. Under the command of Captain Hotchkiss, the rescuers used their cutting torch and began to cut away sections of the metal elevator frame. A small fire ignited under the car’s wood flooring and was quickly smothered with an extinguisher stream. The trapped woman was tended by two doctors as the rescue work continued. After 30 minutes of delicate work, she was freed and removed to a hospital.

Paul Hashagen is a 40-year veteran of the fire service. He retired from the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) after 25 years of service, with 20 of those years in Rescue Company 1. Hashagen is a former chief of the Freeport (NY) Fire Department and is still a member of Truck Company 1. He has written several books and numerous stories on the history of the fire service including Fire Department City of New York: The Bravest; An Illustrated History 1865-2002; and One Hundred Years of Valor: Rescue Company 1 New York City Fire Department Rescue 1915-2015. Visit his Facebook page at Paul Hashagen-author.