Explosion Traps Firemen
Two firemen were killed, one lost a leg, ten others were injured, a number of them seriously, and ten civilian spectators were injured when a violent explosion and a three alarm fire swept the basement of the Watson-Standard Company paint and varnish factory in Pittsburgh, Pa., recently.
All of the injured firemen, including the fireman who lost his life, were trapped in the basement and on the first floor of the building when the explosion took place, while the ten civilian spectators who were on the outside of the building watching the firemen at work were seared by a sheet of flame which leaped thirty feet from the basement windows and cut by flying particles of broken glass and wreckage hurled in all directions by the force of the terrific blast.
The blast, which shook the entiye building, tore up the inside of the basement, blew out four large seventeenfoot steel window frames and sashes, shattering the glass in hundreds of pieces and shook apart a heavy brick wall enclosing the concrete stair-case between the first and second floors of the building, and ripped out heavy doors, as well as blowing out a number of large skylights on an adjoining building in the rear.
The fire originated in a one-hundred gallon open steel tank on rollers, containing a secret government paint or solvent product which was being rolled towards the elevator shaft in the basement by a paint mixer, one of the three workmen in the building at the time, when the contents of the tank, which produced very strong fumes, started to splash and ignited from some cause unknown.
The paint mixer, Charles G. Sheets, aged 28 years, whose clothing took fire when the contents of the tank ignited, burning him on the arms, yelled to the watchman, who was on the first floor of the building, to send in an alarm, which was sounded from A. D. T. Box, Station 713, in the building at 1:11 A. M.
Immediately following the sounding of the alarm front the A. D. T. Box, another one of the three workmen ran to Galveston and Shore Avenues, a half block from the building and sent in the first alarm from the street box, Station 39, at 1:12 A. M.
When Engine Companies Nos. 47, 43, 46 and Truck 47 arrived on the scene in command of Acting Battalion Chief Thomas F. O’Connors of the Fifth Battalion, the firemen found an intensely hot fire in progress among the drums of solvents, paint products, etc., with the flames rapidly spreading throughout the basement, and out of control of the automatic sprinkleys which were in operation.
The firemen, some of them wearing gas masks, immediately dragged lines into the building and were attacking the flames with pumper and hydrant streams, and were spraying chemicals, including fire foam, on the burning tanks and dyums in the basement, and had ventilated the building, and from all indications had the fire beaten down and practically extinguished within fifteen minutes after their arrival, when the terrific blast took place at about 1:30 A. M.
A number of the firemen working in the basement were seared and severely burned by sheets of flame and were buried under piles of brick, heavy doors and other wreckage, while others wore hurled out of the basement by the blast.
The second and third alarms were sent in at 1:30 and 1:40 A. M.
The second alarm was responded to by Engine Companies No. 10, 45. 52, Truck 46, Deputy Chief Charles J. McDermott, and Chief of the Department Edward .J Kerr, and the third alarm by Engine Companies No. 32. 30 and 42. A special telephone call which was sent out shortly after the arrival of the first alarm companies, brought the foamite wagon, loaded with a foam generator and a supply of foamite powder to the scene.
Chief Kerr, immediately upon his arrival, took command and directed the work of the firemen in controlling and extinguishing the fire. which was accomplished in a little over four hours’ time.
A manual force of sixty-two firemen, including the two Chief Officers, responded to scene of the fire, with fifteen pieces of apparatus, two higli pressure pumpers, one 1,250 gallon pumper, two 1,000 gallon pumpers, four 750 gallon pumpers, the foamite wagon and two 75-foot four-wheel tractor drawn aerial trucks.
By hard and efficient work, the firemen extinguished the fire with eight powerful pumper streams and one hydrant stream, with 5,500 feet of 2 1/2-inch hose in service and twenty-three fifty-pound cans of foamite powder.