AROUND THE FIRE SERVICE–1900-1909

AROUND THE FIRE SERVICE–1900-1909

Excerpts from Fire and Water and Fire and Water Engineering

FIRE AND WATER BECOMES FIRE AND WATER ENGINEERING

“The year of grace, 1903, introduces Fire and Water Engineering to the world–the same old friend, only in a new and improved form. We bespeak for it a hearty welcome and a patronage worthy of its contents.” (Jan. 3, 1903)

The years 1900 to 1909 constituted what may be termed “The Decade of Conflagrations.” Five of the most significant fires are presented here. These disasters brought renewed calls for action in those areas that had been contributing to the devastation and loss of lives and property caused by fire. Those areas included the fireproofing of buildings, especially theaters; the water supply; inspection of fire and life-saving equipment, particularly hoses, life boats, and life preservers on ships; fire drills for crew members of ships; the storage of combustible and flammable materials; and the establishment of an authority with jurisdiction for piers and wharfs.

THE HOBOKEN HOLOCAUST–June 23, 1900

Based on the published account of June 30, 1900.

Firemen of New York City, Jersey City, and Hoboken “fought against the heaviest of odds–odds to which they had no expectation of ever being exposed and which they should never have encountered.”

The Scope of the Fire

Fire desolated the Hoboken waterfront, making “a clean sweep of the piers, wharves, and freight sheds of the North German Lloyd, the Hamburg-American, and the Thingvalla lines, taking off in its course the Campbell stores, located immediately north of the offices of the Thingvalla line …. The southern end of the Campbell Storage Company`s building–consisting of five five-story buildings caught, and in a few minutes flames shot from every window. Four of the buildings were burned.”

Probably more than 200 lives were lost; the exact number will never be known. Many officers of the vessels were lost. More than 300 people were injured.

“The whole civilized world stands aghast at last Saturday`s awful sacrifice of life and property at Hoboken, when within a very few minutes many scores of human beings met their deaths by fire and water, and many more received injuries too frightful to think of.”

It is not known how the fire started. About 4:00 on Saturday afternoon, the fire started among a large pile of cotton bales on Pier No. 2 of the North German Lloyd Company. “It spread so rapidly that in 15 minutes three great piers, taking in over a third of a mile of waterfront, were one mass of flame. In the freight sheds the accumulation of cotton and other dust caught at once, developed great heat, and caused explosions which served to spread the flames farther.” The heat was so intense that the Hoboken and Jersey City firemen “were either disabled or driven back, leaving a hose reel, with horse, and hose to be destroyed by fire.”

The officials of the Hamburg-American line blew up one side of their dock in an attempt to save their pier. In the meantime, however, a number of barges moored alongside were burned. Blazing steamers and barges drifting downstream and across and close to the docks and piers endangered the New York side of the waterfront for some time. It was thought that at any moment the fire might spread to the Jersey City waterfront or that the sparks might set fire to some of the warehouses.

The fireboats New Yorker and Robert H. Van Wyck, which had been telegraphed for, helped to extinguish the fires on burning steamers and other craft and in saving lives.

Spreads to Steamships

The fire came to involve the Saale, a single-crew, 4,965-gross-ton, passenger steamship and the Main and the Bremen, twin-screw firefight and passenger steam-ships of 10,200 and 10,526 tons, respectively. The piers and ships were crowded with workmen, visitors, and people on business. “Those nearest the ends of the piers escaped, and others were forced to leap into the water, and in doing so many were drowned.”

The Saale and the Main caught fire with the piers. “The Bremen and Kaiser Wilhelm were moored at Pier No. 1. The Main, which had arrived only a few hours before and still had several passengers on board, burned so fiercely that no tug could approach her. “The Kaiser Wilhem was rescued, as was also the Phenicia of the Hamburg American line, a 6,761-ton twin-crew passenger vessel, on which the flames had got a good hold. She was towed out to midstream, where the flames were put out. The Bremen was also towed out, but, like the Main, sank all afire.”

“The passengers on board the Main were seen to jump off into the water–a few were rescued by tugs, but many were drowned, while several of the crew, the stewardess, and probably some passengers who could not escape, met an awful death on board the doomed ship. The same fate befell those on board the Saale; a few escaped with their lives by jumping overboard; those who did not perished miserably.”

The Bremen was reported to have 200 visitors, mostly women, on board when the fire reached it. “A boat was lowered from the Bremen shortly after the alarm had been given, but the craft capsized as it touched the water, and all hands were precipitated into the water, and none were saved by those remaining on the vessel.”

Eyewitnesses, such as Rear-Admiral Melville of the United States Navy, reported seeing numerous persons “trying to get through the miserable little air-ports or dead lights, no more than eight or nine inches in diameter.” The officers of the Robert H. Van Wyck fireboat, which pulled alongside the Saale, lamented that “every porthole had a face.” An explosion on board the Saale blew up the forward decks. Three hundred pounds of powder were in the forward part of the ship. Some believed that the men in the engine room were never told there was a fire until it was too late.

Melville reported: “Just forward of this seething furnace a man had thrust his head and arm through another of these miserable ports. The tug to the left of us had a stream already playing on his head. He began to strip himself of his clothing, and at times the crew of the tug put the nozzle of the hose through the air-port and poured water on his back to keep him cool, so near were they to him, and yet unable to extricate him from his horrible position.

“Below us were two German officers with a boat screw, and hammers and cold chisels, cutting away one of the cargo-ports on the port side. After more than a half hour`s work they managed to cut the port open. To the horror of everyone, they found it only opened into a coal bunker. The flap of the cargo-port was raised up, but nobody ventured inside of the vessel to find the opening between the cargo-port and the passenger space where the man was clinging. Shortly after, the man, from heat and exhaustion, fell back inside of the ship.”

THE PATERSON, NEW JERSEY, CONFLAGRATION–Feb. 9, 1902

Around midnight, the fire “swept through a large portion of the business part of the city …. and was checked only after a desperate fight that lasted until late in the afternoon …. A northerly gale gave the conflagration its impetus and carried its burning brands to kindle the blaze afresh at other points.”

“The firemen made stand after stand before the wall of fire, but were repeatedly driven back ….” Firemen and apparatus from every city and town within reach of Paterson responded to relieve Paterson firefighters.

Destroyed were scores of residences, five churches, the new $400,000 city hall, the old city hall, the library, five banks, clubs, seven large office buildings, two newspapers, the police station, a fire station, a theater, hotels, telegraph company buildings, all the principal stores, and some 500 dwelling and apartment houses. Approximately 25 city blocks covering 2,000 feet in length and varying from 400 to 800 feet in width were burned.

The fire de-partment`s equipment consisted of nine steamers, two chemical engines, two hook and ladder trucks, two combination chemical and hook and ladder trucks, one aerial truck, and 10 hose wagons. “There is always about 12,000 feet of good hose on hand and the fire pressure averages about 40 pounds.”

THE IROQUOIS THEATER FIRE– Dec. 30, 1903

The following is summarized from “Iroquois Theatre Fire and Its Lessons” by H. W. Bringhurst (a bulletin from the Executive Committee of the Pacific Coast Association of Fire Chiefs, March 12, 1904).

At about 3:30 p.m., during the second act of the matinee of Mr. Blue Beard, “sparks from an arc spotlight caught in the frayed edge of some drapery a foot away–high above the stage near the arch.” Despite efforts to “beat out” the fire, it spread. “Efforts were made to lower the asbestos curtain, but it caught on a border light when part way down.”

Members of the audience had “full confidence in the alleged fireproof character of the theatre” and did not become alarmed until they found themselves “actually scorching and suffocating” as a result of the flames and smoke caused by the burning of 180 inflammable drop scenes on the stage and other like combustibles. The flame and smoke “had no vent, except into the auditorium and up to the open ventilator over the gallery.” In the panic that ensued, 572 perished, about half of them in or near their seats. Most of the others were entangled together in the dark passages, stairways, and blind exits.

The first alarm was given by a man running down the alley to the station of Engine 13 on the next block. Although the department responded promptly to this and other calls, “an alarm from the theatre itself would have saved two or three minutes time and many precious lives.”

“Fireproof”: False Security

The L-shaped Iroquois Theater, completed on November 23, 1903, was of steel frame and tile construction and had brick walls. The popular fallacy was that a safe exterior shell in itself guarantees the security of a building. Neither the theater`s owners nor inspectors had followed the specific requirements of the city ordinance with regard to providing skylights over the stage and other recommendations such as fireproofing scenery and the installation of automatic sprinklers, an alarm box, and exits.

Although the house wiring was first class, the electrical equipment carried by the Blue Beard company was not up to standard. The permit allowed 1,602 seats, but 1,774 were in place. When the fire broke out, nearly 300 persons were standing behind the last rows. Although there were 22 exits, many were not available. The gallery was unusually close to the stage and so steeply pitched that handrails had to be erected between each row to keep people from falling forward.

Lessons Learned

After the disaster, it was learned that, technically, the fire department had some supervision over fire prevention matters. This fact had not been recognized for years, however, since the only inspectors were those in the building department. The fire force was barely sufficient for extinguishing fires.

After reviewing the details of this and other theatre fires–nearly all of which started on the stage and flashed up in light fabrics–many recommendations were proposed, including the following:

Skylights at least one-thirtieth the area of the stage should be provided to vent flames and smoke if a fire should occur; the skylights were to be opened by the action of heat.

Any high windows above the stage should open automatically. The main or drop curtain should be a fire screen. (The new Chicago ordinance, subsequently adopted, required that the curtain be made of steel, with asbestos on the stage side and an air-space between.) Next in efficiency is a thick curtain of real asbestos fiber.

Treat all hangings, drops, and cordage with cheap and nonpatented solutions of such chemicals as alum or tungstate of soda, and apply fireproof paints or heavy coats of whitewash to all woodwork on the stage. Nothing that can flash up in a quick fire should be behind the footlights.

Install a properly distributed and regularly inspected sprinkler system on every large stage and through all the dressing and storage rooms.

Use only the best electric wiring; protect lights. An accident involving the lighting system on the stage should never make it possible to put out the lights in the auditorium and at the exits.

If the city water pressure is good, standpipes and reels of first-class hose should be provided. If the pressure is weak, a stationary chemical tank should be substituted.

Even small playhouses should have “filled buckets, an ax, a long-handled pike pole, and an extinguisher available.”

Fire drills would be of great advantage.

Install a telegraphic connection to the fire department; test it regularly.

There should be as many exits as possible. They should be as large and as easily traversed as space will permit. Every exit ought to be marked in large letters “Exit” or “Way Out.”

THE BALTIMORE CONFLAGRATION–Feb. 7-9, 1904

This account is based on various reports and correspondence that appeared in the following issues of Fire and Water Engineering: Feb. 13, 1904; Feb. 20, 1904; and Feb 27, 1904.

A fire broke out at 10:45 a.m. Sunday morning in the wholesale dry goods store of John E. Hurst & Co., in the heart of the business district. “The building had a large floor area, with no fire walls, a large area of window openings, no automatic fire service, and was filled with inflammable materials–a condition favorable to the explosion that caused the building to collapse and scatter flaming debris all over the adjoining property before any fire apparatus could be brought into play.” The fire appeared to begin with a series of loud explosions, which were heard in remote parts of the city. It was stopped 28 hours later on Monday afternoon at Jones`s Falls, where some say it burned itself out at the harbor.

When the firefighters arrived, the building was a mass of flames, which spread rapidly as a result of high winds. A dozen big warehouses were burning within a half hour. The fire must have been underway for 15 minutes before the firemen received the alarm. The street box was pulled and was promptly followed by a third alarm and then by a general alarm. Forty-three alarms had been sent in during the course of the fire.

According to one correspondent, “A seven-or eight-story building was destroyed in about 30 minutes …. The iron fronts of buildings, as soon as they became heated, seemed to fall across the street, destroying those on the opposite side. This shows that some other material must be devised for the flooring of the so-called fireproof buildings, as the fire bricks seemed to disintegrate and fall apart almost as soon as the hot fire struck them ….”

The entire city fire department was called out but was powerless to check the spread of the flames, which were aided by high winds. By noon, there were savage fires in at least 30 big warehouses. The fire was steadily eating its way into successive blocks east, north, west and south. There appeared to be no check to the sweep of destruction. “The fire seemed to work its own sweet will until it reached Jones`s Falls.” There, at the harbor, the flames “practically burned themselves out….”

The district swept by the fire comprised 75 blocks and nearly 2,500 buildings–which included “residential, business, manufacturing, ecclesiastical, educational, public, and semi-public structures of wood, brick and stone, of from two to 16 stories, some with wooden roofs covered with tar.” The burned area covered about 140 acres. The loss was estimated to be from $100 to $125 million. A fire department steamer and an 85-foot Hayes truck were also lost.

About 50 persons were injured, including a dozen policemen and firefighters. Chief J. W. Horton was hurt by a live wire and bruised and cut. He had to leave the fight, which was resumed by Mayor McLane.

Fire Department Resources

The fire department had 32 steamers: 26 in commission and six in reserve; a fireboat; two water towers–one in reserve; six hook-and-ladder trucks; eight aerial trucks; 26 combination chemical and hose wagons; three chemical engines; 19 hose carriages, reels, and carts; 78,200 feet of hose (75,000 cotton, rubber-lined, good hose and 3,200 rubber, good); 61 chemical hand extinguishers; 199 horses; and a full-time force of 463 (38 fire companies). “The city was not properly equipped with a sufficient amount of apparatus; it is doubtful, however, if a greater number of engines would have stopped the conflagration after the headway it had gained.”

The hook and ladder and chemical companies took care of all fires in outlying districts; the engine companies fought the main fire (about 280 men, including district chiefs). The first outside company came in service about three hours after the fire started. At the height of the fire, the firefighting force and equipment were augmented by 793 men, 32 fire engines, four hose companies, and one hook and ladder truck from outside cities and towns.

As soon as the fire approached the wharves, the fireboat and the fire pump on the police boat were also brought into service, with a total capacity of about 5,000 gallons a minute. “It would seem that a force of about 1,093 men, with 57 fire engines and two fireboats, having a total capacity of very much over 50,000 gallons a minute keeping in continuous service over 100 fire streams, would have been sufficient, under ordinary conditions, to have brought under control a fire, with a front of not over five blocks at its worst, before it could burn itself out at the water`s edge.”

Water Supply

The total available capacity of water was about 1,240 billion gallons. About 300 hydrant connections were made during the fire. There were about 130 fire hydrants in the district, including five, with two steamer nozzles–about 14 hydrants to each mile of Main street. Eleven hydrants were within 200 feet of the Hurst building and 22 were within 400 feet of the building.

The area in which the fire had started had a normal pressure of from 55 to 65 pounds. When the fire progressed into a conflagration, the water department opened the connection to one of the high-service pumping stations, increasing the pressure to 70 or 80 pounds. As the fire progressed, water department employees went to all fire engines in service at fire hydrants to note the pressure and see if they were getting enough water. There were no complaints about a lack of supply. The total consumption of water in the city for the two days of the fire was 230 million gallons; the normal average for the same period was 126 million.

The capacity of fire engines varied from 500 to 1,000 gallons a minute. Total capacity per minute was around 25,000 gallons. The engines were not all pumping continuously, as they had to shift about as the fire progressed and did not at all times supply the same number of hoselines. The fire department estimated the average to be about two continuous fire streams to each engine, or 61 fire streams in constant service. The combined capacity of all companies (including outside companies) was equivalent to about 35,000 gallons a minute.

The loss of fire hose was estimated to be in excess of 6,000 feet. The constantly shifting of po-sitions by firemen in response to the excessive heat caused considerable water pressure to be lost from abandoning open hydrants. It had been reported that the Washington companies` couplings did not fit the hydrants and that the companies “procured barrels, which were kept filled from the hydrants and furnished suction for their engines.” The latter report was refuted by a correspondent, John H. Clay, of Philadelphia, who wrote the following in a letter in the February 23, 1904 edition: “Allow me to say that such was not the case, as the Philadelphia fire men went to Baltimore fully equipped to couple up to Baltimore fireplugs. Each engine carried fittings, one end of which was Clay-Jones and the other the Baltimore standard, and, therefore, had no difficulty in coupling up ….”

“Peculiar” Contributing Factors

Among the factors that contributed to the spread of this fire were the following:

Fireproofing. “The first impression on visiting Baltimore immediately after its disastrous fire was one of gazing on block upon block and acre upon acre of total ruin, and with nothing from which the advocate of tall fireproof buildings could derive any comfort in favor of his pet theories, that such structures were not only themselves safe from the action of fire, but were, also, capable of acting successfully as checks to the fury of the flames. On the 140 acres thus laid waste were many of these tall buildings, each one built according to the most approved principles that are today applied to those steel framed, brick or stone-veneered erections …. The fireproof buildings were considerably damaged externally by exposure to the flames raging round them. Internally they were absolutely gutted. The intense heat beating against the walls was communicated to their contents, which, in their turn, caught fire. The flames thus produced burst through the windows from round floor to skylight, and communicated to other buildings–thereby doing away with the buffer theory, and leaving its advocates more or less discomfited ….”

Electric wires. “The streets in the burned district presented a network of overhead wires all live …” They caused a loss of time. When the wires fell, “they came in contact with the firemen and their apparatus. They fell across the hose which became conductors of electricity to such an extent as to drive the firemen back, owing to the shocks they inflicted upon them.” Chief Horton was badly injured and could no longer command the fire.

Dynamiting. “The dynamiting was neither prompt enough nor plenty enough, as far as the visiting firemen could judge. The dynamitards seemed either to have lost their heads or to have been afraid to destroy the buildings without first asking and obtaining leave to do so. In one instance, although dynamite had been applied to one large building with the intention of razing it, a large building almost a block away received the shock, demolishing all the windows, and this might be said in other cases where the effort was made to use dynamite.

“It was unfortunate that during the great fire at Baltimore any of the steam fire engines should have been unable to work, either because they were not adapted for pumping salt water or because of the variation in their couplers and coupling threads, which prevented them from coupling on to the city`s hose or hydrants.”

THE GREAT CONFLAGRATION AT

SAN FRANCISCO–Apr. 18, 1906

Based on accounts published in the Apr. 28, 1906 and June 6, 1906 editions and a report by A. J. Coffee in the June 2, 1906 edition.

The terrible “double scourge” San Francisco disaster–earthquake and fire–presented “the kind of terror and torture wrought by … a fire … that creeps along and devours its wretched victims when they are powerless to escape from or resist its approach.” The incidents occurred on April 18, 1906. Statistics recorded in one resource reported that 674 people were killed, 3,500 injured and that 28,000 buildings (514 city blocks) were in ruins, costing more than $500 million in damages (Fire Engines, Firefighters: The Men, Equipment, and Machines, from Colonial Days to the Present, Paul C. Ditzel, Rutledge Books, New York, N. Y., 1976).

Eyewitness Account

A subscriber from Sacramento, California, provided the following account of events in the city that day: “When the first shock came, I dressed myself and went into the street. In about ten minutes fires seemed to break out in all the big buildings south of Market street, and at seven o`clock in the morning I saw that the city was doomed, as there was not a drop of water to be got at any of the fireplugs. The water mains were broken in all parts of the city, and the principal supply, which comes under the bay through two pipe lines, did not give a bit of water. We were without fresh water for over thirty hours, and, believe me, when I tell you that what little water we had to drink we scooped up from the gutters and seemed to be supplied by broken mains. One does not realise what it is to be where the ground was shaking every minute and surrounded by a heat from the fire that was unendurable–and without water at that. When I left San Francisco tonight not a house in the city was standing, except in a few cases. Possibly not fifty houses escaped the fire. There are possibly 450,000 people tonight in San Francisco without knowing where to lay their heads!”

The San Francisco Fire Department

The San Francisco Fire Department had 56 steamers, nine hook and ladder trucks, nine chemical engines, one combination chemical and hose wagon, four turret-batteries, some 120,000 feet of hose, and a force of 500 “brave and skilled men.” An account by A. J. Coffee in the June 2, 1906 edition, noted the following: “Approximately 38,000 feet of hose were burned. Engines valued at $13,500 were destroyed (including one that was in the repair shop and could not be hauled out since its wheels had been removed). Old No. 12 engine–Old Betsy–in use in the department for 30 years, was burned on the corner of Post and Kearny streets, where she was abandoned since she had no horses. Her remains stand there now among the ruins and tell the story more vividly than words can portray of the utter helplessness of the San Francisco firemen in this terrible calamity.” In addition, a hook and ladder and Engine No. 4 were burned.

“Too much praise cannot be given the fire department of the efficient manner in which it worked at the off-set, when the fire alarm service was immediately destroyed. The men went out bravely to fight a dozen or more fires, all of which took the proportions of conflagrations almost immediately, and the firemen succeeded in extinguishing several bad fires that were not in the burned district. After their work was finished at these fires, the firemen took up their hose and apparatus and went to work on large fires in the different parts of the city. They did splendid work, until the city water supply gave out, and there is no doubt that, if water had been plentiful, there would be a different story to tell of San Francisco today.”

Death of the Fire Chief

The tragedy was compounded by “a singular perversity of fate,” in which San Francisco`s Fire Chief Dennis Sullivan was “put out of the fight.” He and his wife occupied the upper story of the fire department house on Bush street. While putting on his turnouts in a room adjoining his wife`s, the chimney (15 or 20 feet) running up above the six-story, brick California Hotel on the side next to the three-story engine house came crashing down on the engine house. It carried with it a portion of the roof, which dropped down through the far side of Mrs. Sullivan`s room, taking the floor down with it. Mrs. Sullivan and the bed tumbled over into the hole in the floor created by the chimney. Fortunately, the mattress on which she was sleeping folded over her and protected her. Hearing the crash, Chief Sullivan ran into his wife`s room in the dark and fell through the same hole. He was seriously wounded, suffering three crushed ribs on his left side, “frightful gashes and cuts across the face,” and a fractured skull. He was taken to the Railroad Hospital; Mrs. Sullivan was carried into the California hotel, where she remained until she was taken to the hospital. Both had to be moved from their respective hospitals, “as the fire burned right up to that quarter.”

The chief died “about the forth day after he had sustained the injuries. Funeral services were held over the chief`s remains,” and he was “laid away temporarily until such time as the fire department can hold the proper ceremonies, and pay the last honors to their beloved chief.”

Dynamite Used Extensively

“During the fire at San Francisco extensive use was made of dynamite and black gunpowder and even of cannonading the buildings as yet unconsumed because there was no possibility of throwing water on the flames. Some question the propriety of having recourse to such extreme methods, especially to the employment of dynamite or other explosives, on the ground that the flying splinters are liable to intensify the evil. It may fairly be asked on the other side, however, in default of the possibility of obtaining or employing water and in the immediate presence and rapid progress of the flames, if any other means could have been adopted.”

Lessons Learned

The water mains “lay twisted, distorted, and broken by the violence of the shock that caused the earth to sink away from below and had thrown upon them a superincumbent mass of debris, tons upon tons of brick, iron, granite and marble” that ultimately caused the mains to rupture and the water “to flow away in torrents and deluge other towns, while in San Francisco there was not left a drop to throw upon the flames, save in the neighborhood of the water-front, where the fireboats and tugs could be placed in operation.”

“Chief Sullivan many times had brought to the attention of the authorities the fact that San Francisco would be in danger of being consumed should a great fire ever start.” He had proposed that a salt water system be developed and that additional apparatus be acquired. The prevailing opinion was that “there is no doubt that, if these had been given him, especially a salt water system–a different story would be told of San Francisco ….”

“The buildings in many sections of the city not only formed a most congested area, in which the exposure hazard reigned, but, also, being for the most part of wood, added more and more fuel to the flames.” Although the iron and steel-framed skyscrapers and taller buildings withstood the earthquake, they were no match for “the flames forming a seething mass round them” as a strong wind aided the spread of the conflagration and there was “nothing to oppose its onward mark.”

Chief Sullivan also had protested “over and over again when permission was given to build frame houses within the fire limits.” The underwriters a year before the earthquake/fire had pointed out how San Francisco “violated all underwriting traditions and precedent by not burning up….”

THE GENERAL SLOCUM DISASTER–June 15, 1904

At 9 a.m., the General Slocum, an excursion steamer left the pier at 13th Street and the East River in New York City, with 1,400 men, women, and children aboard. The passengers, members of the Sunday School of St. Mark`s Lutheran Church, were going on a picnic.. About a half hour after leaving the pier, a fire was discovered in the forward deck. The tragedy took the lives of 1,030 persons, who died by fire or drowning. (“Tragic Trip of the General Slocum,” Fire in America!; Paul Robert Lyons; National Fire Protection Association, 1976)

It was proved “that, although in outward seeming the letter of the law was complied with so far as providing the means of extinguishing fire and escaping death by drowning, yet the hose was either rotten or of the poorest quality, and some of the connections were clogged, hereby rendering the hose useless. The lifeboats and life-rafts were unavailable for use because of the crowd on and round them; the life-preservers and life-buoys stuffed with cork dust, and so manufactured as to destroy and not to save life; beside being placed in racks or under the seats in such a way as to be nearly impossible to get at or to fit in a moment to the panic-stricken and expectant wearers; and the life-lines were of a like character.”

This tragedy evoked many questions and comments. Typical of the questions asked were the following, posed by a firefighter in a letter to the editor: “Why was the 212-inch hose cotton instead of rubber-lined? How old was it? How often was it stretched to get the kinks out? Why wasn`t it ready for immediate action when the fire broke out? Was it used for flushing the decks? If so, it is no wonder if the sea water rotted it, so that it could not stand the pressure when the pumps began to act. If old, it had no business there. If new, what test if any had it been subjected to before being put in service? Was it inspected on the day of the catastrophe …?”

“An Interested New Yorker” related that “on board the General Slocum, the life-preservers, life-buoys and life-lines were simply shams, and destructive shams at that, inasmuch as they dragged the wearers down beneath the surface of the water, instead of buoying them up to safety.”


View of Hoboken fire from North River–the Saale on the left, Kaiser Wilhelm Der Grosse in the center, the Bremen on the right.


Map of Paterson, N.J., showing burned district.


Map of the burned section of Baltimore.

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