Beacon in the Sky
Shortly after 1:00 A.M., on the morning of April 7 last, fire flared from the 22nd and 23rd floors of the 53-story Woolworth Building at Broadway and Park Place, New York, N. Y. to cause considerable damage to the offices of the Woolworth Company, and heavy water damage to parts of the building, once New York’s tallest structure.
The fire, which normally would have been handled as routine by the New York Fire Department to which lofty blazes are no mystery, proved more of a problem than was expected due to defective valves in the standpipe system. The difficulty was at first reported as burst standpipes, but this was later corrected.
The fire originated in the showrooms of the Company on the 23d floor, where installers were working on an air conditioning system. What caused the blaze was not reported, but the two workmen were felled temporarily by smoke. The alarm was transmitted almost simultaneously by a citizen on the street level who saw flames burst from a window, and by the building watchmen via ADT. It is reported that building employees stretched house lines and fought the fire until the arrival of the fire department, under Battalion Chief Neesen of the First Battalion and Division Chief Zeigler of the First Division.
Following the usual proceedure, first arriving firemen took their own lengths of 2 1/2 in. hose to the floors just below those involved by fire and replaced the house lines. Three standpipe valves could not be shut down, it is said, because of some defect in the clapper valve setting. This trouble developed on the 22nd and 23rd floors, resulting in Niagaras of water cascading down the stairways to cause damage to the lower floors of the $10 million structure.
The single complement of Fire Patrolmen which responded on the initial alarm, as quickly as the seriousness of the situation became apparent, was augmented by two additional sections, special called. They with firemen and building workers labored strenuously to direct the cascading water into channels where it would do least damage.
The first alarm came from Box 109, followed almost immediately by an ADT alarm. At 1:11 A.M. the high pressure system was stepped up to 150 pounds and, seven minutes later, to 175 pounds. At 1:20 A.M. Engine 27 was special called and at 1:25 A.M. the pressure on the H.P. system was increased to 200 pounds. At 1:26 Rescue 1 was special called and three minutes later Engine 31 likewise was summoned.
Salyage Corps men used 68 covers for the most part to block doorways and dam the rampaging water.
The beacon-like fire, before it was knocked down, was seen over a wide area and resulted in numerous inquiries to newspapers and municipal agencies.
Fire Chief Peter Loftus was in charge. Actual property damage was not reported, but was listed as considerable. The building contents are insured by the Company.