Eight Lives Lost in a Boston Fire
Eight lives were lost in a fire which destroyed the three upper stories of the fivestory apartment building at Commonwealth and Long Avenues, in the Allston section of Boston, Mass., early Tuesday morning, April 14. One woman jumped from the top floor and another, who was descending by a sheet rope which broke, dropped forty feet, and both were killed. A man, his wite and child, and three other women were overcome by smoke and suffocated before they could make their escape. The 24 kitchenette apartment building was constructed last year of white brick with an iron and cement frame, a red tile roof and wire lathing. It is located in one of the best of the suburban residential sections in the Brighton district. It was purchased from its builder the first of this month by a corporation. The night was clear and calm. The streets clear, five fire companies were within a mile of the building and the box from which the alarm was sent in. 820, was directly across the avenue. The building stood by itself and nothing impeded the work of the fire department. The fire was probably caused by an overheated boiler in the janitor’s apartment in the basement, burned through a pine board partition into a large rubbish and storage room which contained oils, paints, etc., left by the contractors, who erected and decorated the building, and then spread through adjoining elevator, air and old paper shafts to the roof. It then burned down to the fourth and third stories. The occupants of the first and second floors were rescued by firemen or made their escape through a rear hallway, as the flames at their commencement shut off escape through the front hallway entrance. Soon alter the fire started, falling wire lathing and mortar encumbered the upper stairways. The janitor’s wife, sleeping in the basement, discovered the fire when it was in the storage room; its crackling awoke her, she aroused her husband, who, by breaking the window glass with his hands, enabled his wife with their child to make their escape. The fire awoke a few tenants, who by their screams aroused other tenants, The spread of the fire was very rapid. A few made their escape by iron platform fire escapes, and many of them were more or less burned and injured. The scenes in the burning building and the actions of its inmates were similar to those of other fires and holocausts of the same character. A ten or fifteen minute delay in sending in an alarm caused an unnecessary large fire loss and probably several deaths. The janitor, as soon as he could get out of the building, called to a passerby to send in an alarm. He opened the keyless box door and the ringing of the gong on the inside of the box door probably led him to suppose that the alarm was sent in by the opening of the door, as he did not pull down the alarm hook. A policeman on a distant corner heard the box door hell ring, rushed to the box and, finding the door open, supposed the alarm had gone in. He went into the burning building and assisted a number of people to make their escape. So intent was his mind on his rescue work that he did not notice the absence ot firemen for some time, and when he did, he went to the box and sent in an alarm at 1:57 o’clock, which brought Engines 29, 34 and 41, and trucks 11 and 31, the latter a new motor truck which, with company recently went into service in the new Oak Square station. District Chief John E. Madison, whose headquarters were at Engine 41 station in Harvard Ave.. one of the nearest fire stations to the fire, on his arrival sent in a third alarm at 2:01 o’clock, omitting a second alarm, which brought Chief of Department P. F. McDonough and several pieces of apparatus from the city proper and the Roxbury section. On his arrival Chief McDonough sent in a fourth alarm. The fire could be seen by all the companies as they left their stations. Engine 29, tn command of Capt. J. S. Cleverly, the first to arrive, stretched its jumping nets and caught several people who jumped, and signaled to those at windows to hold their positions until ladders reached them. Scaling ladders from all the hose wagons were used by firemen to reach upper story windows and to enter the building and rescue people. Several extension ladders were quickly in position down which a number of people were taken by the firemen. There were iron balcony fire escapes on the rear of the building, but as the iron ladders from story to story passed directly across windows, the flames belching out of the windows made it impossible for anyone to descend by them. The building was completely gutted above the second floor with a loss estimated at $70,000. The dead were on the top floor and the last body was found two days after the fire. Much personal property was saved by members of the Boston Protective Department The clutches of the extension ladder of Truck 31 got out of place, causing the upper section to descend and throw Thomas Stevens, a ladderman, to the sidewalk, a distance of 35 feet, and he received slight injuries. Scaling ladders, one of which is carried on all Boston hose wagons, were never better used or of more service than at this fire, and they were handled efficiently by the firemen of all the first alarm companies. The department, under the direction of District Chief Madison, worked heroically and without error during the time when the rescues were made.
(The old style of keyless door for street fire-alarm boxes, is so arranged that when the handle is pulled a gong within the door starts to sound, and keeps on sounding while the handle is being turned. The object of this gong is to call the attention of policemen and citizens to the fact that some person is about to sound an alarm. With this door, it is necessary to open the door, and then pull the inside hook in order to start the box mechanism. There have been many instances where the person attempting to sound an alarm has regarded the ringing of this bell as evidence that the alarm has been transmitted, and has gone away without completing the alarm by pulling the inside hook. Many serious losses of life and property have resulted, and it is probable that the delay incurred in the recent Boston fire arose from the use of this old style door as described. These doors, also, are extensively in use in the city of New York; almost wholly in Manhattan, and to a considerable extent in Brooklyn. The latest style keyless door, known as the “self-starting door,” is so arranged that it is not necessary to open it and pull the hook of the inside box. The act of turning the handle operates the signal mechanism, and the local alarm bell does not at all until after the box mechanism is in actual motion and the alarm in process of transmission. This type of door is that recommended for use by the National Board of Eire Underwriters, in all of their reports on the fire-alarm systems of large cities. The latest type of door positively insures the quick and correct transmission of an alarm, and leaves no room for error on the part of the person attempting to operate the box.—Ed.)