Walls of Loft Building, Weakened By Fire, Fall and Trap Several Firefighters

TWO firemen were killed and two, one a captain, were critically injured in the collapse of a fire-weakened fivestory loft building at 334 East 94th street, near First avenue, Manhattan, New York City, on the night of November 28.

The dead firemen were Howard C. Wynn and Jacob Bassman, both of Ladder 26 which responded on the second of the five alarms sounded. The injured men are Captain William De Pietri, and Charles Thompson, both of Ladder 26.

The building, said to have originally served as an ice manufacturing plant, having double cork insulated wall, was occupied at the time of the fire by the New York Plumbers’ Specialties, Inc. The rapid spread of the fire, of undetermined origin, is attributed by Chief Fire Marshal Thomas Brophy to the presence of this driedout cork, and the wooden flooring and other combustible material within the structure. According to Julius Klein, president of the company, no combustible materials were stored in the building.

How long the fire had been burning before it was discovered is not known, hut the Manhattan Telegraph Bureau received the first alarm at 7:41 P.M. Two men, a watchman and a truck driver, were said to be in the building at the time of the fire and they turned in the alarm.

According to Captain De Pietri, four men were on the roof or upper floors of the building when the west wall and roof suddenly collapsed and hurtled them into space. The Captain said the fire was burning only on the ground when they arrived but it spread with great rapidity through the uppe,r floors and soon burst through the roof with a roar. He said that Fireman Wynn, whose body was recovered ten hours later, after members of Fire Department Rescue Squads 1 and 3 cut their way through walls and debris to .reach him, was standing about twelve feet from him on the roof when the cavein occurred.

Captain De Pietri and Fireman Thompson were pulled out alive after three hours of digging by rescuers.

The wall and roof collapsed about 8:10 P.M., only twenty-nine minutes after the first alarm was turned in. When the walls caved, and mindful of the disaster of a yea.r ago which killed almost forty persons when a burning ice house caused the collapse of a tenement at Amsterdam avenue and 184th street, officers of the fire department ordered the evacuation of thirtyseven families living in two adjacent tenements at 1889 and 1891 First avenue. Their removal was directed by Commissioner Fielding of the Welfare Department. Operations of the force were directed by Fire Commissioner Frank Quayle, who arrived on the -third alarm, and Chief of Staff and Operations Frank Murphy. Special detachments of police were employed to control and reroute traffic which was cut off on the busy East River Drive and First avenue by hose lines.

Five-Alarm East 98th Street Fire After Collapse of Walls and Floors

Photo by Bill Herries

Although the fire was reported under control shortly after 11:00 P.M., the ruins were still smouldering fifteen hours after the start of the blaze, with only the north wall standing. Rescuers digging for the body of Fiyeman Wynn hours later encountered fires that continued to break out in the wreckage.

The chronology of alarms and dispatching of equipment was as follows:

7:42 P.M.—Box 1248 First ave. and 98th st. E. 53, 91, 22, 78 (boat); L. 13. 43; Chiefs 10-11 batt.

8:00 P.M.—2-2-1248 (second alarm) E. 35, 44, 58, 76, 87 (boat); Rescue 3; L. 26; Chief 4 div. (two engine and two ladder companies re-locate).

8:12 P.M.—3-3-1248 (third alarm) E. 39, 36, 60. 56, 232 (boat); L. 22; Chief 14 batt. (three engine companies re-locate).

8:13 P.M.—9-1248-4 (water tower 4). 8:28 P.M.—4-4-1248 (fourth alarm) E. 47, 83, 74, 37, 8; Chief 8 batt. (three engine companies re-locate).

8:34 P.M.—9-1248-3 (water tower 3).

9:02 P.M.—5-5-1248 (fifth alarm) E. 41, 59. 80. 69, 16, (one engine company re-located).

9:29 P.M.—7-1248-14 (ladder 14).

9:31 P.M.—7-1248-40 (ladder 40).

9:45 P.M.—10-1248-1 (rescue 1).

In the above period, the Manhattan Telegraph Bureau transmitted two other box alarms and one still alarm. Later, at 10:11 P.M., Box 90 (Front and

Beekman streets) was sounded for a fire that required operations of all companies responding. At 10:47 P.M. box 1097 (Fifth ave. and 80th st.) was pulled. Some of the companies responding to this alarm were among those relocated in fire stations vacated by companies operating at the 98th street fire.

The fire boats located at 98th street and the East River, supplied powerful st.reams from water tower and deck guns, aiding the batteries of pumpers operating on the low pressure water system (Manhattan’s high pressure system extends only to 34th street).

Pigeons Rescued

Before the fire in the loft building had gained headway, youths of the neighborhood dashed through the smoke to rescue about 90 of 190 prize-winning pigeons boused in four coops, two on the roofs of the tenement and the others on the roof of the burning building. The .rescuers, who found about 90 of the birds already suffocated, ran up a tenement stairs to gain access to the roof and removed the still living birds in burlap sacks.

The loss on building and contents was estimated at $500,000.

Fire in Loft Building on East 98th Street, New York City, in Its Early Stage

No posts to display