Late in the morning on Friday, April 20, 1928, three explosions shook the property at the Alexander Industries plant in Engelwood, Colorado. At least eleven people lost their lives due to this tragedy.
The cause of the explosions was undetermined at the time, but it was widely believed that the ignition source was from an electric motor that sparked while operating a ventilation fan and then set fire to a pan of silver nitrate in the paint shop. This shop was used as a “Dope Shed” where airplane wings would be coated with a nitro-cellulose compound called “dope”. Because of the highly flammable nature of the materials involved, the fire spread quickly and destroyed most of the complex.
On April 10, 1935, the Massachusetts fire departments of Weymouth and Braintree were called upon to fight a large fire that swept over Weymouth Landing after a gas explosion early in the morning.
At the time of the incident, there had been a suspected gas leak. The manager of the store was heading to the basement to inspect the leak at about 1:30 A.M, when the blast occurred. Considerable confusion was caused in the surrounding streets by flooding and a fire soon broke out among the debris in the store. The blast also was credited with shattering the window glass of most of the surrounding buildings.
For more information regarding this and other moments in fire history, please feel free to reach out to the NFPA Research Library & Archives.
The NFPA Archives houses all of NFPA's publications, both current and historic.
Library staff are available to answer research questions from members and the general public.
After a long period of drought conditions, much of the western and central portions of the United States have been saturated by flooding in recent weeks. Today the NFPA Archives takes a look back at an incident from April 3, 1958.
It all started out innocently enough. Sixteen year-old, Ronald Gregory of Oakland, California was wading through the flood-swollen waters of a local creek bed when he was caught by surprise and swept away with the strong current. He ended up traveling a fair distance downstream before he managed to grab the trunk of a willow tree and pull himself up to a precarious position in its branches. The image above shows the final rescue that was made by the San Leandro police and fire personnel.
This week we mark one hundred and eight years since the disaster and tragedy known as the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. On March 25, 1911, fire spread through the cramped garment factory on the 8th, 9thand 10thfloors of the Asch Building in lower Manhattan. The rapidly spreading fire killed 146 workers, many of whom were young women.
The building only had one fire escape and this inadequate means of egress collapsed during the rescue efforts. Workers were crushed in the panic as the fought to open locked doors and only a few water buckets were available to douse flames.
After the incident, the labor movement and other groups created a public outcry over what was clearly a preventable tragedy. There was a renewed sense of urgency toward creating safer working environments and improving the rights of women and immigrants at this time as well.
According to OSHA, “the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire remained the deadliest workplace tragedy in New York City’s History” until the September 11thterrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001. Read more from the 100th anniversary in NFPA Journal.
On March 21, 1934, the city of Hakodate, Japan was overwhelmed by a conflagration that destroyed more than half of the city’s buildings and caused the loss of more than two thousand lives.
While fires and conflagrations were not unusual in the seaside community, the weather conditions that occurred on this particular date made this incident particularly tragic. There was a heavy rain that day that later changed to snow. As the afternoon progressed the snow was accompanied by a gradually increasing southwest wind which reached more than 60 miles per hour by 6pm. Added to these conditions were short circuits in the city lighting system.
From NFPA Quarterly v. 28, no. 2 (1934):
“The fire had its origin on the second floor of a two-story wooden building occupied by a Shinto priest in the southeastern part of the city. It is supposed to have been caused by burning embers from an open fireplace, which was exposed when the roof of the house was blown off by the wind. This section of the city is in a low place and the fire was first observed from the fire tower at the fire brigade headquarters more than a mile away, although there were street fire alarm boxes installed in the immediate vicinity. Three engines and three hose trucks were dispatched to the scene of the fire as promptly as possible. Some delay was experienced, however, due to the fact that most of the men and equipment of the brigade were engaged at fires caused by the short circuiting of electric wires in various other parts of the city…
Because of the direction of the wind at the start of the fire many people made their escape to Omori Beach, where they were trapped when the wind suddenly shifted toward the west. About 550 persons were burned, drowned or frozen when the fire overtook them at this point.
The greatest loss of life occurred at Shinkawa when the three bridges which spanned the Shinkawa River burned or broke under the weight of the panic-striken throngs. This cut off all escape to the north and 600 persons burned to death in this areas. Severe loss of life also occurred in the section burned at Takamori-cho, at Sunayama-cho some 400 persons who could not pass the mountain were all burned to death and at Shinkawa Beach 120 were burned, drowned, or frozen to death.”
On March 21, 1929 an explosion and fire occurred at the Kinloch Mine in Parnassus, PA. The origin of this explosion was underground and forty-six lives were lost when the incident occurred. At the time of the explosion, there were two hundred and fifty-eight men underground. Fortunately, the explosion was limited due to partial rock dusting and 213 people were able to escape.
From NFPA Quarterly v. 23, no. 1 (1929):
“The explosion traveled up the slope to the Tipple Building, which was ignited and burned for three or four hours. One man was burned to death here and four were injured. This structure, as shown by the accompanying illustration, was entirely of steel construction, with no combustible material except coal dust and pieces of coal, some wooden flooring, and the paint on the corrugated iron walls. The damage to this structure was largely due to the fire rather than to the explosion, which presumably did not have great force when it propagated outside the mine and into the Tipple Building, the floor of which was 25 to 30 ft. above the ground.
It would appear from the description that this fire might have been controlled with a minimum of damage by an automatic sprinkler system if sprinklers had been installed. Automatic sprinkler protection is not usual in this class of property; this case indicates the potential value of such protection.”
Pictured above are the charred ruins of a prison stockade near Kenansville, N.C.
On Saturday, March 7th1931, eleven prisoners were trapped in their cells and died as fire destroyed the entire structure. The county investigation apparently ended with a coroner’s verdict stating that no criminal negligence was attached to any person and that the fire started from an unknown origin.
What was eventually referred to as “The Duplin Incident” sparked debate and increased awareness of the antiquated prisons located in the region. Governor Gardner of North Carolina was prompted to issue a statement appealing to the legislature to approve a bill that would allow construction of a more modern and less flammable prison facility.
For more information regarding this and other moments in fire history, please feel free to reach out to the NFPA Research Library & Archives.The NFPA Archives houses all of NFPA's publications, both current and historic.
Library staff are available to answer research questions from members and the general public.
Two men lost their lives and six others were injured on February 21, 1925 when an explosion occurred on an oil barge in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The barge contained 150,000 gallons of crude oil and was located at the municipal garbage disposal plant in the southwest portion of the city when the accident happened.
From The NFPA Quarterly v.18, no.4, 1925:
“Fire apparatus, summoned by two alarms on the east bank of the river and three on the west bank, hurried to the scene in time to check the onrush of flames in the wake of the explosion, which threatened the railroad bridge. Spreading ashore at the disposal plant, the blaze damaged the pier and oil storage tanks.
Drifting patches of blazing fluid on the river’s surface forced the crew of a pile driver to leap for their lives, while the intensity of the heat from the flames drove men off a number of barges moored nearby.”
“Ignitze” is an ingenious public education device designed by F.L. McCament of the U.S. Forest Service and used at the New Mexico State Fair with the help of the Albuquerque Fire Department. Operated by firemen inside the “fire-proofed” skin, “Ignitze” has matches for horns, moves his eyes, jaws and legs, smokes viciously at a monster pipe and cigarette.
This week we bring you a poster from 1945 than warns of the dangers involved with hot work. According to NFPA, “Hot work is any activity or process that involves open flames or that generates sparks or heat and includes: Welding and allied processes; heat treating; grinding; thawing pipes; powder-driven fasteners; hot riveting; torch-applied roofing; and any similar applications producing or using sparks, flame or heat.”
In March of 2014, a fire in Boston, MA, took the lives of firefighter Michael Kennedy and Lieutenant Edward Walsh. The cause of the fire was determined to be unpermitted welding, where the workers did not take factors such as high winds and nearby combustible material into account.(NFPA - Hot Work Safety Fact Sheet, Sept. 2018)
While fire is never an easy element to deal with, cold climates and wintery weather can make for especially difficult conditions. On the evening of January 22nd, 1922 a fire broke out in the Notre Dame de Grace section of Montreal, Canada. As a result of this fire, two firefighters lost their lives.
From NFPA Quarterly v. 15, no. 4 (1922):
“The fire was discovered just before seven o’clock by a tenant. It was issuing from a Chinese laundry on the ground floor. An alarm brought the nearest station apparatus in a few moments and streams were promptly turned on the fire although the zero [degree] weather hampered the firemen… A group of firemen entered the laundry to get at the fire. An explosion followed, throwing the front of the building into the street. Two firemen were buried in the ruins. A general alarm brought most of the city apparatus but it was midnight before the fire was under control.
The cause of the fire is not known. It is thought that the explosion was caused by gasoline in the laundry or in a clothes-cleaning establishment in the basement. The two large apartment houses which were gutted comprised between them thirty-three apartments. Some twenty dwellings and business premises were also burned.”
The image above was sent to the NFPA offices back in 1922, by member A. H. Appearson of Richmond, Virginia.
According to Mr. Appearson, the electric heater shown above was situated in a pattern room of a foundry. A workman had left a bucket of water to heat at about 6:00PM before walking away. The fire occurred around 3:00AM. At the time, the losses from the damages were estimated at $4500.
On January 8, 1911, a large conflagration destroyed the heart of the business district of Little Rock, Arkansas. The fire began in the firth story of a building occupied by the Hollenberg Music Company and spread quickly, first through the Jackson-Hanley Furniture Company and then into the buildings between the Jones Store and Sixth Street.
When the fire was discovered at three o’clock in the morning, flames were already shooting from the windows. The flames spread swiftly due to a strong wind from the north and firefighter efforts were greatly hindered by frozen water plugs and inadequate water pressure. The losses from this fire were ultimately estimated at around $473,000 at the time.
This was an exposure fire set by burning the Baldwin Theater and office building adjacent. The fire attacked the building through unprotected window openings, damaging woodwork and furnishings in about 40 rooms. Fire was fought from inside the building with hose attached to inside standpipes, also from the outside by the city department.
The building was of reinforced concrete construction and had the windows been properly protected against such exposure, little damage would have resulted. The owner claimed damage to exposed building wall from intense heat. Loss claimed on building and contents estimated at $42,000 at the time.
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.”