The Fatal Fire at London, Ont.
As was briefly mentioned in these columns last week, Chief Lawrence Clark, Fireman Wein and Sergeant Cockburn of the Royal Canadian Regiment—a constant assistant at fires in London, Ont., were killed by the collapse of a burning buikhng. Firemen Cole and Robinson were also ingulfed, the latter being so grievously hurt that his recovery is doubtful. The fire broke out in the early evening in the basement of Westman’s hardware store at 121 Dunday street. Chief Clark, noticing the flames were confined chiefly to the basement, ordered his men to the first floor with a line of hose, he himself leading. They had hardly entered the building when the floor of the second story crashed down, followed immediately by the other three. A number of stoves and other heavy hardware added to the weight of the mass that fell upon the firemen, and on the same floor of the adjoining premises of Darch & Hunter, where the fire had penetrated right up to the roof, was a big Gordon press. It was some time before the basement could be pumped out sufficiently to admit of any attempt at rescuing those buried under the debris. Firemen Taylor and Milligan essayed the task, and, grasping a life-line, pushed through the dense smoke, with which were mingled the choking fumes of chemicals. They penetrated to the extreme end of the cellar, and by 10 o’clock came upon Fireman Cole, who, having been pocketed by a canting floor, was not seriously hurt. It was not till 2 o’clock a. m., after hours of labor, that Chief Clark was found lying face-to-face with F’ireman Wein and pinned down by tons of wreckage. Their bodies had been visible for a long time; but it was impossible to reach them. About the same time Cockburn’s body was seen; but twice, as the rescuers were about to lift it out, a heavy explosion of wood alcohol took place, accompanied with stifling smoke, and drove the men back. At last, by dint of throwing powerful streams, they were enabled to finish their work. The body was fearfully crushed and burned. Close to Cole, who for some time had heard Wein groaning and praying till he died, lay the dead fireman’s body. Robinson also, who was rescued alive but very badly hurt, was got out in the immediate neighborhood of the others. Cole’s escape was marvelous. Pinned down as he was, the water that accumulated in the cellar rose to his neck and threatened him with death by drowning, as only his face was left exposed. He was saved from death by Assistant City Engineer Kirkpatrick and Fred Mitchell, a mechanical engineer, who broke through the wall of the basement with a crowbar, allowing the water to drain off rapidly. This saved Cole’s life for the second time. Then a new danger threatened him. The timber and wreckage, which had at first saved his life by arching, were afire, and the flames were scorching his face, while not far away he could hear the rescuers digging through the mass to him. Cole talked with them and urged them to hurry, as the flames were getting closer. From this danger he was his own rescuer. Under his arm was the nozzle of the hose which he had carried in with him, and a steady stream was pouring out of it. He found that lie could move it, and to his help. He fought back the lire until the rescuers got to him. His injuries were slight, and he talked freely of his experience. He was in the ruins for two hours and a half. The fire was not spectacular. Only one jet of flame burst from the building, and that was when from the third story a sheet of flame issued for a moment. But dense volumes of black, stifling smoke rose up and out of the windows, and time and again it drove the firemen hack. Countless examples of heroism could he related, and several times the fighters staggered out overcome with the smoke. The building which was 4-storv was old, and was completely gutted. The loss in the Westman building alone totals $70,000. The total loss by lire in the block is estimated at $120,000, half of which was covered by insurance.
Chief Clark had been brought frrm the Hamilton fire brigade to succeed the late Chief Roe, whose death was caused in much the same way. He was an experienced fireman and was greatly esteemed by his former comrades at Hamilton, as well as by the officers and men of his own brigade and by the citizens of London. He knew no fear and never soared himself, when his services were needed or his example was called for to encourage his men. whom he never asked to go to any place where he would not go himself. He was always with his firemen even to the end. He and Sergeant Cockburn received, the one a civic, and the other, a military funeral, in which their Masonic brethren joined. The firemen and many volunteers behaved heroically and risked their lives several times over in the performance of their duty and in rescue-work.