DESTRUCTION OF OLD HOTEL, BAY CITY

DESTRUCTION OF OLD HOTEL, BAY CITY

The Fraser house, one of the oldest hotels and one of the oldest brick buildings in Bay City, Mich., was very badly damaged, if not completely ruined by fire, water and smoke in the early morning hours of Sunday, December 23. The fire started in the frame and brick annex of the hotel, which itself is a four-story brick building and was erected in 1867. The internal arrangements, although somewhat modernised of late years, were the worst possible, when viewed from the standpoint of fire protection. It is true the oldfashioned brick walls were solid, and that there were stout partition walls of the same material right up to the roof. But the rooms were small, crowded and inconveniently arranged; the many hallways were narrow and tortuous, and there were numerous half-stairways. The elevator was unprotected and its interior oily and greasy after long usage—making it a fit conductor of flames either upwards or downwards, Fire escapes were conspicuous by their absence, and the long front of 100 ft. on Center avenue, as well as its sides, extending over 100 ft. rearwards, were pierced with numerous unprotected windows of ordinary glass for three floors down from the roof, while the ground floor was taken up by stores. That there was but one life lost through the fire was due not only to the skilful rescuework done by the firemen, but, also, to the fact that there were so few guests in the hotel at the time If the rooms in the two upper stories, in which the fire was fiercest, had been fully occupied, there is no doubt that many lives would have been sacrificed, not through any remissness or ineompeteney on the part of the fire department, who acquited themselves grandly in that line, but because of the lack of enough ladders to reach the top floors. Of the twenty-eight girls employed in the hotel none saved their personal effects, owing to the rapid spread of the flames Fight were carried down from the roof of the annex, where they stood in their night clothes till the flames actually singed their hair. Mary Cavanagh. the head waitress, when attempting to return to save her clothes, found a guest on the fourth floor, gasping and choking and groping to find the stairwav. Although she was nearly overcome herself, she grasped him by the hair and pulled him by his head to the stairs, down which both escaped. All the guests got out; some, however, with only what clothing they were able to don in their haste. The only life lost was that of the house fireman, James O’Neil, who was found, lying face dow nwards, by Lieutenant T. W. Hardmg. of No. 1 truck company, in the fireroom of the hotel annex, where the blaze originated. When pulled out. one ear was partially burned off, and his face and neck were badly burned. He had inhaled smoke and flames, and was taken to the Mercy hospital, where he died. The only other person injured was Andrew Brown, storeroom clerk, who slept on the fourth floor. His rescue was effected under most spectacular conditions and reflected the highest credit not only on himself for retaining his presence of mind and taking the biggest possible chances, but. also, on Lieutenant T. W. Harding, whose pluck, endurance and skill in rescue work (a worthy heritage from his worthy sire, Chief Engineer Thomas K. Harding) won for him the admiration of all. Brown, who had not at first awakened from his slumbers, had crawled out upon the window-sill on the fourth floor, where he was at once surrounded by volumes of smoke and tongues of flame. Driven from that perilous position, he had lowered himself from the ledge and was hanging by his hands over the alleyway. Hook and ladder truck No. 1 hurried to the spot; but its ladders reached only to the third story. Harding then raised a short scaling ladder from the top of the highest rung of that below him and held it on one shoulder perpendicularly against the wall, steadying himself by his other hand. Even then the ladder fell several inches short of the man’s toes, while the poor fellow clung to the stone ledge only with his fingertips. Meanwhile, the flames from the windows were scorching his hands and arms. Harding, however, who could not reach the man’s feet, never flinched, though his body swayed backwards and forwards under the extreme tension to which it was subjected. Brown, who had never lost his head all the time, but had spoken cheery words to the firemen below him, could hold out no longer. He called to the men that he would let go when they gave the word. Harding, bracing himself up. shouted to him to drop straight down. He obeyed, and in his fall struck the top of the ladder with his feet. Rebounding sideways, he struck a heavy electric light wire, round which he at once wound his arm and hung in midair. Throwing out his feet, he swung round, and, slipping one or two rounds, he grasped the ladder with his toes. Harding, borne up by the firemen underneath, held up his burden bravely, and Brown slipped down on to his shoulder. In a moment both reached the ground in safety, amid the applauding cheers of the crowd. Brown, who was badly burned after his five minutes’ terrible experience of clinging to the window ledge, smilingly remarked on the closeness of his call, while Harding, with his two rescues to his credit, went on quietly hack to his duty, treating the whole affair only as something naturally looked for and all in the day’s work. While all this was happening, the fire, which had started in the fireroom, had made its way through the covered-arch connection that was built between the annex and the main structure and spread rapidly through the spaces between the ceilings and floors of the rooms above. The flames broke out at one and the same time at different points, compelling Chief Harding to divide his forces, and depriving him of the power to concentrate his efforts on one spot. All the apparatus in the city had been summoned, and every available hydrant was in use. It was impossible, however, to prevent the flames from penetrating below the two floors on the top, and when, after a hard fight of more than three hours, they made their way down, principally by way of the elevatorshaft, whose walls were saturated with oil and grease, the accumulations of many years, during which no steps had been taken to clean or scrape them down—a line commonly mtrsued in the case of too many elevators in much larger cities than Bay City —New York among them. The fall of the uppei stories completed the work of destruction, and, after that had taken place, there remained no further hope of saving the building. At 5 o’clock a. m. the flames had become altogether uncontrolable. Two explosions had taken place, but had done no damage to the walls. The fire had spread through the narrow hallways, driving the firemen slowly before them. They crept down the elevator shaft, and by 5:30 the western half of the hotel was ablaze from end to end. The roof had crashed in, and so great was the danger from falling walls and the possibility of the fire spreading that Chief Harding ordered all those who lived in the Simon block, across the alleyway and east of the building. and withdrew the firemen from the alley. Hose was carried up into the Simon block and streams were thrown from its windows upon the burning hotel. The firemen inside had been called out just before the fourth floor fell in. and the building was practically left to its fate, while the department devoted all its energies towards keeping the flames down and saving the adjoining property. In the rear was the Longshoremen’s hall, which was saved by keeping a stream of water constantly thrown upon it. The water supply was not all it might have been, owing to the heavy draught upon the waterworks system, no less than fifteen streams being thrown. The normal fire pressure—So lbs.—went down, rendering it impossible to Siamese two streams with a 2 1/2-in. nozzle. The losses were as follows: Frazer house (unless any of the materials can be salvaged), $80,000— insurance. $48,000: clothing store, $22,000—insurance, $9,000; Floyd A. Goodwin, landlord, $5,000— insurance, $3,600; other losses in small stores, samples, personal property, etc., about $5,000; on $1,500 of which only there is a partial insurance. One New York jewelry drummer, who had $35,000 worth of goods in two trunks, expected to meet with a total loss. But during the day between $20,000 and $25,000 worth was found to he intact. As to the fire department: No possible fault could be found with it, or with its handling of the fire, and it may safely be said that no fire department could have worked harder or more intelligently than that of Bay City. It operated under most trying circumstances. The weather conditions were of the severest, and the building was simply a firetrap, old and full of inflammable matter. The department was further handicapped by the lack of ladders—a want to which Chief Harding has drawn attention for quite ten years and in vain asked that it should be remedied. Had the hotel been filled, this defect would certainly have caused a terrible holocaust, as the firemen (who, as it was, saved eleven lives) worked under hard conditions. It is to be hoped that the municipal authorities will now take warning and supply the department with the necessary ladders, and not wait till some fearful disaster takes place, in consequence of what will he their criminal neglect to adopt the proper means to avert it. They should also see to it that all hotels, factories, schools, places of amusement or public assembly should be provided with ample facilities for escape from fire. The experiences of the Frazer house fire ought to cause them to pay attention to that important detail. If fire escapes serve no other purpose, they at least furnish the firemen with suitable points for attacking the flames to better advantage than on the morning of December 23. The labors of the firemen should be lightened in every way. so that they may be better, able to save both life and property— particularly life. The fire-area of Bay City—3.200 acres—abounds in wooden buildings, which alone form a continual fire-hazard, and, although the department is fairly well supplied with apparatus— save in the matter of ladders—and has a welltrained corps of firefighters (the number of its full-paid firemen might be increased with advantage), yet the fire-risks are many and call for a larger degree of protection. The fire department of the city is part full-paid and part call. It is equipped as follows: Steamers, two; chemical engines, two hook and ladder trucks, two; fireboat; eleven hose wagons and carriages; some 12.000 ft. of good hose. The Gamewell fire alarm system is installed, and between twenty and twenty-five horses arc in service. There are nearly 450 fire hydrants set, the fire pressure being 80 lbs.

Chief Engineer Thomas K. Harding, Bay City, Mich.North View of Fraser House Ruins. Bay City, Mich.

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