January 1917 Fires

Issue 1 and Volume 12.

A new pumper test in 1911. (Photo courtesy of the Paul Hashagen collection.)

January 4, 1917: Brooklyn, New York: Fifteen sailors mustered from different ships within the Brooklyn Navy Yard were overcome by smoke while battling a fire in the coal bunkers of the hospital ship USS Solace. Built in 1897, the 377-foot-long vessel was purchased by the Navy and recommissioned as a hospital ship in 1898. Smoke was discovered coming from hold 2 in the forward part of the vessel at about 10:00 p.m. A general alarm was sounded, bringing the yard’s firefighting force and sailors from the dreadnoughts Arizona, New York, Wyoming, Arkansas, Texas, Pennsylvania, and other vessels to the fire. Lines of hose were run up to the decks of the Solace, and some of the sailors were lowered down into the hold to direct the streams of water. With no breathing protection, each was quickly overcome. They were pulled out and replaced with a fresh sailor. This operation continued for hours until the flames were extinguished. The city fire department was never called. The ship was repaired and remained in service. The USS Solace was the first United States Navy ship to fly the Geneva Red Cross flag.

January 13, 1917: Chapinville, Connecticut: The gray stone mansion of Mrs. Nathan C. Scoville, built to resemble a castle, erupted in flames that quickly swept through the huge home. Fire consumed all the house furnishings, many works of art, rugs, paintings, and tapestries. The mansion, built in 1894, was used as a summer home. It is believed a defective flue in the upper fireplace caused the fire.

January 16, 1917: Troy, New York: A fire of unknown origin swept through the armory of the second regiment of the National Guard. This armory served as the regimental headquarters of companies from the surrounding towns and cities. The armory was also home to a hospital corps and a supply company. The entire building was left in total ruins; only the front wall and towers remained.

January 20, 1917: New York, New York: Bellevue Hospital and a half-dozen tenement houses were threatened by a fire that broke out in the Manhattan Brass Company building on East 28th Street near First Avenue. The fire started around 6:00 p.m., and for more than two hours flames roared from the big brick building. Thick smoke laced with sulfuric acid pumped into the neighborhood, causing further dangers. Four alarms were transmitted to protect neighboring buildings. Doctors and nurses in the hospital, only a few hundred feet from the fire, hurried through the wards checking on their patients. Tenants of a half-dozen multiple dwellings were evacuated because of the noxious smoke and threat of fire extension. Three firefighters from Engine 2 were injured when their hose was jerked from their hands, throwing them onto the burning roof. One was seriously burned and removed to the hospital. The fire building, much taller than the surrounding structures, featured thick brick walls that enclosed the blazing contents like a furnace. Water towers and dozens of hoses held the flames within the building of origin.

January 27, 1917: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: A fire that started in a corner of the McCrory Five and Ten Cent Store was discovered at 1:50 a.m. by a night watchman. The man staggered to the street and fell unconscious. He was found at about 2:00 a.m., and the alarm was transmitted. The smoke condition was so bad that firefighters could not press an interior attack. The flames spread rapidly through the basement of the McCrory building and into the adjoining four-story brick department store building. Additional alarms were sent in as conditions became worse. The flames were spreading unseen beneath the department store, a clothing store, the Grand Opera House, and a restaurant. Suddenly, the fire appeared, almost simultaneously, in all the buildings. Within a short time, roofs collapsed, carrying the floors down with them. Brisk winds spread flaming embers, and groups of firefighters were sent to extinguish numerous small fires. As the battle continued, ice began to form on the blazing buildings. One engine was crushed by a falling wall. Several firefighters had close calls, and a number were injured by the wall collapses.

January 29, 1917: Boston, Massachusetts: A fire in the heart of the dry-goods section of town required the response of the entire downtown fleet of fire companies. The five-story brick building at Chauncey Street and Exeter Place became a mass of flames just after 2:00 a.m. The building primarily housed a blanket sales and manufacturing company. Extension to the surrounding building was kept at a minimum.

To read more from Paul Hashagen, visit www.firefighternation.com/author/paul-hashagen.