Fire Buffs promote the general welfare of the fire and rescue service and protect its heritage and history. Famous Fire Buffs through the years include New York Fire Surgeon Harry Archer, Boston Pops Conductor Arthur Fiedler, New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and - legend has it - President George Washington.
Wednesday, November 23, 2016
On July 2, 1910, Box 456 was transmitted for the Levy Silk Mill and Manhattan Ribbon at Bridge and River streets in Paterson. No serious injuries were reported. About 100 workers lost their jobs.
Wednesday, November 16, 2016
: gendisasters.com, maggieblanck.com, Rutgers University
The Hoboken piers fire of June 30, 1900 claimed at least 326 lives, destroyed three Trans-Atantic liners and 24 smaller craft and gutted warehouses and other shore-side structures.
The Saale, Bremen and Main of the North German Lloyd line were lost; the Kaiser Wilhelm de Gross was heavily damaged.
The fire started in bales of cotton on the wharf and spread to barrels of turpentine and oil, gaining in ferocity.
Flames overwhelmed the resources of the Hoboken Fire Department, which received the initial alarm at about 4 p.m.
On the New York side of the river, Box 251 for West and Morton streets rang in at 4:09 p.m, according to an account on the website of FDNY Marine Company 1.
Fire boats assigned to the box saw "hell was popping" across the river and steamed toward New Jersey.
"In less than fifteen minutes the flames covered an area of a quarter of a mile long, extending outward from the actual short line to the bulk-heads, from six hundred to one thousand feet away," according to an account published in newspapers across the country.
Many of the casualties were trapped on the ships.
Those below deck struggled "in vain to force their way through the small portholes, while the flames pressed relentlessly upon them,” The New York Times reported.
The Graphic newspaper reported: "Decks were strewn with the bodies of those who succumbed to the fierce heat, which speedily made iron an steel red hot."
The piers themselves "entirely disappeared, and in their place was a clearing of blackened tops of piles and a gnarled mass of iron beams, the framework of the tops of the sheds," the Brooklyn Eagle said.
The Hoboken Fire Department lost a hose wagon to the flames.
For full details, visit maggieblanck.com
Tuesday, November 15, 2016
Photo and diagram: Wikipedia
On July 9, 1937, fire engulfed the 20th Century Fox film storage facility in Little Ferry, New Jersey, resulting in the loss of most of the silent films produced by Fox Film Corporation before 1932.
On person died and two others were injured.
Investigators determined the fire was caused by the spontaneous combustion of nitrate film stored in inadequately ventilated vaults.
Firefighters from Little Ferry, Hawthorne, Ridgefield Park, River Edge and South Hackensack manned 14 hose steams, bringing the blaze under control in three hours, according to Wikipedia.
Four homes and a garage also sustained damage.
Thursday, November 10, 2016
On Nov. 29, 1899, Paterson firefighters wielding axes freed passengers from wreck of the Buffalo Express at the Van Winkle Street rail crossing.
A local train bound for Hoboken sped through a signal and crashed into the express as it waited near the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad station - killing six people and injuring 21 others, The New York Times reported.
The local train shattered the rear day coach of the express and sent it telescoping into the next car.
A fire ensued.
"Within a few moments, police reserves , firemen and crowds of people came to the rescue of those in the terrible tangle of wood and iron" and ripped "the fearful pile to pieces," according to a dispatch in the Sacramento Daily Union.
The fire was also extinguished.
Thursday, September 29, 2016
Wednesday, September 21, 2016
In memory of Walter "Skip" Gangel, who was born in Paterson, served with the Franklin Lakes Ambulance Corps and kindled the editor's interest in the fire and rescue service many years ago.
Born: May 31, 1958
Died: April 28, 2016
Tuesday, September 20, 2016
Photos from Collection of Bruno Wendt, Paterson Fire History - Top: Paterson Engine Co. 1's crew pumps foam. Deputy Chief William Comer, later Chief of Department, foreground. Center: Truck Co. 2 with aerial up, Squad Co. 1. Bottom: Early stage of fire.
UPDATED NOVEMBER 2019
Paterson's old police headquarters was the scene of two major fires two decades apart.
On Feb. 8, 1980, a general alarm fire gutted the structure at 111 Washington St.
Box 171 was transmitted at 4:25 p.m. and flames burned - almost unchecked - for five hours.
Firefighters resorted to pumping foam into the basement to contend with exploding ammunition and popping tear gas canisters.
The 77-year-old stone structure - described by The New York Times as "ornate" - had been showing its age and was abandoned after the blaze.
Detective Nat Davis was waiting to go out on assignment. In an instant, "all I saw was smoke coming through the walls, the floor" Davis told the Paterson News. "I started yelling, `Fire. Fire.' You couldn't see anything. We had to hold the doors so people could get out."
Two inmates were evacuated from a lockup and police dispatchers moved swiftly into position at police headquarters in neighboring Prospect Park, the News said.
Temporary quarters were established at the old Central High School building. The police department was already scheduled to move into the new Public Safety Complex on Broadway that spring.
Flames visited the old headquarters on May 18, 1963 when a fire in a padded cell killed three prisoners and injured 11 others, including two firefighters, the Morning Call reported.
"The padded cell that burned was supposed to be fire proof," the newspaper reported.
Police suspected a prisoner started the fire. Flames were confined to the cell, which had been constructed two years earlier. The Associated Press reported fumes from the foam rubber padding caused the deaths and injuries.
In a macabre twist, in September 2016, a body was discovered locked in a cell in the long-vacant structure, with officials estimating the person had been dead about a decade.
In 2019, the building re-opened, "meticulously restored to house office suites," the Paterson Times reported.
UPDATED NOVEMBER 2019
Disaster struck on the 34th anniversary of the Quackenbush warehouse fire and collapse that killed five Paterson firefighters in 1938.
On March 11, 1972, Sylvettes Store, located at Main Street and Broadway, suffered a similar catastrophe.
Four firefighters were injured, including Michael Ross of Truck Company 2, who was trapped under bricks, cinder blocks and other debris.
"I tried to crawl, but my legs were pinned," Ross told the Paterson News. "I was stunned and thought I was a goner."
"I could hear voices saying 'Ross is trapped; we must get him out," he said. "Next thing I knew, I was in the hospital."
Adjacent businesses suffered varying degrees of damage in the general alarm fire that raged as shoppers filled streets on a Saturday afternoon.
Falling debris stuck a street light, sending it crashing into the fire department's snorkel and rocking the men in the bucket, the News said.
Debris also crushed the side of a new pumper assigned to Engine Company 5, which lost men in the Quackenbush disaster.
Sylvettes, which sold ladies coats and dresses, was owned and operated by Al and Julius Gladstone. It was located next to the old Rivoli Theater, which opened in 1923 and was converted into shops.
Box 451, the same alarm signal transmitted for the Great Fire of 1902, rang in at 3 p.m.
The blaze was declared under control at 6:30 p.m.
Friday, September 16, 2016
It was hell on earth.
On April 29, 1978, the Fulton Street fire - a general alarm at Box 151 - devoured old mills, adjacent homes and buildings in Paterson.
Acting Fire Chief Daniel Carroll said: "I never saw a fire spread so quickly."
Three Paterson Fire Department vehicles - Engine 2, Engine 5 and Battalion 2 - were left in ruins.
The initial alarm was received at 5:31 p.m. for a four-story mill at 28 Fulton St., near the Passaic River.
Hundreds of firefighters from across North Jersey provided mutual aid.
Investigators said the fire was arson.
Initial reports suggested a grain explosion.
* * *
The New York Times - May 2, 1978
PATERSON, May 1 ‐ Officials here said today that the multimillion‐dollar fire that destroyed four industrial buildings and five residential structures in the Riverside section of the city late Saturday and early Sunday had been deliberately set.
“We have reason to believe that it was not the work of vandals,” said Mayor. Lawrence F. Kramer as he met with some of the owners of companies that had been destroyed or damaged by the blaze, which was still smoldering.
Crane operators were at the scene trying to knock down parts of walls of the four‐story mill structures that were still standing.
“It was definitely a set fire,” Acting Fire Chief Daniel Carroll said. “We have not come up with conclusive proof as yet, but in all my 36 years of experience as a firefighter I never saw a fire spread so quickly. There is no doubt in my mind that the fire was accelerated by something other than natural causes.”
He said that a four‐story mill building at 28 Fulton Street where the fire started had been virtually vacant but that “it was fully involved within five minutes. There was no reason for the fire to spread so quickly."
He said that investigators from the County Prosecutor's office and from the police would help the department's arson squad try to determine the exact cause of the blaze, which left seven families homeless and idled about 70 workers.
The Mayor had high praise for the Paterson Fire Department and for the 200 firemen from neighboring communities who had fought the blaze for more than 10 hours.
“It was touch and go there for a while,” the Mayor said. “We had potential bombs at both ends.”
Thursday, September 15, 2016
121 Clinton St., Hoboken
The city was also the scene of a suspicious hotel fire that claimed 12 lives on April 30, 1982.
Hudson County prosecutor Harold Ruvoldt said fires were set for profit and revenge.
Most, if not all, were never solved.
In a letter published in the Dec. 13, 1981 edition of The New York Times, a Hoboken resident named Diane M. Camilleri, wrote:
Until several years ago, Hoboken was a stable, ethnically diverse working-class city. The original influx of more-affluent people from outside Hoboken led to the renovation of many small buildings in certain areas of the city, usually for the purchaser's own residence.
More recently, however, large real-estate interests and developers seem to have taken over gentrification; wholesale renovations and condominium conversions are occurring. Apparently not satisfied with the pace of evicting the poor, there has been a recent major increase in tenant harassment and arson.
Hoboken's arson rate over the last few years has been staggering for a small city. In the last month and a half alone, there have been 13 deaths in two arson fires. One building, in which 11 people, mostly Hispanic, died as a result of arson, is next to a group of buildings soon to be offered for sale as condominiums. This burnedout building was bought by the same developer who owns the adjacent condominiums.
The arson on Nov. 21 killed two people and displaced more than 60 others, who were then moved out of Hoboken. Among those 60 were some victims of the previous recent arsons who were being ''temporarily'' housed there. That building was bought in October by a real-estate developer.
Wednesday, September 14, 2016
It was a case of cold-blooded murder by fire.
On Dec. 10, 1968, an arson blaze swept the Midtown Hotel in downtown Paterson, killing six people.
Deputy Fire Chief Solomon Reines said there had been a "neighborhood vendetta" against occupants of the hotel, scene of an earlier fire.
Box 141 was transmitted at 10:58 p.m. and went to a general alarm in freezing cold.
About 20 people lived in the hotel, many of them elderly transients, according to an Associated Press dispatch.
Rooms were located on the second story of a row of shops at 2 Park Ave.
Police Sergeant Stanley Nessen said he convinced about 10 people not to jump from the ledge and they were rescued by firefighters.
Police arrested a suspect Dec. 13 and filed six counts of homicide as well as arson.
They sought four other suspects in the case.
Tuesday, September 13, 2016
On Feb. 17, 1967, firefighters from across North Jersey responded to Hawthorne for a series of explosions that killed 11 workers at a chemical plant.
Hawthorne Mayor Louis Bay II said victims faced "certain cremation" at the plant owned by the Morningstar Paisley Division of the International Latex Corp.
Sixteen others were injured, some seriously.
The force of the blasts flipped a railroad box car on a track adjacent to the shattered the three-story plant.
Harry Shortway, an off-duty police officer from Ridgewood, raced inside to render aid with explosions "still popping and bricks flying,'' United Press International reported.
The plant processed corn starch.
Investigators suspected a buildup of dust triggered the blasts.
Working in the glare of floodlights, disaster crews early this morning recovered the body of one man from the debris of the Morningstar Paisley Division of the International Latex Corp. The victim was not identified pending the arrival of a coroner.
Wives and children of some of the missing men waited in driving snow through the night and early morning while rescuers dug through the ruins of the plant, blasted apart Friday near the noon hour.
Half of the 16 persons injured in the tragedy were hospitalized today, several in serious condition.
Standing in sub-freezing cold through most of the night while 150 rescuers picked through the smouldering ruins, Mayor LOUIS BAY II said the victims faced "certain cremation" when the explosions ripped through the plant.
"I'm sure we will not find them alive," he added grimly.
The enormity of the ruins made recovery operations difficult.
The plant manufactured preservatives for foodstuffs and adhesive materials.
The first explosion thundered through a three-story building in the block-long, L-shaped complex. Other blasts followed and the raging flames swept the rest of the plant, which included an attached one-story structure and a separate one-story building.
What touched off the explosions was a mystery.
"We are completely puzzled by this," said MAX FELLER, executive in the firm's New York City office. "The most explosive things we manufacture are food preservatives made from ground starch. How inflammable is starch?"
Another report said the explosions might have started in an oven used to roast corn starch and make dextrine from it. It said accumulated dust in the area could have caused a spontaneous explosion.
HARRY SHORTWAY, an off-duty policeman from Ridgewood, N.J., raced into the three-story building while explosions were still popping and bricks flying. As he went in, a man ran out afire, screaming. Firemen directed hoselines on him to put out the flames.
Wednesday, August 24, 2016
On Nov. 4, 1917, Box 513 was transmitted at 1:15 a.m. for 42 Mill Street - The Salvation Army Rescue Mission.
The flames spread fast.
Men jumped from windows or died in dormitories.
Bodies were found on charred cots and huddled near stairs.
Nineteen "friendless men who earned their lodgings at the mission by helping in the collection of usable white paper, magazines and kindling wood," a newspaper correspondent wrote.
The toll was higher than the 15 lives lost at the Alexander Hamilton Hotel fire on Oct. 18, 1984 and the 17 lives lost in a tenement explosion at 440 Main St. on June 21, 1901.
The Washington Post reported:
"Nineteen bodies had been taken tonight from the ruins of the Salvation Army rescue mission in this city, which was destroyed by fire early today. Ten men were taken to hospitals with probably mortal injuries, and many others were less seriously hurt in leaping from windows of the burning structure.''
The New York Times:
"Policemen who were the first to reach the fire rescued twenty-five old and feeble men from the dormitories on the third floor. At every window on the fourth floor, where most of the men had been sleeping, the men held to the ledges ... An hour after the fire was discovered all the floors and roof had been burned out, and only the brick walls of the building remained standing.''
The Richmond Times Dispatch:
PATERSON, N.J. November 4 -- Nineteen men lost their lives to-day at a fire which destroyed the Paterson Salvation Army Rescue Mission at 42 Mill Street.
Eighteen of the victims were burned to death before rescuers could reach them.
The other, one of fourteen taken to the hospital, succumbed there to his injuries.
Many others were badly injured, either in the surging mass of humanity which, panic-stricken, stampeded from the building, or by leaping from the windows.
Six of the dead were identified at the morgue, where their charred bodies were taken after the fire had been extinguished.
Henry Dowling, Michael Grimes, Fred Brennan, John Shell, Frank Costello and William A. McNabe.
Most of, if not all of, the other victims are believed to have been burned beyond recognition.
Some of the bodies may never be recovered.
Over a score sustained injuries of minor character.
These were treated by ambulance surgeons.
Of those who leaped from the windows of the burning building, thirteen were so badly hurt that their removal to the hospital was imperative.
Some of these, it was said, may not recover.
The fire started among a large stock of newspapers and magazines stored in the rear of the building.
It spread rapidly to a large pile of kindling wood in the yard near-by, and licked up the side of the building, which burned like tinder.
There was some confusion in sending in an alarm.
The first alarm was sent by telephone.
That was quickly followed by the pulling of several boxes at different points.
The firemen were delayed several fatal minutes in responding because of the uncertainty as to the exact location of the fire.
When they arrived the building was doomed.
There were eighty-five men sleeping in the building when the fire started.
Some were old and some crippled.
Few were in the full vigor of manhood, as the Rescue Mission was conducted as a haven for unfortunates who possessed no home and but little means 1 of livelihood.
Police squads, under Captain A. J. McBride and Lieutenant Joseph Moseley, reached the scene before the firemen arrived.
Even then the building was a roaring furnace.
But the police, their forces quickly augmented by a number of detectives, addressed themselves selves to the work of rescuing the inmates.
"Lead them to the fire escape quick," yelled Captain McBrlde, but it was discovered the building's one fire escape was at the rear.
Escape by that means wits impossible.
A mad rush for the interior stairway followed.
Choked by smoke, which also so blinded them that they groped dazedly while surging toward the stairs, the crowd of men readied the only interior means of egress en masse.
It was inevitable that some of the crippled and weaker men should go down in the rush.
At least five probably fell either on the stairway or near its foot.
Their charred bodies were later discovered huddled in the lower hall.
They had apparently first been trampled and later burned to death.
Directly after the firemen arrived a life net was spread to catch the men who were jumping from the third and fourth stories.
Some of the men, crazed by fear, sprang from the windows without waiting for the net.
They were badly injured.
A few others, even after the net had been spread, disregarded it, or failed to see it in their panic, and leaped over it or to one side.
Andrew McDonald, an aged inmate of the building, was trapped on the fourth floor.
Crippled by rheumatism, he managed to make his way to the window but was unable to pull himself over the ledge.
His white face was seen, lighted by the flames, at the window.
Long ladders had been fetched by that time, and one was quickly raised to the window.
Lieutenant Moseley and two of his men scrambled up the ladder at the imminent risk of their own lives, for the flames were even then licking up the side of the building.
Reaching the window, they drew the crippled man through and made as hasty descent as safety permitted.
As they readied the ground the entire side of the building was enveloped by flames.
Paterson's thirteen fire companies, under Chief Thomas Coyle, had much difficulty in preventing the fire's spread.