8 FIREMEN BURIED BY WALL COLLAPSE AT SYRACUSE FIRE
Floors Give Way after General Alarm Fire Had Been Extinguished—New York City Investigators Search for Arson
EIGHT members of the Syracuse, N. Y., Fire Department were buried alive by the collapse of a brick wall, after a fire had been extinguished in a three-story brick building which was vacant, except for a restaurant on the ground floor, where labor trouble had developed.
The fire broke out some time before 2 a.m., February 3. It was reported by a man who ran to a nearby fire company. After the company arrived, a box alarm was turned in. With the arrival of a District Chief, a 3-3 alarm was turned in. Even with the combined efforts of all the firemen, two hours were required to extinguish the fire.
Nothing to Indicate Building Was Insecure
When the fire had died down, there was nothing to indicate that the building was insecure. Chief Edward Gieselman had made a personal inspection of every floor, and others in the building had completed a final check. The men were ready to pick up their hose lines. Then came the collapse.
The cave-in started with one of the upper floors at the rear. Some of the firemen at work on a second floor heard the rumble and rushed to the front where the floor held and descended ladders to safety. Others in the building were trapped. As the debris fell, it gained in force and went crashing through the floors below to the ground.
Immediate rescue work was started. City Engineer Nelson F. Pitts was called to help in the debris removal. It was decided that, rather than subject rescue workers to added dangers and possibly increase the number of dead, the remaining front wall should be torn down. The wall was pulled down by a cable that was passed to a Fire Department truck.
Power Shovels Brought Into Action on Debris
When the walls were torn down, power shovels operated by the Public Works Department were put into action.
Fire broke out in the ruins about 1 p.m., and more water was poured on the fire.
From 4 a.m., when the floor had collapsed, the rescuers were kept going by sounds of voices which were heard among the debris. All hope seemed gone at 10 a.m., with the collapse of the front wall.
Chief Edward W. Gieselman said:
“There had been no doubt in my mind for hours that the men in there would be unable to survive. They were under tons of fallen wreckage. The heat was extreme. This, with the water and fumes, meant certain extinction of any living thing there.”
The last of the bodies were removed from the ruins two days later.
Fire Marshal Thomas B. Brophy, Assistant Fire Marshal Martin Scott of New York City, and two detectives of the Homicide Bureau of the New York City Police Department were rushed to Syracuse when an appeal was made that New York City help in an investigation. At the time the New York investigators were called, it was believed that the fire might have been started by some one involved in labor disputes with the restaurant. No evidence of incendiarism was found.
The cause was a defective furnace pipe which had been dislodged a number of times previously and which had been repaired in a makeshift manner, with the aid of wire. The boiler had connected with the chimney by a metal smoke pipe, fifteen feet long and fourteen inches in diameter.