Washington Fire Department Saves Government Property

Washington Fire Department Saves Government Property

That $5,000,000 worth of government property was not destroyed by fire on Sunday, May 18, was entirely due to the efficiency of the Washington fire department, according to the statement of George Otis Smithy, Director of the Geological Survey. The effort, however, nearly cost the life of Chief Wagner and 14 of his men. During the progress of the fire Chief Wagner and 13 men of the department were overcome by gas escaping from a burned-off gas connection and were rushed to Emergency Hospital for treatment. The wards of the hospital were full when the first of the firemen reached the institution, but Dr. Henry Lewis, superintendent, hurriedly provided emergency beds in the corridors, and soon had his corps of physicians operating two pulmotors on the worst cases. The firemen overcome and taken to the Emergency Hospital were:


Frank J. Wagner, chief of the department.


Capt. J. J. Hanlon, 39 years old, of 1345 Florida avenue northwest.

Private J. P. Farrel, 29, of 919 Ninth street southeast.

Private T. P. Lyons, 31, of 1135 Fourth street northeast.

Private J. W. Covington, 43, of 1222 E street southeast.

Private William Ashe, 34, of 1610 First street northwest.

Private W. L. Atkyns, 25, of 2138½ H street northwest.


Capt. Ernest Howard, 43, of 327 K street northeast.

Private C. C. McKay, 36, of 762 Morton street northwest.


Capt. W. F. Lanahan, 46, of 612 G street southwest.


Private P. R. Steinman, 34, of 415 R street northwest.

Private J. A. Smith, 28 of 1539 Third street northwest.


Lieut. George W. Smith 32, of 74 S street northwest.


George Meeks, 25, 224 13th street southwest; not serious.

Defective electric wiring, causing a short circuit, is believed to have been responsible for the fire at the United States Geological Survey, in the Hooe building, in F street between 13th and 14th street* northwest, that for several hours baffled the efforts of a large part of the District of Columbia fire department to extinguish it. During the fire gas escaping from a three-inch pipe, which melted off in the heat of the flames, overcame Chief Wagner and 14 members ot the fire department. Thirteen of the asphyxiated firemen were hurried to Emergency Hospital and the other was sent to the Casualty Hospital: all are pronounced out of danger. The actual loss in electrotype plates, maps, documents, etc., according to Director Smith, will be not less than $75,000, while the republication of some of the documents, which have been out of print for years, would entail an expense of many thousands of dollars in addition. “For years,” said Director Smith, this morning, “the geological survey has been exposed to the danger of a conflagration that might easily result in heavy loss of life and which would certainly cause a loss of millions of dollars, and many years’ work, in the destruction of maps, topographical data, plates and records. The fire only emphasizes this danger.”

Describing the fire. Chief F. J. Wagner writes: “The building occupied a space of 115 hy 59 feet, was six stories high and 28 years old. It was constructed of wood with brick walls and had an iron front. It was partitioned with brick walls and provided with fire escapes and chemical extinguishers. The fire, which started in the basement, where documents were stored and where there was an electrical experimenting room for converting solids, was caused by short circuiting of electric wires. Lieutenant Watson, who was on duty in the building, discovered it at 3.49 p. m., and turned in an alarm from box 196, which is a private box belonging to the federal government. When the first apparatus arrived the building was enveloped in smoke. Escaping gas overcame 21 firemen, including myself, who were removed to the hospital. The firemen were hindered in their operations hy the intense smoke and the escape of illuminating gases. To fight this serious blaze 19 engines, 10 hose wagons, four aerial trucks and one water tower were used. There were available 20 highpressure hydrants, located about 600 feet apart, the pressure of which was 56 pounds. No hydrant streams were thrown, and 15 engine streams formed the largest number thrown at one time. The nozzles used were 1 1/4 and 1 1/2inch. The width of the street at that point is 100 feet, through which runs a 6-inch main. About 9.250 feet of cotton rubber-lined hose were laid. The water system (direct pumping) was amply sufficient for all purposes. The estimated loss on the building was $5,000 and on the contents, consisting of records of the U. S. Geological Survey, American Express Company and Japanese Bazaar, $53,000.”

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