On March 29, 1917 “two fires of suspicious origin” broke out at separate ends of the Brooklyn Public Library-Pacific Branch. The fire in the right wing of the building died out. However, the fire in the left wing of the building grew substantially before anyone noticed.
In the end, the interior of the building was destroyed, several thousand books were ruined due to smoke and water, and the damage was estimated to be $30,000-$50,000. Looking at Brooklyn Public Library Board Proceedings from 1917-1919, it’s evident it took the library two years to replace their building, furnishings, and collection.
From the NFPA Quarterly vol.10, no.4, 1917:
“Tarpaulins were stretched in hopes of being able to save some of the books in the burning portion of the building, and thirty firemen on the main floor had a narrow escape when three balconies collapsed simultaneously. The blaze was under control after two hours’ work.
More interesting, however, to our members than the details of the fire will be the accompanying photographs for which we are indebted to the courtesy of Mr. F. J. T. Stewart. In Mr. Stewart’s own words they ‘show how a public library should not be constructed.’ Large spaces between partitions were used as ducts for pipes, vents, etc., and formed a flue of liberal size directly connecting the cellar with a large combustible attic. The result was that when the fire occurred in the cellar it immediately communicated to the attic causing the roof to collapse, and involving heavy damage to the entire building with the exception of the masonry walls.”
~ Written by Jenny DeRocher, Simmons College '18 MLIS Candidate,
For more information regarding this and other moments in fire history, please feel free to reach out to the NFPA Research Library & Archives.
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