Death of Chief Cunningham, of Centralia
Thomas E. Cunningham, the popular Chief of Fire Department of Centralia. Wash., lost his life early in the morning of June 25, while heroically trying to locate a fire in the dense smoke which filled the Hope Block, at the corner of Main and Pearl streets.
The building is a large two story brick structure, having a bakery of unusual size in the west section and a furniture store in the remainder of the first floor. Above the bakery are the rooms of the Chamber of Commerce and adjoining them those of a business college. The fire started in or under the bakery and may have been burning for hours before being seen, as the posts and beams under a large brick oven were burned away, allowing the oven to drop four or five feet. Yet there had been no fire in that oven for several weeks. The alarm was given at about five in the morning, and on the arrival of the apparatus from headquarters, there could be nothing seen but smoke. Chief Cunningham at once had four lines run into the building and as many streams started; he then without saying anything of his intentions, put on a gas mask that had been bought within a month before, and ran up the stairs toward the Chamber of Commerce rooms. Just what he did in his search of the second story is not known, but in a few minutes he was missed and men started after him. His body was found on the floor of a business college room at the end of the hall, to the right as one goes up the stairs. He had passed through a door which had closed with a spring lock behind him, but he was apparently going away from it when overcome. The glass panel in the door was broken out, presumably by him in getting at the lock. There was a small cut in the back of the tube of the smoke mask which would have rendered it useless; this might have been made by the glass of the door. The doctors who were summoned made every possible effort to resuscitate Chief Cunningham, but in vain. The fire burned out most of the interior of the bakery and brought down part of the floor of the Chamber of Commerce assembly room, doing a great deal of damage. It was very difficult to control in the blind attic above. The loss in the business college and furniture store was by smoke and water, the total being estimated at $75,000. Chief Cunningham was 36 years of age and unmarried. He became a member of the department in 1910 and was appointed Chief in 1916. The funeral services were held at the Presbyterian church in the afternoon of June 29 and were very largely attended. Mayor T. C. Rogers was one of the pallbearers representing the city, and others were from the Odd Fellows and Elks of Centralia. The honorary pall bearers were Chiefs Tamblyn of Aberdeen, Crawford of Hoquiam, Truett of Chehalis, Wood of Renton. Capt. Joscelyn of Aberdeen and Fire Marshal Bringhurst of Seattle. There was quite a number of firemen from nearby towns and among the many floral pieces was a large one from the Pacific Coast Association of Fire Chiefs, of which Chief Cunningham was member.