MULTIPLE-ALARM FIRES IN DALLAS THREATEN LOW INSURANCE RATING
Three Large and Several Smaller Destructive Blazes Raise 1950 Losses, Keep Firemen Busy
A Staff Study*
THE City of Dallas. Texas, which has always been outstandingly fire protection conscious had unhappy visions as 1950 waned, when several multiple alarm fires, together with other blazes, brought it dangerously near to losing its good fire record and its 5 per cent credit rate granted by the fire insurance commissioner in Austin. There was fear that the losses would mean Dallas fire insurance policyholders would have to pay a 5 per cent higher premium.
The fires in question caused aggregate losses of over a quarter of a million dollars, one death and injuries to several firemen. For the most part, all the more serious fires involved mercantile occupancies.
The chain of events started with a roaring 4-alarm fire which involved a shoe store and a woman’s ready-towear store in the heart of the Oak Bluff business district, early on a Tuesday the middle of November, last.
The fire was discovered by motorists who saw smoke in the buildings at 6:50 A.M. and turned in a box alarm.
*The editors acknowledge the assistance of correspondent L. J. Martin of Dallas, in providing material and photographs on which part of this study is based. The structures, both two stories and basement, were Lane’s Shoe Store, 219 Jefferson blvd. and Spiegel’s Ready-toWear store at 221 Jefferson blvd. The cause of this fire was not disclosed, but when firemen arrived it was well under way in the rear of the ready-to-wear store.
From Spiegel’s, the fire ate its way through the wall into the shoe store. The interiors of both establishments were virtually destroyed, leaving only the shell of the walls. Roofs over both buildings collapsed.
Coming at the peak of the morning rush hour, the blaze attracted hundreds of spectators, necessitating re-routing of street cars and vehicular traffic and the calling of extra police.
Following the first alarm, at 5:50 A.M., additional calls were sounded until the fourth at 8:20 A.M., shortly after which the fire was officially pronounced controlled. Watch crews were kept on the scene for sometime thereafter, however.
One fireman was slightly injured when a section of plaster fell on him. At one time it was feared another fireman was lost inside the structures when the roof collapsed, but fortunately he escaped through the rear. Fire Chief C. N. Penn was in charge of fire extinguishing operations at this blaze, which caused an estimated property loss of $125,000.
Second Mercantile Blaze
Twenty days later the department had to fight a 5-alarm blaze which caused loss conservatively estimated at $200,000 to two downtown buildings.
This fire was reported at 3:07 A.M. in the building at Main and Field streets, occupied by the Gateway Sporting Goods Company the Record Shop and the Southern Trust & Mortgage Company, and on the second floor by the Greater Dallas Club.
The fires was first noticed by Police Capt. John Daniel, who spotted smoke coming from the roof of the building. He radioed an alarm to the fire department dispatcher. hour units from the Central Station answered this call.
For the first 35 minutes firemen went all over the building and searched the area trying to locate the source of the smoky blaze. Then the rear section of the Greater Dallas Club erupted clouds of black smoke, and flames poured out.
A second alarm was struck at once, followed by the additional alarms. By the time the fifth had been sounded, 22 fire fighting units were operating, all off-duty firemen had been called, and the old water tower had been brought into action. Pumpers occupied fire hydrants over a 16-block area.
Guests in the nearby Hotel Adolphus were alerted by switchboard operators as a precautionary measure, but the hotel itself was never menaced by flames although the smoke blanketed the canyons between buildings in the downtown district.
Firemen suffered from the cold weather. Five of them were injured, none seriously. When the fire was declared out three hours and forty-four minutes after the first alarm, the Greater Dallas Club and Gateway Sporting Goods Company had been gutted, the Record Shop and Southern Trust & Mortgage Company occupancies had been badly damaged in one building and, in the other, the offices of the Lyon-Gray Lumber Company upstairs, and the ticket offices of the General Travel Company and three railroad companies on the lower floor had suffered loss.
Although this fire was tapped out and under control at 6:51 A.M., some firemen were kept on the scene until late afternoon.
The time of the alarms were: First, 3:07 A.M.; second, 3:42 A.M. third, 4:05 A.M., fourth, 4:22 A.M. and fifth at 5:24 A.M.
Among the firemen injured were Asst. Chief J. W. Owens and Capt. G. N. Finch. Fire Chief Penn who was in command of operations said all available off-duty men were called in and 17 engine companies, four ladder companies, a salvage company and the mobile water tower were in operation.
Only a few days after this five-alarm fire, an 81-year old man was burned to death in a West Dallas home, and damages of over $30,000 were caused by three separate fires within a few hours of each other.
Efforts to rescue the aged victim resulted in severe burns to a companion. This fire was caused by the explosion of a gasoline lamp.
Simultaneous with this fatal West Dallas fire, city firemen were called upon to battle another four-alarm fire, which destroyed a 3-story and one-story adjoining brick buildings at 2407 and 2405 Swiss avenue. Property damages in this fire amounted to $25,000. One fireman was hospitalized for burns.
Fire fighters fought this fire for an hour and a half. The first alarm was sounded at 2:50 A.M. by an unidentified passerby from a corner box. Three additional alarms followed within seven minutes. Another fire of unknown origin in the rear of a piano company store, caused $5000 loss. These new blazes brought to 14 the number of buildings and residences either destroyed or damaged in the series of fires starting with the five-alarm downtown blaze.