B y P a u l H a s h a g e n I n this month’s column, I present historic fires or significant events in the fire service from May 1917. A reminder: Readers are encouraged to share information from their departments. May 4, 1917: New Brunswick, New Jersey: Two men working in a Central Railroad freight ware- house were burned to death as an oil-fed fire cut off their escape. The two men, a freight agent and
a driver, were working when the fire broke out.
Several other workers were burned while attempt-
ing to reach the men. Members of the National
Guard who were stationed nearby joined firefighters
as they battled the blaze. The concrete structure
remained, but the contents were destroyed.
May 7, 1917: Fort Lee, New Jersey: An actress
named Kitty Gordon was seriously burned while
filming a scene in a Paragon Motion Picture Company production. Gordon, playing a Red Cross
nurse, rushed across a field set up as a battlefield, to
rescue another actress also playing a nurse. As she
passed close to a special effects “electrical bomb,”
her clothing caught fire. She was badly burned
about the body and face. The flames also injured
her costar. Gordon was taken home, where a physician treated her. It was said she missed several weeks
of work because of her injury.
May 10, 1917: New York, New York: Workers repairing the cupola atop city hall neglected to
extinguish fire in a charcoal pot before leaving for
lunch. The pot ignited a wooden gutter, and the
flames quickly spread to the old wooden cupola.
As teams of firefighters struggled to stretch hoses
to the roof of the building, others joined city hall
personnel in safeguarding valuable objects of art
and important documents. Water did damage the
Aldermanic chambers and its furnishings. For a
time, the spectacular flames attracted large crowds.
After two hours of difficult work, firefighters placed
the fire under control.
May 12, 1917: Orange, New Jersey: Sparks from
a motor in the mixing and drying room ignited a fire
shortly before midnight in Building 19 of the disk
record department of the huge Edison plant. Chief
James Sheehand complained the alarm was delayed
as members of the factory department tried unsuccessfully to extinguish the flames. The fire destroyed
a large section of the record manufacturing plant. At
the height of the fire, a plant guard failed to recognize Thomas Edison and ordered the inventor and
his wife from the grounds. Edison was forced to take
a circuitous route through his plant offices to the fire
area. Damages were estimated at $50,000.
May, 21, 1917: Atlanta, Georgia: The Atlanta
Fire Department was having a very busy day: a
small fire at a warehouse at 11: 39 a.m., three
homes on fire at 11: 43 a.m., then another blaze
that took 10 homes at 12: 15 p.m. The clear, warm,
May 1917 Fires
A look at fires that made history
May 10, 1917: Firefighters battle a fire that destroyed the cupola on top of city hall in
downtown Manhattan. (Photo courtesy of the Paul Hashagen collection.)