Mutual Aid Works at Battle Creek Blaze
Not so many years ago all was not harmony between Battle Creek City and Battle Creek Township fire forces. Recently, differences were reconciled, and the harmonious relations paid off in dividends on the night of April 15th, last, when the Battle Creek Township fire fighters came in to cover the city while all the latter’s fire forces were fighting to confine a half million dollar blaze that burned out a clothing and a department store and threatened entire downtown Battle Creek.
While the Battle Creek department was occupied at the major blaze, the Township firemen were called to extinguish a fire in a coal hopper.
The Battle Creek area suffered a number of serious fires in the spring. Two fires at the Eaton Manufacturing Company, just outside the city, caused heavy loss, and a number of mercantile fires in the city gave Battle Creek fire fighters plenty of work.
The climax apparently was reached when fire of undetermined origin practically destroyed the 60-year-old, threestory building known as the Morgan Block, housing Brandi Bros, clothing store and the Powers, Inc., department store at 20-22 West Michigan avenue, in the heart of downtown district.
This fire was discovered by a couple of men who were window-shopping about 11:35 P.M., and noticed smoke in the clothing store. They hurried to the quarters of No. 1 fire station nearby to sound the alarm. By the time these and other firemen had reached the scene, flames were visible through the rear first floor barred windows, and heavy smoke was emitting from all crevices of the structure.
Additional calls brought practically the city’s entire fire department and summoned all off-duty men into action. Unable to penetrate the wall of smoke, firemen donned breathing apparatus but even with these the excessive heat and blackness made interior fire fighting next to impossible. Lines therefore were operated from the rear, from the fire escapes, and from street level and ladders in the front. At times the pall of smoke shut out the department’s most powerful flood lights.
About 12:20 A.M., firemen were encouraged in their fight when rolling smoke appeared to be turning to steam, indicating that water was reaching the seat of the fire. But the blaze in the rear continued unabated as the upper floors became involved. At 1:00 A.M., ladder pipes from the city’s two aerials were directing heavy streams into the root area, but the fire steadily ate its way through center of the structure. Firemen working up fire escapes in the rear ell of the adjoining jewelry store worked desperately to prevent extension of the blaze into that and other structures.
At 1:15 A.M., the fire burst through the roof as sections of the upper part of the building caved in. At 2:00 A.M., Fire Chief Charles Crosier announced that the department hoped to confine the fire to the Morgan Block and keep it from Godfrey’s jewelry store and the Weickemant building. But, about ten minutes later, the wind-whipped flames spread to the roof of the Kapp Block, housing Stevenson’s camera shop, and into the third floor at 24-26 W. Michigan street.
At 1:49 A.M., an alarm was transmitted for a fire in a coal hopper at 417 W. Van Buren street. The Grand Rapids Township firemen, who were covering the city in the emergency, responded and were joined by two pieces of apparatus withdrawn from the major fire. This blaze was quickly controlled and the Grand Rapids municipal fire fighters returned to renew their struggle with the West Michigan avenue blaze.
At about 2:30 Fire Chief Crozier collapsed. He had been in and out of the smoke charged fire building and was believed partially overcome by the smoke and fumes. He remained conscious, however, and was removed to the hospital in an ambulance for treatment. Assistant Chief Robert Smith and Battalion Chief Rolland Hess assisted Chief Crozier in directing operations.
One fireman, Richard Phelps of No. 1 Station, was overcome by smoke but after receiving first aid returned to the fight. Firemen operating in the rear early in the struggle were handicapped by power wres, which were later deenergized. The surging crowds also caused some inconvenience as news of the fire brought several thousand to the scene.
Insurance adjusters placed the property loss at $500,000 and began an investigation into the cause of the destructive blaze. Chief Crozier doubted if the origin ever would be known. He stated that the fire began in the basement of Brandi Bros, store, but the extreme heat, which turned the streams from the first two lines directed into the interior of the store to steam, notwithstanding their 500 gallon per minute discharge, undoubtedly consumed all evidence that would help determine the cause. Firemen also expressed the belief that the fire had been burning for some time before discovery.