Roof Falls and Kills 13 Firemen
Loaded With Snow, Roof of Theatre in Brockton, Mass., Crashed During Fire and Caused Many Deaths
TRAPPED beneath a veritable avalanche of blazing timber, twisted steel and debris, thirteeen firemen were killed and twenty-one other members of the Brockton, Mass., Fire Department seriously injured while combating a fire at the Strand Theatre building in the Bay State shoe city early Monday morning, March 10.
Roof of Theatre Falls
What at first appeared to be an ordinary fire was quickly transformed into a major disaster, when suddenly, and without the slightest warning, there was a roar of crashing timber and the grating of steel as the roof of the building came thundering down burying the fire fighters beneath it.
Although shocked and stunned, heroic fellow firemen, aided by police and civilians, rushed into the building and with utter disregard for their own safety removed the dead and injured. Many firemen spurred on by the agonizing cries of their trapped comrades, time and again endangered their own lives until they were forcibly restrained from crawling under the tottering ruins, for fear that the toll of life would be increased.
Nearly Every Company Suffered
Practically every company of the Brockton Fire Department was hit by the disaster, Squad A, of the Central station, having one shift entirely wiped out. In addition to taking a toll of thirteen lives, the fire left thirteen widows and twenty-six bereaved children.
The fire itself broke out in the Strand Theatre building, a well known landmark. It was discovered by a caretaker shortly after midnight, less than two hours after a crowded audience had left the building. The cause of the fire has not been ascertained. When the fire department arrived in response to the first alarm, the flames had gained considerable headway and a second alarm was sounded as a precautionary measure because of the locality.
The spread of the fire appeared to have been checked by quick work and appeared under control when flames suddenly broke through one comer of the root This looked like any other development that goes with an ordinary Are. The vent afforded an opportunity for men to enter, and companies were ordered in with lines to attack the seemingly small amount of flames from vantage points in the balcony. Then without warning the crash occurred.
Pinned beneath the wreckage the firemen had no chance to escape, so sudden was the collapse. Some clear of the falling roof leaped over the balcony rail and fell injured on the seats below. Flames which flared up after the crash licked at rescuers as the fire burned the trapped victims.
Rescue Work Started at Once
Great excitement followed the crash but there was no panic as rescue work proceeded most orderly. Heroically, the surviving firemen went about the task of rescuing their comrades. Police, doctors, nurses and ambulances were quickly mobilized. Chief Frank Dickenson sounded a general alarm and called aid from a dozen nearby communities.
The Brockton Police Department did heroic work in removing the injured and transferring them to hospitals. One officer, Sergt. Timothy O’Brien, who witnessed the crash, saw his brother Daniel O’Brien, a fireman, killed in the wreckage.
The ever ready Massachusetts State Police were called by the Brockton Police Department to assist. Following a disaster emergency call which was broadcast by radio and teletype, men and ambulances were rushed from all barracks within a fifty-mile radius. The State Police, soon on hand, augmented the already exhausted local authorities.
Fire departments sent men and apparatus from nearby Abington, North Abington, Stoughton, Easton, Rockland, Bridgewater, West Bridgewater, East Bridgewater, Avon, Randolph, Whitman and Braintree. Not only did these departments aid at the fire and cover in at several stations, but they remained in Brockton to assist the severely crippled department for several days. Also many cities and towns, such as Boston, Arlington. Brookline, Belmont, Taunton, and scores of other places sent their Chiefs to Brockton to offer their services and facilities.
As morning broke after the tragedy the city of Brockton awoke to the terrible realization of the frightful toll of the disaster. Families and relatives of firemen rushed to the scene and to hospitals seeking their loved ones and praying in hope that their own might be safe.
Thirteen Firemen Killed
The staggering toll of the disaster was finally listed at thirteen dead and twenty-one injured.
Brockton streets that were filled with the clamor of shrieking fire sirens, the throbbing of fire engines, the hiss of water, and the crackle of flames during those dreadful early morning hours of Monday were now silent. A city, and its neighboring communities, mourned.
As heroically as the victims died, relatives bore their great sorrow with amazing fortitude, and after the injured had been given the best of care, everyone turned to the grim task of burying the dead. A plan suggested for a public mass funeral was vetoed by relatives who wished to tender their last respects to their loved ones in the quiet of their homes.
Relief Fund Started
As the city emerged from the sudden shock of the disaster, a humane public, from the States of Maine to Texas, opened its heart and purse to bring consolation and material succor to relatives of the victims. A Disaster Fund started by the Mayor has passed the $70,000 mark, with contributions still pouring in from all over the country. The Judge of Probate Court has been named Chairman of the Trustees to properly administer the fund. Significant of the generosity of the public as evidenced by many acts was the volunteering of scores to give blood transfusions to aid the injured.
The fire department, greatly crippled, has been aided by all neighboring communities, and on March 17 the Brockton City Council suspended all rules and confirmed the appointment of twelve new men to the fire department.
Chief Frank Dickenson has received thousands of messages of sympathy. He had suffered the loss of his wife by death only a week before the recent disaster. He has been overwhelmed by the country-wide response of the country’s fire fighters in Brockton’s time of need. For this he is deeply grateful.