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.


Thursday, October 31, 2019

PARK AVENUE ARSON - 1981

Photo: Paterson Retired Firefighters Facebook


On Oct. 15, 1981, a spurned suitor set a 4-alarm arson fire that raced through a four-story tenement at 87-89 Park Avenue in Paterson, killing eight people and injuring two dozen others.

"Families in an adjacent building were forced to flee when flames jumped across a small alley," The New York Times reported.

Box 11 was transmitted shortly before 3 a.m. and firefighters, back in quarters from an earlier third-alarm blaze, responded to a 
chaotic scene.

Gasoline was poured throughout the tenement, blocking exits.

Fire Engineering magazine said:

"First-arriving companies encountered a mass of flame over the entire facade of the building, engulfing both fire escapes and the central stairway. The tenants, most of whom were asleep at the time, were trapped on all four floors.

"Six people who had jumped from upper windows were lying on the ground outside. People were standing at numerous windows and were dropping children into the arms of fire fighters and civilians assisting at the scene.

"To complicate the situation, the fire jumped a 6-foot alley and spread to a fully occupied similar building of four stories.

"First-in companies set up master streams to knock down the flames over the outside fire escapes. This action enabled truck companies to ladder the front of the building and rescue at least a dozen persons."

Firefighter Elliot McGuire rescued members of a family trapped by the thick smoke and flames, according to United Press International.

"The guy was fantastic," Fire Chief Harold Kane said.

McGuire raced up and down a ladder, removing a 10-year-old boy, a woman and a man from a third-floor window. He then "
groped in the dark" and found an unconscious 9-year-old boy in a rear bedroom, UPI reported.

Firefighters recovered the bodies of Edwin Perez, 34, his wife Irene, 38, and their children, Alejandro, 5, Carmen, 10, and Edwin Ramon, 11. Luis Alberto Perez, 23, a relative, was also found dead.

The other fatalities were identified as Gloria Hendley, 26, and Ramon Diaz, 56.

Twenty-four people were injured, including three firefighters.

Leonides Garcia, 37, was convicted of setting the blaze, Fire Engineering reported. Police said Garcia had been "making passes" at a tenant for several months and she wanted none of it, according to UPI. 

CHRISTIAN SANITORIUM - 1935


On Nov. 24, 1935, fire struck the Christian Sanitorium in Wyckoff. 
Two patients died in the blaze that destroyed one of the sanitorium's five buildings. Paterson, Hawthorne, Midland Park and Franklin Lakes provided mutual aid. Nurses saved many patients. The victims were identified as Barbara Sinke, 47, of Prospect Park, and Mary Duke, 77, of Bayonne, according to an Associated Press story in the St. Petersburg Times in Florida.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

NORTH BERGEN - 1956

Apartment building and TV tower 

On Nov. 8, 1956,  a twin-engine aircraft flying in rain and fog clipped a giant television tower in North Bergen and crashed into an apartment building, spewing flaming fuel and scattering parts over several city blocks.


Four people died and 15 others - including a dozen firefighters - were injured, according to the Associated Press. 

The pilot and passenger of the plane flying from Indianapolis to New York City were among the fatalities as was a woman who  "jumped five stories to the street in panic as the building burst into flames," AP said.

"The impact of the crash shattered a part of the southwest wall of the multiple dwelling and the main portion of the plane was imbedded in the top floor," the magazine Fire Engineering reported. "Ruptured fuel tanks sprayed gasoline over the entire south wall starting a fire that involved that face of the building.

"In addition fire involved the entire top floor and the cockloft," the magazine said.

An aircraft engine hit 
a garage at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Chapel School, where more than 200 children were in attendance, AP reported.  Witness Dorothy Mounet said landing gear "bounced like a basketball behind a moving car."

Fearing the steel latticed 810-foot television tower would collapse, officials evacuated hundreds of homes. Workers secured the tower, which residents - rightfully - considered a hazard. It was eventually removed.

Engine 1, Engine 4, Truck 1 and the emergency squad responded on the first alarm at Box 415 at 77th and Broadway. Upon arrival, Acting Deputy Chief Theodore Fletcher 
ordered a general alarm, including mutual aid from neighboring cities to fight the fire and fill in North Bergen's fire stations.

Fire Engineering said:

"The fire from the sprayed gasoline had ignited the wooden window casings of the building and the first fire fighting efforts were devoted to preventing the spread of the blaze from this fuel.

"Two deck pipes were used to wash the side of the apartment house and quickly stopped the fire on the exterior. It was later determined that the only places the fire had entered the building from this source was through windows broken by the intense heat. Spray from the deck pipe streams was sufficient to put out these interior fires.

"When the outside wall fire had been extinguished, all efforts were directed at the fire on the top floor and in the cockloft.

"Two 2 1/2 -inch hand lines had been stretched to the top floor by way of the fire escape and a third 2 1/2-inch line was taken to the top floor over an aerial ladder. The 2 1/2-inch hand lines, the two deck pipes and two ladder pipe streams were used to control the remaining fire."

Total Response

North Bergen: 4 engines, 1 ladder, 1 emergency squad
Guttenberg: 3 engines, 1 ladder, 1 ambulance
West New York:  2 engines, 1 ladder, 1 ambulance
Weehawken: 1 engine, 1 emergency truck, 1 ambulance
Ridgefield: 1 engine
Bogota: 1 Civil Defense rescue
Maywood: 1 Civil Defense rescue

Friday, October 25, 2019

BEN MARDEN'S - 1936


On Thanksgiving Day 1936, fire destroyed a North Jersey landmark - Ben Marden's Riviera in Fort Lee, the popular night club atop the Palisades.


Flames "
spread so quickly that Fort Lee's four fire companies, reinforced by two from Englewood Cliffs, could do little" to save the wooden structure, the Associated Press reported.

Ammonia fumes from the refrigerating plant injured Fort Lee volunteer firefighter John Tierney.


The club was open earlier in the day - Nov. 26 - for its 
annual distribution of 500 Thanksgiving baskets to needy families.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

HOLLAND TUNNEL - 1949

Photo: Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
Battalion Chief Gunther E. Beake
On Friday, May 13, 1949, a truck hauling 80 drums of a restricted chemical from Jersey City to Manhattan triggered a fire inside the Holland Tunnel that blistered the tiled interior of the Hudson River crossing.

The blaze started about 3,000 feet from the New Jersey portal.

"
The fire was very difficult to extinguish due to thick smoke, heavy fumes and close quarters, requiring the assistance of both the New York and Jersey City fire departments," according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

The tunnel's ventilation system helped save the day.

"Firemen entered the eastbound tube from the New Jersey entrance and worked their way through two lanes of parked vehicles formed by more than 100 automobiles, buses and trucks," the port authority said.


The Holland Tunnel disaster injured more than 60 people and led to the death three months later of a New York City firefighter,
 Battalion Chief Gunther E. Beake, who was overcome by smoke and chemical fumes.

UNION CITY - 1934



Photo
: Passionist Historical Archives Collection, McHugh Special Collections, The University of Scranton, Scranton, PA


Fire raged at St. Michael’s Monastery Church in Union City on May 31, 1934, leaving charred ruins.

A dozen people were hurt. A worker's torch apparently sparked the blaze.

"
The entire interior of the 65-year-old structure was destroyed," The New York Times said. "The great copper dome crashed into the nave from a height of 200 feet.

"When the flames were brought under control, only the walls of the church and the stone part of the two fa├žade towers were standing," the Times said.