MIDDLETOWN BUSINESS AREA TREATENED BY SEVERE FIRE
Fire which Started in Restaurant Spread to Nine Buildings and Resulted in Injuries to Four Firemen
NINE buildings housing fourteen business establishments and apartments in the heart of the business district at Middletown, Conn., were gutted by a general alarm fire on August 29. Four firemen, including Fire Chief Michael W. Lawton of the Middletown Fire Department, were injured during the height of the blaze which for a time threatened to sweep the entire center of the city. It was the W’orst fire in the history of the city and the loss was estimated bv Fire Chief Lawton to be over $500,000.
The blaze, which started about 8:45 P.M. when a spilled pan of grease flared up in the restaurant occupied by John H. Bransfield on Court Street, raged through the night and it was not until (i A M. the following morning that the fire was under control. When Fire Chief Lawton arrived on the scene he immediately saw the seriousness of the situation and ordered all Middletown apparatus to the fire. Calls for aid were sent to Durham, Cromwell, Portland. Meriden, Westfield and Hartford. Fire Chief Michael T. Keena of Hartford sent two companies to the stricken cite and also aided Chief Lawton in combatting the conflagration. Asst. Chief Arthur Harris of Meriden accompanied a crew of firemen from that city.
From the restaurant the flames swept through a printing establishment, a tavern, a second print shop, a meat market and a delicatessen, jumping then to a chain grocery store on the corner of Main and Court Streets. For 200 feet south on Main Street the fire swept through two men’s clothing stores, a shoe store, a periodical shop, a liquor store, two millinery stores, a stamp works, a dentist’s office, a book store and beauty parlor. A rooming house was damaged and the entrance to a vacant theatre was scorched.
Two men were hospitalized. Augustine Barrett, a volunteer fireman, suffered several fractured ribs when he fell. Walter Brazoz, a spectator was cut and bruised when a fire truck knocked him down as he was assisting firemen with hose lines. Chief Lawton suffered a knee injury but remained at the scene after medical treatment. Howard H. Kelsey, a paid fireman, and Arthur Keppenstall, a volunteer, were injured by broken glass. Several firemen collapsed from smoke inhalation.
When notified of the fire. State Commissioner of Police Edward J. Hickey of Hartford came to Middletown to personally direct more than 50 state troopers sent to handle the vast crowds and reroute traffic around the city. John H. Bransfield, owner of the restaurant where the fire started, said the blaze began in the kitchen of his restaurant. The restaurant used high velocity coal, which was oil soaked, in the stove ovens, and the ovens were being used for roasting of dinners.
Bransfield was standing near the front of his restaurant when he saw’ a burst of flames from the kitchen at the rear. The flames swept across the oil soaked floor and quickly enveloped the bar. The place was crowded at the time but there was no panic. Instead the customers attempted to stem the fire with pails of water.
When the first fire company arrived on Court Street, hundreds of shoppers, drawn as though by a giant magnet, tried to crowd into the narrow thoroughfare but most of them hastily moved back when they saw clouds of black smoke pouring from the Bransfield Block. When the fire reached the cellar of the building several explosions were heard, presumably caused by oil in the cellars.
Every volunteer fireman in the city was summoned and many not firemen left the packed crowds on the west side of Main Street to aid in stretching hose lines. Hydrants as far as four blocks distant were used within an hour and the city’s two reservoirs were drawn upon.
FInough water to meet the normal requirements of the city for two days was taken out of Middletown’s two reservoirs, Higby antj Laurel Brook, in five hours and poured into the burning buildings. In the first hour of battle against the flames, 1,500,000 gallons of water were taken from Fligby Reservoir and then Laurel Brook Reservoir was pumped into the mains. In the next four hours another 1,500,000 gallons were used in addition to thousands of gallons taken through suction from the Connecticut River, a short distance from the fire.
Middletown’s water system received its greatest test during the fire and according to officials met it perfectly. At times the force was sufficient for the hose lines to batter down a brick wall. The chart of the Middletown Water Company showed the pressure ranged between 100 and 115 pounds from 6 P.M. to 8:55 P.M. At 9:30 P.M., the pressure had dropped to 40 pounds and then went up again to 90 with the Laurel Brook Reservoir pumps working. From that time to 1 A.M. the pressure was between that point and 70 pounds.
Preparations to meet just such a condition that confronted Middletown city authorities had been made by the Public Works Department early this year. The pump at Laurel Brook Reservoir was overhauled and a chlorinator installed. When the seriousness of the situation became apparent steps were taken at once to turn on the pumps with officials on duty throughout the night.