“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.”
Pictured here: Head house and silos, as seen from southeast after the explosion. Grain Tank 1 collapsed, and contents of Grain Tank 2 are burning.
Eighteen people were killed in a massive dust explosion on December 27, 1977 at the Farmers Export Grain Elevator in Galveston, Texas. Twenty-two people were also injured from the incident.
The explosion occurred at 8:31 p.m. and completely destroyed Grain Tank 1 and much of the surrounding facilities. Multiple investigations examined the explosion, including one conducted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which issued citations with proposed penalties totaling $116,000. According to the citations, “there were 11 alleged willful violations and six alleged serious violations. Five of the alleged violations directly concerned the railroad dump shed, and seven related to dust dusty atmospheres. “
For more information regarding this and other moments in fire history, please reach out toNFPA's 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.
Early in the morning on December 21st, a family in Wakefield, MA was saved by an uninstalled smoke alarm.
“The father of the family of four bought a battery-operated smoke detector. Intending to install it the next day, he left it in its box on a chair overnight.
At 12:30AM the next morning, he was awakened by the detector’s alarm. Investigating, he went downstairs and found flames in the partition behind a wood-burning stove in the kitchen. He awoke his wife and two children. All four escaped safely.”
Early on the morning of December 13, 1977 a fire broke out in the Aquinas Hall dormitory at Providence College in Providence, RI. Ten female students died as a result of this incident.
Pictured here: The rear view of the dormitory where two women died after jumping from a window on the third floor, in the room where the fire started.
From Fire Journal v. 72, no. 4 (July 1978):
“The primary fuel for the fire was highly combustible Christmas decorations that had been put up in the corridors. The extremely rapid fire development and dead-end corridor were the most significant factors that contributed to the multiple loss of life.”
On the morning of December 6th, 1917 the historic incident known as the Halifax Explosion occurred when two ships collided in the harbor. The temporary morgue that was set up after the event estimated that there were 2,000 fatalities and nearly 9,000 people were injured.
That morning, the Mont Blanc, a French steamer, was headed down the Narrows (a strait that connected Halifax Harbor and the Bedford Basin) towards the Bedford Basin. The steamer was carrying " bensol cargo on her deck, carboys of nitroglycerine in the forward compartments, TNT in midship, and oil in her ballast tanks." [Conlon]
At the same time, the SS IMO, a Norwegian steamer was also heading down the Narrows towards the harbor faster than the 5-knot speed limit. The ships collided at 8:45am. The SS Imo hit the Mont Blanc on the starboard side. When the Imo pulled away from the Mont Blanc, the benzol was ignited by the sparks. The crew feared that the vessel would explode and abandoned the ship which struck the pier. [Fergusson]
"Nineteen minutes after the collision, the Mont-Blanc's cargo erupted in a massive explosion, releasing energy equivalent to 2.9 kilotons of TNT." [Robinson] The explosion caused a shock wave and a 59 foot tidal wave. Many ships in the harbor were damaged or destroyed, piers were destroyed, and the city of Halifax and the town of Dartmouth suffered property damage and loss of life. [Fergusson]
Everything in a 1.2 mile radius of the explosion was destroyed. 13,000 buildings, homes, factories, and schools were damaged or destroyed. 2,000 people died in the explosion or from exposure from being trapped in rubble during the blizzard that started after the explosion. The explosion caused over $35,000,000 in damage.
Conlon, Jacues. "The Great Halifax Disaster".
Fergusson, Charles Bruce "The Halifax Explosion." Nova Scotia Board of Justices (1971).
On November 28, 1942, a fire broke out in Boston's popular Cocoanut Grove Nightclub. 492 lives were lost due to the events that night. 200 people died within feet of the jammed revolving doors.
FromVolunteer Firemenv. 10, no. 1 (January 1943):
"The radios and newspapers reported the facts apparently responsible for the loss of life: (1) inadequate and locked exits, (2) quick burning decorations...The tragedy started when fire broke out in the basement in a cocktail lounge. The blaze is said to have been first noticed in an imitation palm tree after a bus boy struck a match for a light while replacing an electric bulb near the ceiling. However, other testimony leads to the question whether defective wiring may have had something to do with the start of the fire, or whether there may have been some other unexplained factor."
November 23rd, 1938 was a Thanksgiving Day to remember in Southern California. A series of wildfires in the hills and mountains surrounding Los Angeles caused an estimated $3,250,000 worth of damage. The various fires were battled by city, county state and federal forest agencies.
Above: A wildfire sweeping down Las Tunas Canyon and threatening valuable estates near Santa Monica. The fire shown here is typical of those which swept through Southern California that Thanksgiving.
Seventy-six years ago today, an early morning fire at the Luongo’s Tap restaurant in Boston, MA took the lives of six firefighters and injured forty-five others.
The fire started in the ceiling above the kitchen on the first floor of the building owned by the Luongo family. The incident had escalated quickly to 3 alarms when the brick wall on the Henry Street side of the building collapsed on many of the firefighters on the scene.
On the evening of November 7, 1918, at 6:30PM, a fire started in the vicinity of the wing coating building of the Burgess Aeroplane Factory in Marblehead, MA. The Fire quickly spread to all of the buildings at the facility and to a boat yard nearby. The loss was almost absolute.
The wing coating building or “Dope Shed” was where wings were coated in a nitro-cellulose compound called “dope”. The wings were then left to dry in the open room. Ventilation was provided by a motor-driven airplane propeller that sucked “air from the main room and the space under the floor through registers directly out of doors.”
While the cause of the fire is unknown, three probable causes were put forth at the time:
About a month prior to the incident, a fire was found in a 100-pile of coal in a fire-resistive bin in the boiler room. This coal was then carted outside and piled against the Wing Coating Building. It is possible that this coal may have heated once more spontaneously, and raised the temperature on the inside of the building as well;
Oily rags may have spontaneously caught fire inside the building… although the foreman insisted that he personally collected all rags the previous night;
The fire may have been caused by incendiarism or arson. When a premature rumor spread through the area, employees left work at 2PM to celebrate Allied victory and the end of World War I (Germany did not formally surrender to the Allies until November 11, 1918.) The employees straggled back to the facility around 4PM, but were discharged for the day. Someone might have chosen to have a bonfire or the fire might have been set to show displeasure…
Because of the highly flammable nature of the materials and the events of the time, the real cause of the fire is unlikely to ever be known for sure.