Insane Asylum Burned at Chicago.

Insane Asylum Burned at Chicago.


The “Old Poorhouse” at Dunning, Cook County, Ill., built in 1870 and condemned four years ago as a firetrap, burned almost to the ground on January 17. More than 500 insane patients housed in the structure escaped unscathed. The escape of the inmates from one of the most spectacular fires seen in or about Chicago in years was due to the coolness and courage of their men and women attendants and to the astonishing composure of the insane people themselves. The fire started, it is supposed, at about 4 o’clock p. in., from cigarettes surreptitiously smoked and thrown away by patients in the tuberculosis ward in the central wing, it was discovered at 4:15. At 4:30 not only had all the patients been marched out of the biulding, but the attendants, by going back through the corridors of the burning structure, had made certain no one had been left there to die. When it was condemned by the building department a recommendation that it be torn down was made. But, like the recommendations for fire-fighting facilities that were deplorably lacking on this occasion. the county never got around to acting on the recommendations. The 270 inmates of the building were, in spite of their infirmities of mind ajul body, with one exception, taken to [daces of safety in the other buildings. It was necessary to move 280 more patients to house them during the night. In the face of what threatened to be the most disastrous holocaust in years, the presence of mind and heroism of women saved the situation. A woman physician sounded the fire drill, argued, entreated and even beat the patients into line in order that their lives might be saved. Another woman physician, who within three weeks was on trial under charges of inefficiency. led another line of unwilling and panicstricken patients from the blazing building to safety. The one fact borne home to the fire fighters while hundreds of lives hung in the balance was the appalling inadequacy of the facilities for combating just such a fire. Water plugs that ordinarily would have sent forth weak streams of water were frozen and useless when brought into play. The one fire hose intended for use by the volunteer fire department at the institution burst under even this weak pressure and left the amateur firemen helpless, it was because of this neglect of the county to provide fire appliances that the building was lost and 550 lives endangered. Attendants who assert they might easily have extinguished the flame while it. was so small as to be concealed behind a table were compelled to stand idly by and watch it eat its way down through the floors and become a roaring furnace within the few minutes they were waiting for the arrival of the city firemen. The fire was discovered shortly after 4 o’clock in the afternoon by’ Frank Maloney, engineer of the building, in the attic of the structure. He sent a call to the volunteer fire department of the institution, and the members got their antiquated fire fighting apparatus into action within three minutes. Then the hose, under pressure o£ water from the boilers, burst, sent tons of water on the amateur firemen and left the flames to spread.

Dr. lngoherg Olson, woman physician in charge of the women patients in the building, heard the alarm while they were in the midst of their afternoon’s fancy work instructions. From the floor above could he heard the roaring of the flames. In the adjoining room could be heard the rushing water from the bursted hose. It seemed that the disaster so greatly feared in an insane asylum—a great fire—had come to pass. But the woman did not betray her feelings by the slightest sign of emotion. “They’re going to test us on the fire drill, but i guess we can show them we have practiced it,” she said, with a smile. Form in line in the hallway while the attendants count.” And, to the great relief of the attendants. a majority of the patients obeyed the order. They not only formed in line, just as they have been in the habit of doing twice weekly for months, but remained there until told to march down the stairs and out of the bulidnig. Troubled developed, however, when the remaining patients—men and women—obstinately refused to budge from the rooms. At this juncture Dr. Clara Dunn arrived from an adjoining building. She summoned women nurses from other parts of the institution and began the work of arguing, begging or compelling the patients to leave the building. In her efforts to assist one woman l)r. Dunn was struck across the check, leaving a dark mark under the right eye, but sinonly smiled when she reached the ground and was told all of the patients were safe. “Many of the patients helped us in getting their companions out,” she said. “Those who helped more than offset the trouble we had with the obstinately insane ones.” While the fite was in progress attendants threw bedding and beds from the windows and succeeded in saving sufficient of the bedroom equipment to make the former inmates of the burned building comfortable in the more modern buildings. I)r. F. K. Pietrowicz, recently appointed superintendent of the asylum, was seated in his office writing when an employe rushed in and announced that tinold poorhouse was in flames. The superintendent summoned Dr. Charles Hberlein, and together they took charge of the efforts to stop the progress of the flames before the arrival of the fire engines. Chief Sevferlich was in his office at the city hall headquarters o fthe fire dv partment when he learned of the fire. He realized the danger of the situation, and, without consulting the men at the fire as to the progress already made by the flames, turned in a general alarm. Then the fire chief went to the burning building and found that the facilities to fight the fire were no better than those at the stockyards, where two big fires in as many years have cost twenty-three lives and a vast property loss, almost entirely because of the lack of water and high pressure. When lie found the few water plugs frozen he made use of the small amount of water power that could be had in the institution’s power plant. Meanwhile, hot water was being applied to the useless tire plugs to thaw them out.

“It we can’t get water at once we can’t hold the fire down, and there is no telling what may happen here if it gels far beyond control,” said Chief Sevferlich.

fortunately the firemen succeeded in thawing out the frozen fire plugs before the flames had leaped to neighboring buildings They could not lie put into service, however, until too late to save the structure. The biulding destroyed was the original Cook County poorhouse, and was erected in 1870. At that time it was the largest institution of the kind in the country, outside of New York. The structure was five stories high, and a portion was covered by a half-story attic.

Previous articleThe San Diego Fire Department.
Next articleMoose Jaw Suffers Heavily from Fire

No posts to display