Department Makes Many Rescues at Suspicious Tenement Blaze

A Staff Report

AT 2:21 A.M. on the morning of Oct. 28, 1951, there started a series of fires, all within a narrow area in Cincinnati which resulted in the deaths of four persons and injuries to ten others, seven of whom were badly hurt. The fires, coming in close proximity, and the mystery surounding the origin of at least one, the major blaze, gave rise to the belief that a pyromaniac was at work.

The worst fire, at 1101-1103 Harrison, at Brighton Corner, an area with almost every type of occupancy, including 3rd and 4th class tenements, started shortly after 3:00 A.M. in the rear of the New Brighton Cafe, a nondescript bar, from a cause not immediately determined. The building involved is a 4-story and attic, brick joist structure, with cafe and drug store on the ground floor, and 15 apartments above, housing 40 tenants.

Just before this incident, at 2:21 A.M., Box 3293 was pulled for a fire in a tenement and store building at 1165 Harrison, a block west of this main blaze. This curtain-raiser to the tragedy that followed was a tough fire to fight, but Marshal H. Geslbracht and his men had it under control and some of the apparatus had picked up and was returning to quarters when the second fire was discovered.

Members of one of these units, Engine 29, in passing the property at 1101 Harrison, discovered the new fire and immediately stopped and went into action. The members of this Company made a number of spectacular rescues. Coincidently, a driver of a radio taxicab had only moments before noticed the fire and radioed an alarm to his dispatcher who in turn notified the Cincinnati fire alarm office.

One man from Engine 29 was ordered to pull Box 3295, not knowing the alarm was already in, while his fellow-firefighters stretched in. At this time there was already plenty of smoke and some tenants were in windows calling for help.

Marshal Dan Kummer, filling in for Marshal Geslbracht, who was still engaged at the initial blaze at 1165 Harrison, noting the situation immediately ordered an additional aerial ladder. One minute later he called for a third alarm which brought 12 engine companies, 3 hose tenders, 4 aerials, the water tower, the ambulance and rescue squad, under command of Acting Chief Leo J. Kuhn (Chief B. J. Houston being on vacation). Assistant Chief Edw. Avey and Acting Assistant Chief Chas. Bose, Chief of the Salvage Corps, H. C. Williams, and Assistant Chief John Frank, commanding all the salvage corps companies, also responded.

Inasmuch as the fire at 1165 Harrison had claimed all the first alarm units for this location (with the exception of Engine 29, not yet reported back in service) Dispatcher V. F. Gyote and Operator W. K. Rees filled in at fire alarm headquarters, the quota for the second blaze, with three engines, a ladder truck and a Marshal. By the time the third alarm was in, two of the units from the first fire had reported in service, and were sent to the new breakout.

Trapped by the heavy smoke and fire, a man and his wife, and 8-year-old daughter were suffocated in their beds on the fourth floor before firemen could reach them. A 57-year-old woman lost her life when she dove from a third floor window, striking the wall of the next building, from which she caromed into a life net, hitting the rim of the net, and breaking it, and slightly injuring one of the firemen holding it. Prior to her leap, several other persons made successful jumps into the net.

Panic caused another man to jump from a third floor ledge just as Capt. Frank Herbert of Engine 29 had almost reached him on a ladder. This victim, who leaped over the head of the officer to the sidewalk, fractured both legs and received other injuries.

Another married couple and their tiny daughter suffered serious burns and smoke inhalation, while a 17-year-old boy and a married couple received burns and suffered smoke poisoning. Several other tenants were injured to lesser degree.

One youth, not waiting for firemen, starts down extension ladder as others wait anxiously. Many were saved by nets during three-alarm fire.Most serious of a chain of tenement fires occurring within minutes of each other brought death to four, injuries to many others. Note wires and poles that handicapped rescue efforts.

More than 35 persons were in the building when the fire broke out. Firemen, who quickly laddered the structure, and pushed their way up the stairways, led many to safety through smoke-filled halls. Others were helped out windows and down ladders, and still others were caught in the life nets. A number of fire fighters received cuts and were affected by the heavy smoke while engaged in the rescue operations, and in getting water on the fire.

The blaze originated in the first floor hallway and spread quickly upward where it mushroomed. Many pets were killed by the spread of the flames.

While this blaze was in progress, still another fire was reported at 5:50 A.M.. at 1179 Harrison, a block and-a-half away. This also was in a tenement, the ground floor of which was occupied by a dry cleaner. A full alarm assignment was dispatched to this fire. It proved a trifling outbreak in the second floor apartment. Firemen quickly quelled it but because of the close similarity between it and the other fires, called in the Arson Squad. However, it was disclosed that the cause of this outbreak was a mop, found burning in a hallway.

Firemen remained in action at the major fatal blaze over seven hours. Although not ignoring the possibility of arson, investigators were inclined to asign the cause of this fire to smokers, among the transients who had made a habit of sleeping in the first-floor hallway of the old apartment building.

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