Holocaust at Milford, Mass.
Six men and a boy, all Armenians, lost their lives in a lodging house fire at Milford, Mass., at 2:30 A. M., June 16; forty others were injured, and only seventeen escaped without injury. Seven men jumped from windows, and no one saved more than scanty clothing. The building was known as Topalion’s barracks, and was located at West and Cherry streets, in the heart of the town. The building was 30 by 80 feet, four stories high, of frame construction with outside walls of one thickness of bricks, and was built in 1857 for a shoe shop. It was condemned as unsafe 25 years ago, and when there was a strike of the men employed in the shop twenty years ago it was abandoned as a shoe shop. Peter Topalion, a prosperous Armenian who finds employment for his countrymen, bought the building 15 years ago and fitted it up as a lodging house for his workmen. The building is almost flush with the street, having a basement two feet deep, and the two lower floors were divided into lodging rooms for men. The fire had a mysterious and suspicious origin in a corner of the basement, and it is believed it was burning a considerable time before it was discovered by persons living in the neighborhood who were awakened by the crackling of the flames and the odor of smoke. Because of their excited condition neighbors delayed in giving the alarm. Hundreds of half-crazed citizens raced about the burning building, screaming warning to the tenants. Within a minute or so the windows were thronged with struggling, screaming, fighting men, all battling for a chance to climb through the windows and jump to the street. Although the firemen cried warnings to the Armenians to wait until ladders could be raised, these flame-scorched and smoke-choked men tumbled out the windows into the street. It was a hopeless task to attempt to spread life nets and to catch those who were jumping from the windows, and the firemen and civilians, fearless of their own great danger, ran into the two great doors at either end of the building and staggered through the suffocating smoke and flames to reach those imprisoned on the upper floors of the flame-filled building. Chief E. M. Crockett, and Asst. Chief M. J. Maeuen and Michael Rurlce of Truck 1, did valiant service in the work of rescue. Chiefs Crockett and Maeuen led firemen and civilians through the hallways and over the flaming stairs and brought out those who were too much overcome by their burns and the smoke to save themselves. Ladderman Burke climbed into the windows of the two upper floors of the building several times and carried out some unfortunate man. Civilians in the streets cheered the acts of the firemen and citizens who performed rescue work. Fortunately the very few women and children who were in the house were in the small apartments on the first and second floors and they were rescued or managed to escape. There were no fire escapes on the building, which, it is stated, had been inspected and passed by the State Building Inspectors, and Chief Crockett has had officially notified the district police in Worcester to come and hold an investigation. Last week quite a number of the 65 boarders in the block were dissatisfied with the food and 20 of them left. The building was assessed for $8,000, and insured for $4,000. The fire was one of the most spectacular ever witnessed in that section and drew hundreds from the surrounding country. When at 3:55 o’clock the roof and its supporting timbers fell in and plunged through to the street, there was a cry of terror from the spectators, for it was feared a score had been carried down to their death in the crash. Every physician in the town worked over the injured, sending them to the hospital and to private houses to be cared for.
A. W. Isele, state building inspector, puts the blame directly up to the officials of Milford for the fire. Chief E. M. Crockett of the fire department takes issue with the state inspector to the extent of saying that the state police have the names of all buildings, also the locations where law requires a state police inspection. Inspector Isele says that so ifar as the laws required, everything about the building was all right, except the absence of fire escape ropes on the different floors. Chairman Henderson of the Milford selectmen says that town officials will demand a complete inquiry into the conditions not only with respect to the present case, but that which relates to other buildings under the jurisdiction of state police inspection in Milford. The chairman declares the state officers must have known about the condition of the old brick block because its condition has been a matter of comment for years. According to Selectman Henderson there is laxity somewhere. Chairman Henderson has a report from Chief Crockett that the old building was among the others filed with the state police as among the buildings subject to inspection April 1. Inspector Isele intimates he had no information from the local authorities as to conditions existing in the block. “Even if he hadnt’,” said Chief Crockett, “it is his business to call the town to account for neglecting its duty. I say the state inspectors had the old building and all the conditions as familiarily in their minds during recent weeks as ever in any period of inspection.” Investigation by the police revealed the presence of kerosene and gasoline in some olf the rooms. Lanterns lighted some of the hallway sections and these were found by Milford firemen and others. Each of the corridors had a width of a little more than five feet; the stairways are a little more than two and a half feet wide. Seven ifeet is about tfhe distance from the floor to the ceiling of the corridors. The front entrance to the building is the width of a door in an ordinary dwelling. The rear exit is in the second story and has no approach by backstairways or other means of escape.