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Paterson Riverside Station - Photo by Dr. Thomas Dayspring

Friday, October 7, 2011


UPDATED JAN. 16, 2018

On March 12, 1938, five Paterson firemen died at a general alarm fire at the Quackenbush Co. department store warehouse - the greatest tragedy in the fire department's history.

Deputy Chief James Sweeney and the crew of Engine Co. 5 were buried in rubble when a brick wall collapsed at Box 474 - 51-55 Prospect St.

``Only two or three fire crews were at the scene when tonight's tragedy occurred, their job being not only to wet down the ruins but also to remove debris that might endanger public safety,'' The New York Times reported.

``At the time the wall collapsed, the firemen were devising a means to to pull it down because they knew it was in danger of falling,'' the Times said:

The fallen:

•Deputy Chief James Sweeny, 58
•Capt. John Davenport, 44, of Engine 5
•Fireman Louis Rodesky, 49, of Engine 5
•Fireman Matthew O'Neill, 45, of Engine 5
•Fireman William Lynch, 37, of Engine 5

Fire Engineering reported in its May 1938 edition: ``Deputy Chief Sweeney with Captain Davenport and members of Engine 5 entered an alley about 8 feet wide ... From the alley the men were trying to pour water on a fire that was still burning  in the center of the brick warehouse.''

That's where they lost their lives.

Only one member of  Engine 5 survived, the pump operator.

When Engine 5 reported back to quarters, he said: ``No. 5 reporting back to quarters ... I'm all alone chief.''

The first alarm was transmitted at 1:58 p.m. followed by the second alarm at 2:01 p.m., the third at 2:09 p.m., the fourth at 2:12 p.m., the fifth at 2:14 p.m. and the sixth at 2:23 p.m.

Thirteen engines and three trucks took in the blaze, while Haledon, Prospect Park and Little Falls covered the rest of the city.

The warehouse, consisting of a pair old buildings - a former church and a former a garage, was filled with bedding, furniture and assorted merchandise, Fire Engineering said.

Customers and staff were evacuated from the adjoining department store.

The fire was considered under control at 5 p.m. and crews began returning to quarters.

Disaster struck 7:50 p.m.

For full details, visit