Hotel Fire, Caused by Disinfecting Fluid, Takes Six Lives
Men Suffocated in Blaze Which Leaped Up Stairway Cutting Off Escape—Coroner’s Jury Fixes Blame—Burnings of the Week
THE ignition of inflammable disinfecting fluid as it was being carried up a stairway of the Mills Hotel, 265 Halsey Street, Newark, N. J., caused a fire which resulted in the death of six men. The fire occurred at 9:30 o’clock on May 27, while a porter was taking the can containing the fluid up a stairway leading from the entrance to the hotel to the second floor. The fluid was in a five-gallon steel drum. The flaming liquid was spilled on stairs and wooden partitions and the blaze apparently ate its way upward instantaneously, mushrooming through the various floors of the hotel with great rapidity. The fire was discovered by a man who was passing the hotel at 9:25 o’clock and who heard the noise of someone falling down the stairs. Investigating he found the porter attempting to extinguish the fire in the drum from which the fluid was pouring, while the stairs and partitions had already became ignited by the blaze. He at once notified the traffic officer at William and Halsey Streets and the first alarm was sent in at 9:35. As soon as Chief Paul J. Moore, who was then in charge of the Newark fire department, arrived a second alarm was sent in at 9:39 and a third at 9:42. About 130 firemen responded with eleven engine and three hook and ladder companies. There were about twenty 6-inch double and high pressure hydrants within two blocks of the fire and six high pressure and about twenty engine streams were thrown in fighting it. Some 232 lengths of 2 1/2-inch hose were laid and besides which four deck nozzles, one water tower and one extension ladder with deluge set attached, were used by the department;
Of the six men who lost their lives, three of the bodies were found in a lavatory on the fourth floor, the men having evidently mistaken the door leading to it for the one opening to the fire escape which was nearby. Two other bodies were found on the fourth floor, one in a room and the other in a passageway, and the sixth victim was found in a room on the second floor in the rear, on the William Street side. All these men had evidently been overcome by the dense smoke and suffocated. When the fire department arrived at the first alarm the building was a mass of flames and the first efforts were devoted to saving the occupants, some of Whom were on the fire escapes and the frightened faces of other appeared at the windows. As soon as the alarm of the fire reachedChief Engineer Foulks ofthe water department; he directed the opening of the gatehouse, Bloomfield Avenue and Fiftfi Street, thus increasing the water supply instantly.
An investigation by the coroner’s jury resulted in a verdict Lives Lost in Newark, N. J., Hotel Fire placing the alleged responsibility for the fire on the proprietor and manager of the hotel and on the disinfecting company which made the liquid which, it is claimed, caused the blaze. The report of the jury which is quite voluminous, reads in part as follows:
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“We find that the fire orisrinated at or near a drum containing; a highly inflammable liquid on the first floor near the stairs, and we are of the opinion that the cause of the fire was due to the ignition of the inflammable vapors from the liquid, and that the cause of the ignition of the vapor can not be determined by this jury,” says the report.
“We find that the fire spread upward through the building with unusual rapidity due to the highly inflammable nature of the liquid and vapor therefrom and that a quantity of the liquid was spilled from the drum which it was being drawn by Robert Samek for the purpose of refilling disinfectant tanks in the toilets of the building.
“The jury finds that the liquid taken from the tank was a volatile inflammable liquid and was stored in the building in violation of the state laws and provisions of the fire prevention code. Sections 436, 452, 467B, that it was shipped and transported to premises, 255 Halsey Street, in the city of Newark, in violation of federal, state and city laws.
“The jury finds that the management of the hotel complied with the requirements of the Health and Building Departments of the city of
“The jury finds that the fire department of the city of Newark responded to the alarm promptly and through efficient action prevented further casualties.
“From the testimony given before this jury concerning the highly inflammable character of the liquid stored in the drum in this building, the rapidity with which the fire spread because of the inflammability of the liquid and its vapors, the use of the building as a lodging house containing accommodations for 120, this jury is of the opinion that the deaths of Jefferson Chadwick, Thomas McGarry and an unidentified man, supposed to be J. Martin, were the result of the failure upon the part of Charles N. Ottavianni. proprietor and manager of the hotel; Robert Samek, service man for the P. M. Frank Disinfecting Company, and the P. M. Frank Disinfecting Company, to comply with the provisions of law relative to the transportation, storage ami use of volatile inflammable liquids in the city of Newark and we call attention to the state and federal authorities to the violations of law relative to the shipment and transportation of this volatile inflammable liquid from the city of New York to the city of Newark.
“The jury finds that the manner in which this highly inflammable liquid was shipped, transported and stored was such that, in our opinion, the acts of Charles N. Ottavianni, proprietor and manager of the hotel; Robert Samek. service man for the P. M. Frank Disinfecting Company, and the P. M. Frank Disinfecting Company, in shipping a volatile inflammable liquid from the city of New York to the Mills Hotel at 255 Halsey Street. in the city of Newark, and in storing or causing to be stored said liquid in said premises in violation of law and without providing safeguards and using precaution to prevent fire, constitutes criminal negligence on the part of the aforenamed’ persons,”
The report of the coroner’s jury was signed by David I. Kelly, secretary of the Essex County Park Commission, as foreman, and his five follow jurors and turned over to the coroner, who transmitted it to former Prosecutor Jacob L. Newman, a special representative of the prosecutor’s office for the inquiry. The case is to go to the grand jury.
The loss on the building which was valued at $90,000 was estimated at $40,000 and on the contents, valued at $30,000, the loss was $30,000.