Fire Drill Enables Students to Escape Fire Protection Equipment of Building Not EffectiveDelay in Getting Town Fire Department to the Scene Allows Conflagration to Spread—Fine Old Historic Structure Destroyed.

(Special from our own Correspondent,)

Heroic coolness and a perfect fire drill enabled 350 young women students to escape unharmed from the upper floors when College Hall, one of the largest buildings at Wellesley College, Wellesley, Mass., was destroyed by fire at 4.40 A. M., March 17. The fire, supposed to be due to spontaneous combustion, started in the chemical laboratory on the upper floor of the five-story building and was discovered by one of the students, who gave the alarm. The fire gongs were sounded and what followed is described by one of the students as follows: “At the first sound of the fire gongs we all tumbled out of beds, thinking it was a regular fire drill, and we decided to make the test a record-breaker. Hardly one among us realized that it was a real case of fire and a call for a real try-out of our brigade and when we reached the campus, in our only partially robed condition, and were told that we could not return for our effects, and then we saw the flames sweeping with great rapidity through the great hall, did we realize that a fire was in progress.” In four minutes from the time of awakening from sound sleep, all the girls were beyond reach of danger. System and discipline had scored a victory over death. This fire will long be a reminder to whosoever is inclined to think fire drills irksome and that it is the part of wisdom to enter into them hearttily and keep them up to a high standard of efficiency. There was not a single case of even the slightest injury. Nearly all of the young women lost their personal effects, yet perfect order was maintained. There were 1,400 students in the several college buildings at the time. Some fifty instructors and a like number of maids were also asleep in the destroyed building when the fire commenced, but they escaped uninjured. The girl students removed desks, furniture, pictures, stationery and other heavy furnishings from the lower floors. Or. the first floor was the executive office, library, lecture, recitation, reception rooms and the dining hall. On the second and third floors were class rooms, on the fourth, the dormitory, and on the fifth the laboratories and storage rooms.

The building had a commanding site on a hill near a lake and was one of the original buildings erected in 1871, when the college was established. The structure occupied an area of 120×500; constructed of brick and stone with interior fittings of wood, and was divided into dormitories, administrative offices and servants’ quarters. The room where the fire started faced a court, and the glare of the fire across the court aroused Miss Charlotte Donnell, a student on the third floor, who rushed to the second floor and rung in the fire and drill alarm, after which she awoke the sleepers by pounding on their doors. The college volunteer fire brigade, in command of Miss Mary O. Mahoney, a student, responded quickly, but the fire was beyond its control when discovered. If the fire had started in the basement instead of in one of the top stories there probably would have been a loss of life.


The alarm was sent in from the college private box and was soon followed by a second alarm, which called the three hose wagons, a motor chemical and hose wagon, and one ladder truck of the Wellesley departmen. The water pressure was low, so that the streams were rot effective, and fire departments of the adjoining places were telephoned for assistance. Chief W. B. Randlett of Newton with the new Knox motor pumping engine, a motor hose wagon and a horsedrawn hose wagon, made the five-mile run in record time. This was the first real fire test of the new Newton motor pumping engine, which was on exhibition at the chiefs’ convention in New York last September. It was in service for four hours and excelled all expectations. The best streams thrown on the fire came from this engine. Natick sent a steamer, the only one at the fire that drafted from the lake. Chief H. H. Upham of Needham sent horse hose wagons. It is claimed that if Wellesley had a pumping engine that the fire might have been confined to the upper story, where it originated. The fire burned down story by story. The firemen were handicapped by a fog and heavy atmosphere which caused the dense smoke to hug the ground and was almost suffocating. Only the brick walls remained after the fire burned five hours. The loss is estimated at $700,000. W. W. Diehl is chief of the Wellesley fire department.

The illustrations show the building before the fire and a section of one of the walls standing, after being subjected to four hours of great heat. The iron columns collapsed at an early stage of the conflagration.

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