Dec 12, 2008


Photo: University of Montana
A smokejumper is a firefighter who parachutes into forest fires. ``The first actual fire jumps in the history of smoke-jumping were made by Rufus Robinson and Earl Cooley at Marten Creek in the Nez Perce National Forest (Idaho) on July 12, 1940,'' according to Wikipedia.


On Dec. 27, 1850, King Kamehameha III signed a law creating the Honolulu Fire Department - the only U.S. fire department established by a ruling monarch. W.C. Parke was the first fire chief. In 1853, Alexander Cartwright (pictured) became chief. Today, the department protects the City and County of Honolulu with 1,100 firefighters and 44 stations.
Photos: HFD and Hawaii History web site

Dec 11, 2008


On Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and Oahu. Engines 1, 4, and 6 of the Honolulu Fire Department responded to Hickam Field where ``two fire captains and a hoseman were killed, and six other firefighters were wounded,'' according to the Honolulu Fire Department web site. "These firefighters were awarded Purple Hearts and became the only civilian firefighters in the U.S. to receive this award."

The raiders struck across the city. At King and McCully streets ``an incendiary bomb set fire to a drug store," according to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.


On July 6, 1944, fire killed 168 people at a circus in Hartford, Connecticut. ``Shortly after the matinee began, a ball of flame broke out high on the sidewall canvas,'' according to the web site The Hartford Circus Fire. ``As shock turned to horror, thousands of panic-stricken people began a desperate stampede to escape the flames that flowed like a breeze across the tent top, a square mile of canvas that had been waterproofed with a pasty mixture of 1800 pounds of paraffin wax and 6000 gallons of gasoline.'' Among the dead, a girl whose identity was a mystery for decades. Police called her "Little Miss 1565" - for her morgue number.

KEOKUK - 1999

Photo: Daily Gate City
On Dec. 22, 1999, three members of the Keokuk, Iowa, fire department died during a rescue attempt at a fire in rooming house that also kiled three children. The city was criticized for a lack of adequate firefighter staffing. Only five firefighters were on duty. The blaze, for the most part, faded into history as it occurred two weeks after a warehouse blaze killed six firefighters in Worcester, Massachusetts.


In 1932, Thelma the fire horse died at age 37. In its June 27, 1932 edition, Time Magazine reported Thelma served for 27 years as the ``private fire horse of Archie Goodwin, private fireman of Auburn, N.Y.'' According to Time: "A sleek, black pony, Thelma was too small to be a real fire horse. So was her master. He was rejected by Auburn's fire department because he stood only 5 ft. 2 in. He turned his barn into a miniature fire station, installed a gong which registered all city alarms, bought a small buggy which he painted red. Then he bought Thelma, trained her to run from her stall at the sound of the gong.''


Photos: Texas State Library, Wikipedia
On March 18, 1937, a gas explosion killed about 500 students and faculty at the Consolidated School at New London, Texas. The cause was ``an illegal tap made to a gas line from an oil field,'' according to the April 1937 edition of Fire Engineering. ``The explosion appeared to have the building rise and then fall back in the same place,'' the magazine said.


In 1972, New York City firefighter Dennis Smith published ``Report from Engine Co. 82'' about the world's busiest firehouse. The book was a New York Times best seller. (The rig on the cover of the original edition isn't 82's. It's from the Super Pumper System.)


David Berkowitz, convicted in 1978 for the ``Son of Sam'' murders in New York, claimed to be a serial arsonist known as the ``Phantom of the Bronx.'' This is a prison photograph of Berkowitz from 2003.


On April 19, 1995, a bombing destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people and injuring more than 800 others. Timothy McVeigh was convicted in the case and executed by lethal injection.

Dec 10, 2008


Deadliest fires in nursing and rest homes since 1950
1. Warrenton, MO, Feb. 17, 1957, 72 dead, final count.
2. Fitchville, OH, Nov. 23, 1963, 63 dead.
3. Largo, FL, March 29, 1953, 33 dead.
4. Marietta, OH, Jan. 9, 1970, 31 dead.
5. Keansburg, NJ, Jan. 9, 1981, 31 dead.
Source: NFPA


Photo: Capitan Punlic Library web site
``Events on May 9, 1950 changed forever the way Americans would look at the forest fire prevention message. On this day in history, a 5 lb. black bear cub was found after a forest fire in the Capitan Mountains near Capitan, New Mexico. Named Smokey after the poster bear, the cub was later sent to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. to become the "living symbol" for fire prevention.'' - Capitan Public Library

PIER FIRE - 1900

On June 30, 1900, flames erupted in bales of cotton on Pier 3 of the North German Lloyd Steamship Co. in Hoboken, New Jersey. Within 15 minutes, the fire spread to four ocean liners and two dozen smaller vessels, according to The New York Times. Hundreds of people were trapped inside the burning ships. As many as 400 died in the conflagration.


The Halligan bar is a forceable entry tool designed by Hugh Halligan of the New York City Fire Department. Introduced in the 1940s, the Halligan consists of a claw, a blade and a pick.


Illustration: Harper's Weekly
On Oct. 8, 1871, The Great Peshtigo Fire swept timberlands across Northeastern Wisconsin and Upper Michigan and killed as many as 2,400 people. ``The great Midwestern city of Chicago also happened to endure a terrible fire that same fateful night, and for whatever reasons - an irresistibly charming legend about a cow and a lantern among them - the Chicago Fire became part of the national consciousness while the Peshtigo tragedy gradually slipped into obscurity,'' according to the web site The Great Peshtigo Fire.


Photo: Encyclopedia of Cleveland History
On October 20, 1944, liquified natural gas from the East Ohio Gas Co. leaked into sewers in Cleveland, Ohio, and explosions and fires killed 130 people and leveled a square mile of homes and businesses. The tragedy ``led to new and safer methods for the low-temperature storage of natural gas,'' according to the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History.

Dec 5, 2008


Photos: Library of Congress
Fire damaged the Oval Office and west wing of the White House on Christmas Eve 1929. President Herbert Hoover left a holiday party in the Executive Mansion to attend the blaze.


Photos: CNN
On April 12, 1999, Atlanta firefighter Matt Mosley was lifted by helicopter to rescue a crane operator trapped above a mill fire. Mosley, of Squad 4, lightened the tension by telling operator Ivers Sims that his boss told him to say "he could knock off early," according to CNN. The helicopter pilot, Boyd Clines, responded to an appeal for assistance from the fire department after an earlier rescue attempt failed at the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill.

Nov 12, 2008


Photos: State web site
On Dec. 28, 1930, fire destroyed the State Capitol at Bismarck, North Dakota, days before the legislature was to meet. The fire may have started in rags used to varnish desks in advance of the session, according to a newspaper account.


On Aug. 30, 1930, a fire sank the gambing ship Monfalcone off Long Beach, California. The vessel carried a ``a vault containing $50,000 in silver, currency and checks'' to the bottom, the Associated Press said. The Monfalcone's "300 fashionably dressed visitors" were evacuated as the ship's orchestra "played lively music,'' the AP said. Divers later searched for the sunken loot.



On Dec. 20, 1970, an arson fire raced through Pioneer International Hotel in Tuscon, Arizona, claiming 29 lives - including the hotel owner and his wife in their penthouse apartment. Built 1929, the hotel had open stairways. The Associated Press reported hotel guests ``smelled a volatile substance in the corridors.'' Thirty-three firefighters were injured, according to the Tuscon Citizen.

U.S. TREASURY - 1922


On Feb. 8, 1922, fire struck the U.S. Treasury in Washington, D.C. According to a dispatch in a Connecticut newspaper, The Bridgeport Telegram: ``Blazing scaffolding and repair materials, accompanied by the explosion of a barrel of kerosene, on the roof of the Treasury building threatened the structure ... The millions of dollars of the nation's treasure stored in the building was guarded by a cordon of United States marines and secret service men."


The firehouse speaker box rasped: "Engine 85, Fire. Thirty eight O eight Iowa. Engine 85, Fire. Thirty eight O eight Iowa." The alarm was desperate, the tragedy incredible.

On Dec. 1, 1958, a fire at Our Lady of the Angels school in Chicago killed 92 students and three nuns - and led to national safety standards. ``While legally in compliance with the fire safety laws of the time, the school was woefully unprepared for any kind of fire. There was only one fire escape, no sprinklers, no automatic fire alarm, no smoke or heat detectors, no alarm connected to the fire department, no fire-resistant stairwells and no fire-safe doors ... The floors had been coated and re-coated many times with flammable petroleum based waxes,'' according to the web site


On May 25, 1950, a ``Green Hornet'' street car collided with a gasoline truck in Chicago, killing 33 people. About 30 others escaped through the center doors.

Nov 11, 2008


On May 15, 1929, fumes from burning nitro-cellulose x-ray film killed 123 people at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. Among the bodies scattered about was Dr. John Phillips, a founder of the clinic. According to the Associated Press, firemen ``reached the roof and chopped a hole leading to a stairway, then dropped a ladder to the fourth floor landing. Below they found sixteen bodies, one a doctor and another a nurse.''


Photo: 209 Capitol Street Development

On March 4, 1949, seven firefighters died in a fire and collapse at the F.W. Woolworth & Co. store in downtown Charleston, West Virginia. A dozen or more were injured. Firefighters Richard Gilmer and J.P. ``Jigs'' Little were manning a cellar pipe when the first floor fell into the basement. Gilmer survived. ``I didn't hear or see no more of Jigs at all,'' Gilmer recalled at a memorial service fifty years later.

Firefighters lost:

  • George Coates
  • J.P. ``Jigs'' Little
  • Emory Pauley
  • Frank Miller
  • Fredie Summers
  • Richard McCormick
  • Frank Sharp