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 September 1917. A reminder: Readers are encouraged to share information from their departments. September 1, 1917: New York, New York: Midtown Manhattan units rolled to 210 East 23rd Street at 7: 46 p.m. for a reported fire on the fourth floor of a five-
story loft building. On arrival, the firefighters found an
advanced fire situation involving a chemical company
and a book binding firm. Led by Battalion Chief Martin
Callaghy and Acting Battalion Chief Michael Martin, the
members of Ladder 7 and Engine 16 moved in. As they
were advancing an attack line, a 35-gallon tank of acid
exploded in the rear of the occupancy. Firefighters were
hurled in several directions. Several members were thrown
down the stairs while others were driven toward the rear,
their escape route cut off. Captain McNamara of Engine
16 and two of his men, all injured and burned by the
blast, were trapped at a rear window unable to reach a fire
escape. Working in the rear of the building was Firefighter
Harry Gray of Hook and Ladder 12 who saw the trapped
men above and sprang into action. Without assistance, he
grabbed a 25-foot ladder and raised it upward. Still too
short to reach the men, he lifted the wooden ladder above
his head and rested the butt on his shoulders. One by
one, the men climbed down from the blazing room. But
for the actions of Firefighter Gray, they surely would have
perished. Gray later was awarded a medal of valor. In all,
eight members were burned by the explosion.
September 3, 1917: Sisson, California: A fire, believed
to be of incendiary origin, destroyed the new sawmill of
the Rainbow Lumber Company. The flames started during the absence of the watchman, who was at dinner at the
time. The mill had been in operation for only a few days,
and firefighters were able to save the recently cut lumber.
September 8, 1917: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: An
explosion in the Frankfort Arsenal killed three men
and injured 21 people. The blast occurred when a tray
of detonators was accidently dropped; this touched off
the explosion of 80,000 detonators that were recently
completed and stored nearby. The explosion ignited a
fire that destroyed three adjacent structures.
September 12, 1917: Great Neck, New York: A fire
was discovered in the home of George Kennahan, a
local newspaper editor. Both Mr. and Mrs. Kennahan
were not home at the time. Members of the Vigi-
lants of Great Neck and the Manhasset-Lakeville Fire
Departments responded to the fire at the intersection
of Park Avenue and 10th Street. After a difficult battle,
they halted the flames, but not before the entire first
floor, including the billiard room, was destroyed.
September 12, 1917: Butler, Ohio: Residents and
merchants were faced with the devastating effects of a
fire that tore through the downtown area. Damages to
business and residential properties were estimated at
$50,000. Destroyed were hardware and general stores,
a dentist office, a meat market, a restaurant, the telephone building, and numerous other buildings.
September 13, 1917: Baltimore, Maryland: Shortly
after noon, Box 62 was sounded and Steam Engine 26
responded with Acting Hostler John A. Lang at the reins.
As the huge apparatus was turning the corner of Lead-enhall and Cross Streets, Lang saw a group of children
playing in the street ahead. Turning the horses sharply
into the curb, the pumper struck the curb, throwing the
driver to the sidewalk. On the back step of the racing
engine, Assistant Engineman Timothy V. Welsh saw the
driver’s ejection and sprang into action, climbing over
the suction hoses and out onto the poles between the
horses to gain control of the fallen reins. Despite the
extreme danger involved, he was able to reach down and
lift the reins into position and halt the racing horse team.
Amazingly, the children were unhurt and both men were
commended for their gallant conduct.
September 27, 1917: Wrightstown, New Jersey:
With the nation at war, fire sentries were doubled at
Fort Dix after a fire swept the barracks building of
Company F of the 310th Infantry. The Camp Dix Fire
Department, using three powerful motor pumps, was
on scene and operating within four minutes of the
alarm. They were closely followed by three companies
of trained firefighters of the 15th New York Infantry
and together were able to contain the fire to the
barracks and a bathhouse with slight extension to the
adjoining barracks. The 200 soldiers displaced by the
fire were given temporary quarters.
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 his new book Stories of Fire
and One Hundred Years of Valor: Rescue Company 1 New York City Fire
Department Rescue 1915-2015, available at paulhashagen.com. Visit
his Facebook page at Paul Hashagen-author.
September 1917 Fires
A look at fires that made history
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Hashagen, visit www.