On the afternoon of Sunday, January 4th in 1925, 1 patient died in fire at a private Boston hospital. The Scobey Hospital, located at 906-908 Beacon Street had been converted from two four-story residences into a hospital by cutting two doorways through the fire wall that separated them. Though there were fire doors installed, they were not automatic and were held open at the time of the fire.
It was just before one o’clock in the afternoon when the fire started. The apparent cause was from a short-circuit that ignited the lower limbs of a dismantled Christmas tree in a room near the foot of the main stairs. At the time of the incident, four women were in the process of taking down the tree in the front room on the first floor when the fire started. They attempted to use rugs to put the fire out… Unfortunately the tree was dry and the fire quickly spread to the window curtains and wooden trim before sweeping up the wooden stairway and into the adjoining building.
There were eighteen patients in the hospital at the time of the incident, two of them infants. All of the adult patients were “surgical cases” and required assistance in their escape from the building. “Those who were able to move crowded out on to the small balconies and endured the smoke pouring from the windows behind them until rescuers reached them.”
From NFPA Quarterly v. 18, no.4 (April 1925):
While there was much talk and many rumors surrounding the fire at the time, it distracted the public “from the real cause of the seriousness of the fire – the unsprinklered and combustible construction of the building, insufficiency of exits, and the fire door fastened open. The one loss of life was directly due to the open fire door on the third floor. The lack of exits imperiled the lives of patients and made necessary the ladder rescues.
The character of the interior, highly combustible, without proper protection of vertical openings, and the total lack of first-aid fire appliances or a sprinkler system in the parts of the building affected, left nothing to retard the progress of the fire.”
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