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March 4, 2011

Ash Wednesday
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 06:00 PM * 171 comments

Lake View School, Collinwood, Ohio

It’s Wednesday, March the 4th, 1908. The imposing brick edifice we’re looking at across Collamer Avenue in Collinwood, Ohio, is the Lake View School. That’s the front of the building, the east face.

Although the school is just kindergarten through sixth grade, some of the students are teenagers; up to fifteen years old. Nine teachers, all unmarried ladies, are on hand. We’ll learn their names in a bit.

Collinwood Teachers Group Photo Lake View School Floor Plan
Lake View School Basement First Grade Lake View School

The population of Collinwood has been growing rapidly. Lake View School was built in 1901. In 1906 the school was expanded from four rooms to eight. This year the third-floor auditorium/gymnasium has been converted to a classroom.

Here is the floor plan for first floor (the second floor is similar). East, the front of the building, is to the top of the plan. What is a teachers’ room on the left (the north) on the first floor is the library on the second.

And here is the floor plan for the basement. I beg your indulgence; why I am showing you this will be clear in a moment.

This is Miss Pearl Lynn’s first grade. They’re in the southwest corner on the first floor (the lower right on the floor plan).

Today, around 350 students are in the nine rooms. Look! It’s nine thirty in the morning.

And in an hour nearly half of the students will be dead, because we’re at the scene of the worst school fire in American history. More people will die here today than at either the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire or the Hartford Circus Fire.

Collinwood in 1908 was a small town on the north-east outskirts of Cleveland, Ohio. The population was about 8,000, many of the residents immigrant Germans, Croats, Serbs, and Slovenes. The single biggest employer was the Lake Shore and Southern Michigan Railroad. The railroad maintained a roundhouse, engine sheds, warehouses, storerooms, and machine shops.

The school design was a common one for small towns. As I sit here this morning there are two schools, dating from the same period (indeed, one has 1908 on its cornerstone) within thirty miles of me built on the same plan. The exterior walls are load-bearing brick. The interior is wooden construction with four load-bearing walls. The floors are wooden tongue-and-groove, polished with oil. The stairs are made of yellow pine, and are open at every floor. There are no fire doors.

Check the photo of the school above. The first floor is about level with the head of the basement windows. From the first floor to the second takes a set of stairs in two flights, with a landing against the outer wall. The same from the second to the third. From the first floor down to the basement, on the east, is again a set of stairs with a landing mid-way, but this landing has the exit.

The eastern and western exits have this form: Down the stairs, directly ahead and filling the archway, are two wooden partitions. The bottoms of the partitions are wood to about two feet above the floor, then glass windows above. The first partition is about three feet from the bottom step. Someone going down the east stairs would have to turn 90° to the right, then walk three feet, before reaching the double doors. That person would then have to turn 90° to the left to go out.

After making this second turn, three feet farther on, a second partition, and a second set of double doors, create a sort of air-lock against winter cold. This second partition is set about three feet back from the brick archway, to give the doors room to swing.

The west exit is similar, except that a person going down would have to turn to the left, go forward, then turn right to get out. There are no stairs continuing down into the basement on the west. Rather, the three-foot-wide passageway ends blind under the stairs that lead from the first to the second floor. This area is being used as an auxiliary cloakroom.

The short hallway that leads from the octagonal common hallway in the center of the building to the stairs is a bit over eleven feet wide. The stairs themselves are 5’ 8” wide, with banisters. Each of the double doors is 2’ 7” wide.

While we are setting our scene, pray note in the photo of Miss Lynn’s room the distance from the floor to the bottoms of the classroom windows.

Only a bit more scene-setting, I promise.

In addition to the exits through the eastern and western ground-level arches, there is an unenclosed iron exterior fire-escape on the north wall. Access is from an attic room on the third floor, through the library on the second floor, and through the teachers’ room on the first floor. The fire escape ends well short of the ground; anyone taking that route faces a seven-to-eight foot jump at the end.

The building has not been inspected by the state Fire Marshal, but such an inspection is neither required, nor common, for schools. The building was constructed according to code, and had been inspected and insured as an excellent risk just the year before.

The students have regular fire drills, with the last being in January. In the period since the most recent fire drill, a new kindergarten class has arrived. They are in the classroom on the first floor, in the south-east corner, under the tutelage of Miss Ethel Rose. The kindergarteners have only been in school for three weeks.

Up on the third floor, in the classroom converted from the auditorium, Miss Laura Bodey has a double-size fifth-grade class. Miss Bodey has only been working in the building for five weeks, and has never had a fire drill, nor has she been instructed in what to do in case of fire.

No one has ever drilled using the fire escape.

Which brings us back to the fourth of March, 1908. About an hour after school started, Emma Neibert, age 13, one of Miss Bodey’s third-floor students, was on her way to the basement washroom when she noticed something odd. The treads of the basement stairs were smoking.

Emma could see the school custodian, Fred Hirter, working at the furnace that supplied steam heat to the school’s radiators. She called to him to say that the basement was on fire.

Fred (or Fritz, depending on the source) Hirter was a thin man with a droopy handlebar mustache. He had only been the custodian of the school for two years. Before the building was expanded, his wife had been custodian while Fred helped her with the heavy work. He was an expert with furnaces, though; he had run similar steam-heating plants in greenhouses in Germany for sixteen years before he came to America.

Mr. Hirter took instant stock of the situation, and ran up the stairs, past Emma, and over to Miss Ruby Irwin’s first-grade classroom in the north-east corner of the first floor. The fire bell was located there: The fire signal was three strokes on the gong. That bell was connected by a wire to a similar bell in the room above on the second floor, so ringing one would ring them both. (There was no way to ring the fire bell from the basement, and there was no fire bell on the third floor.)

Emma Neibert, left alone at the front entrance, went outside and tied back the outer right-hand door. Then she went across the street to inform the first adult she found that the school was burning.

Back in the school, Fred’s youngest daughter was a first-grader in Miss Irwin’s room. He told her, “Hurry, Ella, go home,” then went back to the front entrance and ensured that the doors were all unlocked. He opened the inner doors, tied one of them open, then ran to the rear doors at the west side of the school to ensure they were unlocked and open. Then he headed back to the main entrance on the east side which was his post during fire drills.

The room directly above Miss Irwin’s room, in the northeast corner of the second floor, belonged to Miss Anne Moran, the school’s principal. She taught sixth grade. When she heard the fire-bell ring, she instantly knew that something was seriously wrong. She hadn’t ordered a drill.

On the first floor, Miss Ethel Rose lined her kindergarten students up in the classroom. When she opened the door, she too knew that something was wrong. The hall was filling with smoke. She turned to her class and said, “Follow me. Run as fast as you can.” Then she led the way down the front stairs. Not just smoke but open flames were coming up the basement stairs now. Miss Rose went past the doors and stood with her back to the basement stairway to keep her students from going too far and going into the basement. She was badly burned on her back, but stayed in place until the last of her students had gone by. Normally, the class would have mustered on the lawn outside of their classroom windows. But today, the kids scattered, running home. The front entrance was full of smoke and flame. Miss Rose headed around the south side of the school on the outside to see if she could help at the rear entrance.

Miss Pearl Lynn, the first-grade teacher in the south-west first floor classroom, recalled that the fire bell rang at 9:30 or perhaps a little after. She had just started a new lesson. She, as did her students, supposed this was a drill. After they were in line, she opened the door to lead them down the west stairs. And she too instantly knew something was wrong. The wind was out of the east, and with the east doors open, heavy black smoke was being blown through the hall. She led her first-graders to the back stairway and down.

At the foot of those stairs, after making the left turn, she noticed two things. First, that the right-hand inner door was locked. Only the left-hand door was open. The three-foot-wide passageway to the open was now six feet long. And second, some of the smaller children ahead of her had fallen. She stopped to give them a chance to stand up. The pressure of other children coming behind her knocked her down. Then more fell on top of her. She went unconscious.

Miss Ruby Irwin

In Miss Ruby Irwin’s first-grade classroom, north-east corner, first floor, after Fred Hirter had run out, Ruby lined up her students. When she opened the door, smoke and sparks were coming up the stairs. She and her students were supposed to follow Miss Rose and the kindergarteners down and out the front, before the bigger kids from the second floor arrived. Now the situation was evolving. Some of the first-graders ran down the front stairs. Others ran for the back stairs. Others, and Miss Irwin, retreated back into the classroom where she commenced dropping them out the windows.

Teachers' rooms

Fred Hirter had gone back to the front doors, only to find them blocked by flame. He headed for the back doors, and discovered the stairs impassible, blocked by students. He went into Miss Lynn’s classroom, opened a window, jumped to the ground outside, then headed for the back door. Ella had gotten away, perhaps, but he still had three more children in the school.

Miss Rose herself was already at the back door. Of the inner double doors, the one on the left as you looked from the outside was on a spring that closed it automatically, with a spring-catch at the top of the door that automatically locked when the door closed. Miss Rose tried to open that catch, but was unable to do so. Soon, however, she was joined by Fred Hirter. Together they got the catch open, and the door open.

They were joined by Patrolman Wahl, a local police officer, and Mr. Dorn, a member of the school board. Wahl and Dorn spotted Miss Lynn lying on the floor inside the doors, and managed to haul her out. She lost her clothing somewhere in this evolution, but she was in the fresh air. Then Wahl, Dorn, and Hirter began hauling out children. Other bystanders joined them. But the students were coming down the stairs, tripping, and joining the tangled mass faster than the three men could clear them away. The left-hand door swung in again, and the catch locked. The pressure from inside bound it so that it could not be opened. Now the escape width from the western exit was just 2’ 7” and still more students were coming down those stairs.

Up on the third floor, Miss Laura Bodey, who had never had a fire drill in this building, had to make some fast decisions of her own. Smoke and hot gases were coming up the east stairway. When she looked over the banister down the west stairway, she saw that it too was impassible due to the crush of the students from the second floor.

Laura turned to her students and said, “Courage, children. Everyone in line. You will be safe. The fire escape. Girls first.”

She led the way and stood outside on the fire escape, lifting the students out, then followed them to the ground.

A cutaway diagram showing the exits

Collinwood had a twenty-man fire department. When the fire started, however, the horse team was about a mile away from the station, grading a road. By the time the firefighters arrived at the scene, greatly delayed by this circumstance, they found a crowd of parents outside the building. The Fire Chief was out of town, which added to the confusion. Then several more bad things became apparent: Their gasoline-fired pump was too weak to put water above the first floor. Some say the hoses were leaky. Their ladders were too short to reach the second floor. Axes would have been handy to take those partitions at the exits entirely out. And they didn’t have any axes at all.

When Police Chief C. G. McIlrath got the news by telephone, he commandeered a civilian vehicle and made his way to the fireground. There he found that he had to guard the firefighters from the crowd. The scene was turning ugly. Bystanders were fighting firefighters, fighting police, and fighting each other. Chief McIlrath enlisted some members of the crowd, who the newspapers described as “cooler heads,” to help him provide security and maintain order.

In those days the railroads provided disaster relief. They stockpiled supplies for rail accidents. When word of the fire reached the Lake Shore shops, where many of the parents were employed, the managers closed shop and sent stretchers, blankets, and other emergency gear. The Lake Shore’s surgeon, Dr. W. H. Williams, responded to the scene in person, to organize the use of the resources and provide what aid he could. He did his best, but effective methods of treating burns were still three decades in the future, the Incident Command System sixty years away, and emergency medicine, as a specialty, would not exist until seventy years had passed.

Inside the school, Miss Mary Gollmar made it down from the second floor to the first, but was stopped there by the flames at the front and the crush at the back. Students were leaping over the banister from the second floor stairs onto the mass at the foot of the stairs leading to the west door and attempting to swim across to the doors, only to have others land on top of them.

Misses Gollmar and Irwin went into Miss Fiske’s room in the north-west corner, and started throwing children out the window. When the room was clear, they tried to call others, but no one was listening. They jumped from the windows themselves.

On the second floor, Miss Moran and Miss Lulu Rowley lost control of their classes. “If I could have turned my line back,” Miss Moran said later, “they would have had a chance on the third floor, but they kept coming down, and we could not stop them. Men from the outside were trying to pull the children out, but they were crushed so tightly together that no human strength could clear a passageway. Dozens of them died within a foot of absolute safety.”

Misses Moran and Rowley went to the fire escape in the library to clear an exit from the second floor. When they were unable to open the window, Miss Moran threw a chair through it. Miss Mary Gollmar, whose fourth grade class was in the north-west corner of the second floor, unable to get her students to the rear stairs, instead directed them to the library and out the fire escape. She remained inside.

The Collinwood telegraph operator sent, “Send help. The Collinwood school is burning.” The Cleveland Fire Department responded from Engine 30 at East 105th St and St. Clair, 3.6 miles by road from the scene, with a 1904 steam pumper, a ladder wagon, and a hose cart.

A film from 1903, Life of an American Fireman. The equipment shown would have been very similar to what was available five years later at Collinwood.

One who did make it to the third floor and the fire escape there was Hugh McIlrath, 14, Police Chief McIlrath’s eldest son. Witnesses saw him leading a group of smaller children down the outside. But at the first floor level the little ones appeared unwilling to make the final jump. They re-entered the building. Hugh went in after them.

Elsewhere on the second and third floors, other students appeared at the windows. Three teenaged girls on the third floor anticipated the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire by holding hands and jumping together. All three died.

Downtown, at Fire Department headquarters at Academy St. and West 4th, Cleveland, a newspaper called and offered a car. Firefighter John O’Brien accepted their aid. He’d heard that students were trapped inside, and needed a rescue net to get out. When the car arrived, it was a closed-cab model and the net wouldn’t fit. O’Brien loaded the net on top of the car, then climbed up himself to sit on it. “Give ‘er hell,” he said. “It’s worth smashing the whole outfit to save one kid’s life.” It was over eight miles to the fire scene. It took him just under 19 minutes to get there. By the time he arrived….

At the back door, the situation had gone from life-threatening to non-survivable. Henry Sigler, a local resident, was trying to pull students out of the vestibule. “I might as well have been pulling on an iron ring set in concrete,” he said. “Another man helped me, but the two of us could do nothing. One could never believe bodies could be packed so closely together if he hadn’t seen it.”

Miss Grace M. FiskeMiss Katherine Weiler

But inside, two of the teachers were still working the rescue. On the first floor, Miss Grace M. Fiske, age 26, a young lady with a Gibson-girl bouffant and a humorous mouth, was on the move. She had the mixed first-and-third grade class in the north-west corner. Now she was finding children in the central area, carrying them to the nearest window, dropping them out, then going back for more.

On the second floor, Miss Katherine Weiler, daughter of a German Methodist minister, was in the west stair lobby. At 27 she had a high forehead and a thin, sharp nose topped with pince-nez glasses hung from a ribbon. She was very tall, standing 5’ 11”. She taught second grade and arithmetic, and was known for her strictness. Her room was in the south-west corner of the second floor. Now she was pulling children out of the crush at the stairs and pushing them toward the library, saying “Quiet, dear children, quiet. Go to the fire escape!”

The last time she was seen alive, her clothing was on fire, but she was still pulling children from the crush.

As the flames approached the windows on the first floor, Miss Fiske at last jumped out herself. She had two children wrapped in her skirts. She was taken by ambulance to the Glenville hospital.

The Cleveland Fire Department response was near, pushing their draft horses as fast as they would go. For the last mile they would have seen the pillar of smoke ahead to guide them.

Suddenly a shout of joy went up. The Cleveland fire fighters had been sighted, in the van the ladder wagon, with ladders that would reach those above. The driver was on his feet, lashing his horses into a mad gallop.

A hundred frantic men and women rushed forward to meet it. They did not wait for the apparatus to stop. The ladders were dragged off and eager hands carried them forward, but —

Again, in the hour of victory, the fire conquered. It had not been burning more than half an hour. There were still many precious lives that might be saved — they were in the windows above there, little ones, six years old, seven, eight, with arms outstretched. Ten minutes before there had been a chance.

Now, as the rescuers were in the act of rearing up the ladders, there came an ominous roar, a burst of flame, a shower of sparks, and the floors of the building collapsed.

The rescue operation was over.

With the wooden interior collapsed into the basement, and with the more powerful apparatus from Cleveland on scene, aided by firefighters from the rail yard, the fire was quickly knocked down.

Miss Fiske died in the hospital about noon.

By 1:30 pm the fire was out. Of the 350 in the building that morning, only eighty were uninjured, the majority of them from Miss Rose’s and Miss Bodey’s classes. All but three of Miss Lynn’s students were dead.

The bodies of the children were taken by ambulance, three at a time, to a temporary morgue set up in Lake Shore railroad’s General Storekeeper’s warehouse. By nightfall 165 had been recovered. The bodies were laid out in rows of ten, each one covered by a woolen blanket and a tag noting the sex of the body. Each row was guarded by a railroad employee and a police officer. Relatives were let in, in groups of ten, to try to identify their children. Outside, men from undertakers’ establishments shoved their arms through the railroad yard’s fence, trying to push business cards on the families waiting their turn to be called. Temporary morgue at the railroad warehouse

As each body was identified, the woolen blanket was replaced with a cotton sheet, labeled with the name and address of the victim. Miss Weiler’s body was identified because her bones were so much larger than those around her.

Twenty doctors and nurses stood by upstairs to aid the viewers who were overcome by the scene.

A hundred young women from the Cleveland YWCA arrived to tend the injured and help families make funeral arrangements.

And companies that made picture postcards arrived to make souvenirs. Many if not most of the pictures we have of this event are from those postcards.

First, the interior of Lake View School, on the day of the fire; the wreckage is still smoldering. Notice how small the interior is. The school’s footprint was only 66 by 84 feet. Second, the burial of nineteen children who were never identified. Third, the Cleveland Fire Department on a practice run. The footage of the Cleveland Fire Department was shot by a Biograph cameraman named Billy Bitzer. Bitzer went on to fame as D. W. Griffith’s cinematographer.

From the Cleveland Public Library description of the film:

The camera first peers into the smoldering building from the rear (west) entrance, where most of the children perished. In the basement can be seen the wreckage of the heating system and other debris. A man comes into view and can be seen walking around the debris. The camera then makes a second sweep over the disaster scene. Straight ahead, looking east, one can see a building across Collamer (East 152nd) Street through the front entrance. The next scene shows the view from the front door looking west to the rear door. Men can be seen standing in the smoky haze, peering into the wreckage. The iron beam that supported the front stairs is in the foreground. The fire started below this beam and it can be seen to be badly charred.

The Collinwood School Fire film was shot as the fire smoldered by twenty-three-year-old William Hubern Bullock, a moving picture operator at the American Amusement Company (716 Superior Avenue, N.E., Cleveland), who had rushed to the scene of the fire on a streetcar with his motion picture equipment. A week later he was showing the film in the American Theatre until Cleveland Police Chief Fred Kohler, responding to public indignation, “invited” him to cease and desist. The film was discovered in the archives of the Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound division of the Library of Congress in 2008. It is believed that recently discovered footage represents only a portion of what was originally filmed.

Something else happened while the fire was still smoldering: Finger-pointing began. Rumors spread. That the doors opened inward. That the doors were locked.

The rumors got worse: Fred Hirter was to blame. Fred Hirter had not been at his post. Fred Hirter had delayed sounding the alarm. Fred Hirter had been having a cup of tea. Fred Hirter and fire marshal

Then an uglier word arose: Incendarianism. Arson. That night Fred Hirter locked the doors of his house. The rumors were printed as truth in the next morning’s New York Times.

Hugh McIlrath, the teenager who was last seen re-entering the building to get smaller children, was still missing. At 6:00 pm, Chief McIlrath left the fire scene and went over to the Lake Shore warehouse. He came out a little later, and said, “It’s Hughie.” Then he went back on duty at the scene of the fire. He remained on duty far into the night.

Around 8:00 pm the identified bodies were being carried by ambulance to their homes. The houses where a child lay were marked by a white ribbon on the door. Some houses had one white ribbon. Some had two. Fred Hirter’s door knob had three white ribbons.

At midnight only fifty-six bodies were still unidentified. They were moved to other temporary morgues, this time at the town hall and the fire station. And children continued to die in hospitals and homes. Burn injuries and crush injuries are progressive. The last victim died three days later on the morning of March the 7th.

By the end, the toll was 172 children and two teachers for a total of 174. One account mentions that a rescuer also died, but I have been unable to discover that person’s name, or the circumstances of his or her death.

Mr. Burke, the county coroner, convened his inquest in the town library at midnight on the night of the 4th. He had the power to call witnesses and compel testimony, and he wanted to get that testimony while memories were still fresh. Prosecuting Attorney McMahon and Assistant Prosecutor Carey sat in, in an unofficial capacity.

By morning, only 21 bodies were unidentified. Families that had lost a child but were unable to recognize the corpse were allowed to just pick one. When that was done, 19 remained unclaimed. At the same time, the surviving teachers were going door-to-door, taking a final roll-call. All the records had been lost. The final casualty list owes its existence to them.

The Ohio General Assembly voted $25,000 to cover the cost of burials. The Collinwood Board of Trade supplied an additional $3,000.

The finger-pointing continued. The City Council was blamed for tabling a motion to upgrade the fire department. The School Board was blamed for the overcrowding in the school, and for poorly planned and executed fire drills. The architects had recommended three fire escapes; to control cost the school board had only installed one. The town in general was blamed for voting down annexation and bond issues. The outcome of the inquiry, though, was that no person or agency was to be held accountable under existing laws and regulations, and that the cause of death was the students’ own panic.

A parent assaulted Fred Hirter. Chief McIlrath assigned Fred a police guard. A crowd gathered outside of Fred’s house. The police guard was doubled. The crowd became a mob of over five hundred. Chief McIlrath called for half-a-dozen officers from Cleveland to assist.

The funerals commenced on Friday morning. There weren’t enough hearses in the Cleveland area to support them all. Streetcars draped in white were pressed into service.

And even as the funeral processions rolled in Collinwood, a school fire rolled in New York City. Which ended without casualties. Wide corridors and fire doors were credited with the happy outcome. But before New Yorkers could congratulate themselves too much, the Fire Chiefs of the city wrote a letter saying words to the effect of, “You were lucky this time. We have a hundred Collinwoods waiting to happen.”

The nineteen unknowns were buried on Saturday. Grace Fiske was buried beside them.

She had not died in vain. Change was coming. Schools were brought under the purview of the Ohio State Inspector of Workshops and Factories, and the inspector was given ten additional deputy inspectors to help carry out his duties. All future school construction was to be approved by the Chief Fire Inspector.

As a result of the Collinwood disaster, the authorities of Buffalo have taken up the matter of arrangements for safety in the various public schools in case of fire. It has been found that in several schools doors open inward. Steps will be taken to make conditions safer in several of the city schools.

One of the indirect results of the terrible Collinwood school fire has been the rousing of public school authorities, thruout the country, to take measures for the greater protection of children from similar danger. The schools of Chicago were closed for two weeks for the alteration of doorways or the repair of fire-escapes. Similar measures are being taken by nearly all other cities in the country

The School Journal, volume 75, page 690, April 1908


When the Fire Marshal produced his report on the fire, he did not state what the cause was, but speculated that it was caused by a badly insulated furnace pipe passing too close to a wooden joist, drying it, and eventually kindling it.

Within a year laws were passed that mandated frequent, adequate fire drills, fire-safety instruction for children, and thirty minutes per month of classroom time to be devoted to teaching fire rules to be developed by the Fire Marshal.

Throughout the country, reaction to the Collinwood fire led to condemnation of unsafe buildings, relocation of furnaces to safer locations, alteration of exit designs and fire-escape designs, and the installation of panic bars on the exit doors of public buildings.

The last casualty of the fire was the town of Collinwood. Two years later it became part of Cleveland.

The school’s shell was demolished; a garden was built on the site. A new school, Collinwood Memorial, was built next door, designed to be as fireproof as possible. It remained in operation until the 1970s before being abandoned, and demolished in 2004. Reportedly, Memorial School was haunted, with a light that could be seen moving through the second floor before disappearing. Those who entered the building at night claimed that they felt cold spots, and could hear the distant screams of children.

A new school, also called “Memorial,” was built on the site of the old Memorial school.

Google maps showing the location today. (Corner of Lucknow Ave and E152nd St, Cleveland.) Look to the north-east of Memorial School to find the site of the Lake View School. The raised garden in the memorial park marks the rear exit where most of the children died. The original memorial garden had a pool where the rear exit had been. Over the years it fell into neglect. Many years later, before the new park with the raised garden was built, a woman, disgusted with the trash that had accumulated, spent the day cleaning the site. As she was preparing to leave at the end of the day, she felt the hands of numerous invisible children tugging at her clothes.

Residents of the area still report the ghosts of children in old-fashioned clothing appearing in their homes.

Many more photos of the Lake View School and the events surrounding the fire.

Firemen fight the flames in this illustration.

The memorial at Lake View Cemetery

The memorial park today.

Three children in a single grave.

Miss Fiske’s grave

“Suffer the Children,” a Powerpoint presentation

The Cleveland Leader, 5 March 1908

Teaching and Learning Cleveland: Collinwood School Fire: March 4, 1908

The primary document I relied on for this narrative is

Complete Story of the Collinwood School Disaster
And How Such Horrors Can Be Prevented
By Marshall Everett
The Well Known Author and Descriptive Writer
Full and Authentic Story Told By Survivors and Eyewitnesses
Embracing a Flash-light Sketch of the Holocaust,
Detailed Narratives by participants in the Horror,
Heroic Work of Rescuers, Reports of the
Building Experts as to the responsibility for the
Wholesale Slaughter of Children
Memorable Fires of the Past, Etc., Etc. Dangers
in other School Buildings all over the United States.
Profusely Illustrated with Photographs of the scenes of death,
before, during and after the Fire.

Cleveland, Ohio, The N. G. Hamilton publishing co., copyright 1908

The book contains many anecdotes both pathetic and grotesque. Those who are seeking the grotesque or pathetic may find them there. It is also self-contradictory and poorly organized; names of the participants are spelled in various ways, (for example, the author is unable to remember if it was Ruby Irwin or Ruby Irvine who taught the first-graders and cannot decide if the second-grade teacher was Miss Catherine Weiler or Miss Katherine Weiler); Miss Pearl Lynn is sometimes called Rose Lynn (apparently conflated with Miss Ethel Rose), and Miss Mary Gollmar is sometimes called Katherine Gollmar (apparently conflated with Miss Katherine Weiler)). But it also contains huge masses of direct quotation. If two people were at the same location, Everett quotes them both, verbatim, extensively. It is also clear that, while the coroner’s report has gone missing over the years (the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) is looking for a copy, if anyone knows where to find it), it is obvious that Everett had a copy and worked from it in certain sections of his book.

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Lake View School, Collinwood, Ohio


Comments on Ash Wednesday:
#1 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2011, 07:25 PM:

1. Horrifying on so many levels.

2. I will never again resent those 6 a.m. fire drill phone calls my husband gets from work.

3. Why don't they TEACH this stuff?* We would have taken the drills so much more seriously in school if we had known this sort of thing was what they were designed to prevent!

*until I was in college I had never heard of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. I'd never heard of this one until today. Nor the Bath School Disaster until I read about it here.

#2 ::: katre ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2011, 07:41 PM:

I am sitting here bawling my eyes out as I read this. Thanks for posting it. We should never forget.

#3 ::: Tony Zbaraschuk ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2011, 07:48 PM:

When I was learning the job at Notre Dame, my supervisor led me around the library building, pointing out this and that.

As we took the main stairway down to the first floor, she noted that by law the ground floor stairway had to exit separately, and not just continue down to the basement, so that people running down in a panic during a disaster would not find themselves locked in the basement.

At least we learn, sometimes.

#4 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2011, 08:03 PM:

Similar things happened with theaters (full of flammable props and lots of non-electric lighting!) before they created laws to help those as well. One of the worst involved a new fireproof curtain that didn't deploy properly, and again, doors that opened inward. You'll note that all public buildings have doors that open outward now, because we have learned. (Private dwellings do not generally have the issue of a huge press of people.)

I have a great respect for building codes. They're there for a reason.

#5 ::: Geri Sullivan ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2011, 08:10 PM:

The Our Lady of the Angels school fire resulted in fewer deaths -- 92 students and 3 nuns -- but also took place a full 50 years later. The sheer tragedy of that is reflected in this quote from Percy Bugbee, the president of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), when he was interviewed after the fire: "There are no new lessons to be learned from this fire; only old lessons that tragically went unheeded."

#6 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2011, 08:17 PM:

I know I learned about the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire earlier than college, but it might not have been from formal history lessons; it stuck because "garment workers, NYC, early 1900s" was already impressed on my mind as "if I'd lived then, it would have been me."

I'm pretty sure I learned about the circus fire at a young age as well, mostly because of the Mystery of Little Miss 1565, which is of the brand of spookiness that appeals to morbidly-inclined fifth-graders. There were actual books full of that sort of disaster, aimed at our reading level. The Cocoanut Grove fire was in there as well.

Of course, the trampling deaths at the Who concert happened at about the same time.

It would have been hard for me to connect a multi-story, wood-and-brick, stairwells-that-make-chimneys school building to my own, which was a single-story, brick-and-cinderblock structure of (as I saw it) unsurpassed modernist ugliness (yes, I had strong opinions on architecture even as a small child, I just couldn't articulate them very clearly), but probably a much higher degree of fire safety. The exits were many, with no single choke point. I'm early Generation X; as the Baby Boom contracted in my school years, the schools they closed in my town were the older ones that looked like the Collinwood school. I'm not sure how they accounted for safety when turning them into condos, which is what they did; still, they weren't schools any more.

They must have retrofitted those old school buildings with sprinklers, at least. Didn't they?

#7 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2011, 08:23 PM:

The Our Lady of the Angels fire was very similar to Collinwood in scary ways.

Both started with a smoldering fire under the basement stairs. The fire burst out when a new source of oxygen was supplied in both cases. At Our Lady of the Angels the fire doors were wedged open; they might as well not have been there. And the fire bell was manually operated and not connected to a fire station.

More, the fire bell was seven feet up on a wall, only Mother Superior was allowed to ring it, and Mother Superior couldn't be immediately located.

Our Lady of the Angels school: One other thing. The lessons of Collinwood came in 1908. Our Lady of the Angels had been grandfathered under the 1904 building codes. (Bringing a building up to code can be expensive. Not bringing it up to code can be hideously expensive.)

#8 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2011, 08:28 PM:

While sprinklers were available since the latter part of the 19th century, they were only used in warehouses. Sprinklers in schools didn't come about until after Our Lady of the Angels.

#9 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2011, 08:37 PM:

I went to school in NY, and learned about the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in grade school. I had never heard of this one. I learned about it when I moved to Cleveland as an adult in the mid-60s. Otherwise, the fires I recall hearing of were the great conflagrations that took out cities: Chicago, Tokyo, London, Amsterdam. If you go to Wikipedia, there are lists of them. The same cities burned over and over again.

I remember the Oakland Hills fire of 1991. As disasters go, it was very small, but it was terrifying nonetheless. It destroyed over 3000 homes. I remember pleading on the phone with Charles Brown, begging him to leave his house; he lived in the Oakland hills. He kept refusing; he did not want to go, and he didn't drive, anyway. Finally a dear friend drove up and got him. His house was not damaged, but many others, scant blocks away, burned completely. Nothing left, down to the foundations.

#10 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2011, 08:37 PM:

I didn't start school until nearly twenty years after Our Lady of the Angels. I'm currently poking at Wikipedia to see if it'll cough up information about the now-closed schools in my hometown, but currently no such luck.

#11 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2011, 08:57 PM:

Jim, you've been talking to me about the Collinwood School Fire for years. It's not a problem.

#12 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2011, 09:44 PM:

Why we need:

Building codes;
fire drills;
Jim Macdonald.

#13 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2011, 10:09 PM:

Jim, I take it there are no modern books about the Collinwood fire, there way there are about Our Lady of Angels?

What I remember most about the Our Lady of Angels fire--I was about to enter kindergarten in the Chicago area at the time--was the way everything seemed to change afterward, especially in Catholic elementary schools. School after school closed down their kindergartens; I seem to remember that some closed first grade classes, too. Old building after old building, public and private, was inspected and brought up to code--I don't imagine they got all of them (the push didn't last long enough, I suspect) but an awful lot of Chicago school buildings went through some major changes. And so far as I can tell, there are no above-ground-floor-level kindergarten classes anywhere in the greater Chicagoland area anymore.

Our Lady of Angels is still a name to conjure horrors with, around here.

#14 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2011, 10:12 PM:

I'm not ready to read this now. I went right to the end of the comment thread, so I hope no one has pointed this out: there's a pretty good indie film called Ash Wednesday. It's set on, you guessed it, Ash Wednesday, among Irish Catholic mobsters in New York.

A great many people die in that movie, but ab bar trgf xvyyrq juvyr gurl unir nfurf ba gurve sberurnqf. Ng gur raq gur znva punenpgre jnfurf bss uvf nfurf, chgf ba uvf oebgure'f ung naq pbng (juvpu oebgure vf gur bowrpg bs n pbagenpg uvg gung unfa'g orra pneevrq bhg orpnhfr gur znva punenpgre fzhttyrq uvz bhg bs gbja), jnyxf bhgfvqr, naq vf fubg naq xvyyrq ng bapr. Ab bar rire fnlf gur nfurf ner cebgrpgvir be npgf yvxr gurl ner; gung'f whfg ubj vg unccraf va gur zbivr.

I will read the main post at some point, and possibly have directly relevant comments. But not tonight.

#15 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2011, 10:35 PM:

I can walk to Monumental Church. The 72 people who died on that site are still there.

And my first boss, at the company where I am now, kept a rope ladder in his office.

Fire scares me.

#16 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2011, 10:40 PM:

I cried while reading this too. I did so when I learned about the Triangle fire and until now I never heard about the Lady of Angels school fire.

I grew up in a new school district, I was the first class in my grade school (kindergarten) and junior high (7th grade).

I always thought the buildings were squat and kind of ugly, though at the time the classrooms had lots of windows (10 years or so ago, in an energy improving deal, they made all the windows smaller in all those buildings).

Now I know why this kind of construction was done. Except for the high schools, where the children were older and the buildings still had very clear stairwells and exits that made sense, they were all one level with lots of exits.

The one classic old school, Old Mission, pretty much burned to the ground in a summertime fire about 20 years ago. I'd been in it for something that had to do with a high school program I was in that had us go to grade schools (I think it was Readers Theater). Even then, it still had many, very clear exits for the children and they practiced fire drills.

Come to think of it, the high school my godchildren went to in KCK would probably be a death trap if it caught fire and there were little kids in it. I've been to SCA events in it and unless you had lots of drills, I could see kids getting confused and trapped into blind halls.

#17 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2011, 11:21 PM:

I lived on E 45th as a young child. This is more detail than I had, but the name of the fire is familiar to me.

Sweet Suffering Jesus. This wasn't really the day for me to read this, as I've been reading other horrible things, but it's a really good piece of work Jim.

#18 ::: thanate ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2011, 11:22 PM:

I'd heard of this anecdotally before, but I suspect that was because my father and his mother both grew up near Cleveland, and likely got it as part of local history; I know it was definitely something I learned about at home rather than in school. (If I'd heard of any of the other fires that people are mentioning I don't recall it.)

That being said, I'm trying to think what schedule we had for fire drills when I was in elementary school in the 1980s, and I'm pretty sure it wasn't as frequent as once a month. We definitely had all the improved building designs, at least.

#19 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2011, 11:28 PM:

And... that first school in my hometown to be converted into condos? Even after the conversion and whatever new building codes it might have had to meet?

Damaged by fire in 2008.

#20 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2011, 11:39 PM:

I'd never heard this history, but I've never lived in that area.

As long as I can remember I've been interested in emergency preparedness of all sorts, probably absorbed during a childhood in hurricane country, but it's become a near-automatic habit to identify the emergency exits when I enter public buildings. I've so far not needed to use them.

This story has me thinking about the building I work in, which was built as a factory, and is big, flat, and low, with few windows. The public corridors are fine - if you can't see daylight from where you are, pick a direction and go, you'll hit an exterior wall eventually. Inside the office suites it's easier to get disoriented, but at each suite door there's a section of blueprint hung on the wall with arrows indicating the primary and secondary evac routes for that sector.

We drill once or twice a year on purpose, and whenever someone overnukes a bag of popcorn or similar. Usually it's under five minutes to clear the entire building (I don't have a population count; it's about 1/8 mile on a side square. I'd estimate 750-1500 occupants on a given workday.)

The only flaw in the process is the handful of people who believe, firmly, in their souls, that they absolutely must evacuate through their assigned exit even if they happen to be in another part of the building when the alarm goes off. Most of these people seem, oddly enough, to be in law enforcement. I fail to understand this.

We really should teach this stuff better.

#21 ::: Lylassandra ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2011, 02:08 AM:

My high school opened in 1922; once, when visiting the campus while I was a freshman, my mother told me to jump out of the windows of the English building if there were ever a fire there. She thought it was the only way I'd survive.

#22 ::: hamletta ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2011, 02:38 AM:

My department just moved across town to another building, which is a rabbit warren. I need to walk around a bunch to get it mapped in my head, because God forbid....

The undertakers reaching through the fence remind me of the neighbors lined up around our cyclone fence when we went to survey the damage of the house fire that killed my baby sister.

I was only 4, but I learned to hate, looking at those vultures. That's probably unfair; now I figure they probably meant well enough.

But I still have an aversion to rubber-necking, even though I have to fight my own human curiosity, which is what it is, anyway.

#23 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2011, 04:09 AM:

I read this, Jim. I wept from the mention that Miss Rose's back was badly burned, but I read it. I love people more than I fear fire. And it's beautifully and lovingly written. Worth the tears.

Lizzy @9:
The Oakland Hills fire was about three months after I was burned. I remember standing in the living room of our house, watching the hills across from us burn, and realizing that I was going to have to remove myself from the decision-making team.

We had friends who lost everything; their house was burned down to the foundation slab, which cracked with the heat.

#24 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2011, 10:19 AM:

My first elementary school, where I went in grades 1-3, was built very much along these lines -- almost exactly the same floor plan, in fact. That top floor would have been the principal's office and other administrative offices, and the restrooms and cafeteria would have been in the basement along with the boiler room and storerooms. We kind of envied the 4-6 grade upstairs kids, who had more exciting fire drills because they got to come down the fire escapes. Due to being part of the baby boom bulge, our school district was busy building new schools, and I moved to a relatively-new one-floor modern building in 4th grade. The old school was eventually torn down and replaced with a commercial office building.

#25 ::: Leigh Kimmel ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2011, 10:42 AM:

Very good reminder about why safety regulation is important.

And interesting on the hauntings -- really makes you wonder if it's just a psychic echo of the trauma that ESP-sensitives are picking up, or if all those kids' souls/spirits/whatever-we-call-the-essential-self-that-lives-on are still stuck there, unable to move on to Paradise. If it's the latter, somebody really needs to go and help them find the way through, because they're innocents who certainly don't deserve to be barred from Paradise.

Maybe something to add to my list of stuff to do when I get to the Other Side.

#26 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2011, 10:45 AM:

This is why teachers deserve all that we pay them, and more than we pay them: nowhere in their contracts does it say, "And by the way, when the world goes all to hell right there in your classroom, it's your job to die if you have to in order to get your students safely out" . . . and yet, time and again, it's what they do.

The phrase they use in the military is "above and beyond the call of duty", and they give out medals for it. Teachers don't even get that.

#27 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2011, 11:00 AM:

The grade school I went to was an old manor house, in the hills -- only two stories had classrooms, and most rooms had windows. It wasn't well-built for getting out of in case of fire, and it was beautifully seasoned wood (all parquet floors, with different patterns in each room). The building was eventually sold to be turned back into a home, and was the first building in Los Altos to sell for over $2 million (in the late 70s/early 80s, when that was significantly more money than it is now).

#28 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2011, 11:28 AM:

Tom—I have never understood why shingles are still considered high-class in California; faux shingling, fine, but I am PARANOID about house fires. Especially now, with two small kids in two different rooms. So the fact that I'm a bibliophile always worries me a small bit.

Not enough to change, though. :p

#29 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2011, 11:51 AM:

B. Durbin @28 -- books actually make an excellent fire-break. They don't burn quickly (very little air gets in between the pages) -- while they're not quite as strong a break as solid wood, they slow fires down very effectively.

Not that I recommend this as a use for them. Much better to use them as part of your insulation, which they do very well and can still be used for their original purpose afterwards. A wall of books is very good insulation against cold.

(If you want to see the school I went to, google on Ford Country Day School. I found it was sold in 1988, and that they had a reunion last year but nobody invited me....)

#30 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2011, 12:07 PM:

The photo of Miss Rose (or Pearl) Lynn's classroom (and class) seems to show 35 students at their desks. And there's another row of desks at the right of the photo, which I can't swear isn't occupied; at least the room is set up for more than that.

That's quite a bunch.

#31 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2011, 01:35 PM:

New construction is definitely a boon. My American elementary school, Our Mother of Perpetual Help, was one of those single story schools built sometime after 1950. Each classroom had a door to the central hallway, and a door to the outside, and I recall regular fire drills.

My boarding school in Belgium was at least 5 stories high, with the dormitories on the top floors. The staircases were wood. These were tall stories, with ceilings at least 12 feet high. The ground floor windows all were barred, and the doors to the outside were locked with deadbolts that required a key to open from the inside. The nuns, and one girl on each floor, had a key for the doors. I was there for 4 years, and there was only one fire drill at night. It was done after a fire at a boy's boarding school killed some students, naturally.

#32 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2011, 01:35 PM:

That's Miss Pearl Lynn's classroom (I'll fix the label in a bit). And she did have around 35 students (although that wasn't the largest class in the building).

Only three of those kids survived the fire.

#33 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2011, 03:13 PM:

I grew up in NYC and attended public schools there. While I don't recall being taught about any school fire disasters, I remember very clearly being taught about the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in junior high.

I do remember my teachers being very clear about taking fire drills very seriously. My elementary school was a largish brick and concrete pile in the classic NYC public school style. (My grandmother attended the same school in the nineteen-teens, my mother went there in the 30's, as did my nephew in the 1980's.) Looking back, I can recall some issues that made it less than ideal from a fire perspective, including stairwells that went through to the basement. They had fire doors, but with chicken-wire windows. The classrooms also had operable transom windows over each door.

Still, if there was a real fire, I suspect that the building would be evacuated successfully. Lots of stairs, well-marked exits, lots of very wide external doors, and fire doors between the old and new wings of the building.

The drill we always thought was foolish (including the teachers) was the shelter drill. In fact, my high school had glass curtain walls at the end of each hallway, basically making them breezeways for hot shattered glass. Then again, nobody expected to survive a non-drill shelter alert.

#34 ::: Mark Wise ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2011, 03:23 PM:

Jim, many thanks for sharing this. It's beautifully done. The story is a piece of Ohio history I knew nothing about.

Data point: I think I learned about the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in high school American History. That would have been in the early 80s.

#35 ::: DaveKuzminski ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2011, 03:50 PM:

I've survived through several fires. One was in a barracks in Alaska. One of the firefighters ignited it so he could be a hero. Fortunately, he screwed up. He set the fire under a water main and the flames were hot enough to melt the seams which released the water putting it out so he didn't get to play hero.

#36 ::: DaveKuzminski ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2011, 03:56 PM:

Needless to say, that fire was very hot and the smoke was no joking matter and I was in a room almost as far as it was possible to be away from the actual fire.

#37 ::: PurpleGirl ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2011, 04:12 PM:

Good post about a tragic event.

I went to NYU and began my degree as a chemistry major. NYU became the eventual owner of the Asch Building -- renamed Brown Building (Brown Building of Science now). It was the home of chemistry labs and some classrooms. Its floors did not match the other two NYU buildings it was next to (Main Bldg. and Waverly Bldg.) NYU never renovated the wooden freight elevators in Asch/Brown which were, of course, condemned after the Triangle Factory Fire. There were entrances to the other buildings cut into the walls (with fire doors) where staircases sort of matched up. It was not the best situation and probably still isn't. I learned how to get around the interior by using the Waverly Building connections which were better than the Main Building connections. And even though I learned about the Triangle Factory Fire in high school, somehow I didn't completely connect it with where I was taking lab classes, until years later.

#38 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2011, 04:34 PM:

Lila @1 said: Why don't they TEACH this stuff?
Mary Frances @13 said: so far as I can tell, there are no above-ground-floor-level kindergarten classes anywhere in the greater Chicagoland area anymore. Our Lady of Angels is still a name to conjure horrors with, around here.

I didn't get a specific, detailed teach like Jim just did, but as a child in a partially☂ multi-story old-construction Chicago Catholic grade school, I kind of never didn't know about Queen of Angels, at least in a vague way. My dad was born on the South Side in 1954, so I know he would have grown up knowing about it, and in horror of it. At whatever Friday all-school mass was nearest to the anniversary, every year we had a moment's pause for silent prayer for the souls lost. I used to know the nuns' names; we recited them. Every once in a while, driving around and passing another of the all-built-looking-the-same schools of the era, I would get momentary visual flashes of little girls in white dresses holding hands dropping out the top windows, when I was very small.

Our teachers and school staff were very, very clear on fire drills, contingency plans (what do you do if you're not in your usual classroom when the bell goes off?★), and STAYING CALM AT ALL TIMES. Running during a fire drill, or failing to hold on to the railing, incurred the same punishment as deliberately hitting another student. We didn't have drills every month, but we did have them at varied times throughout the day; I know a friend of mine at a school in another city could always tell it was a drill because they always happened at 10:14 on the dot of whatever day. If it happened some other time, a student had pulled the bell.

My school (St. Teresa de Avila on Kenmore near Sheffield) still stands, but is no longer a school; the flat part is now an 'Early Childhood Center,' whatever that is, and I don't know what the tall building is used for. The connecting nun's residence is still a nun's residence.

Paula Helm Murray @16 said: I cried while reading this too.

I started choking up a very few paragraphs in -- Jim, I hope you won't take this wrong, but any time your posts start getting extremely detailed and descriptive about individuals early on, I can be pretty sure 90% of them will be dead by the end. This is a sort of genre familiarity, I think, similar to the way people 'learn' to read SF and catch the sort of hint-dropping incluing that isn't there in 'mainstream' novels. I cried even harder at the teachers, the heroes, that DIDN'T die. And poor Mr. Hirter's three ribbons. :-/ I can't even imagine losing most of your family and then being BLAMED for all the other deaths!

☂ We had a one-story 1950s addition and an older 3-story brick section with more classrooms: K-2 were in the flat part

★ They even mentioned that if you were in [specific area], and there was smoke, the closest way out was through the nun's residence's connecting door, which was usually utterly verboten. One of my classmates panicked during a drill and followed the 'heavy smoke' instructions; she found a kindly nun stationed inside the door, who escorted her out through the -- to us -- fabled and mysterious, though extremely unfurnished, residence. Our teacher was freaking out until the kid was reunited with the rest of us on the sidewalk out front. One of the things the Catholic Church does very best is organization, and I'm betting after Queen of Angels any Archdiocese personnel who worked with children got absolutely draconian fire-drill instruction, repeatedly.

#39 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2011, 05:53 PM:

Fred Hirter lived to be 93. He seldom talked about Lake View fire.

I've been to many fires in my role as an EMS provider, but I stay safely away in the staging area.

Before that, in the Navy, as an enlisted man, I was on the Fire Party on several of my ships. I went through Navy fire-fighting school. And one of the things they do is put you in a space that's on fire, wearing nothing but your working uniform, to give you an idea of what it's like.

Let me tell you what it's like. You can't hear anything. Fires are loud. You can't see anything. Smoke is thick and stings the eyes. You can't smell anything. Breathing is difficult due to smoke and heat. And every fiber of your being is screaming "Get out! Get out!" You're disoriented, and there's no easy way to get reoriented.

At Lake View School, the only light in the central halls would have come from the stairwells, and anyone who went to the stairwells....

Another thing from the Navy. We'd drill a lot of things. And for things like fire or flooding, the inspectors would go around beforehand and put notes in various places, like, "This door is hot to the touch" or "This hatch does not open." And you'd have to figure it out and work the problem.

By definition, a fire in any building that's taller than your tallest ladder is a "high rise fire." Those are difficult to fight and require specialized training that the Collinwood fire department didn't have (not that it would have been available in any case; fire science has come a long way since the Edwardian age). The lack of long ladders meant that they couldn't get to the roof to vent the fire, too. Unvented fires are prone to bizarre behavior: Flashovers and backdrafts.

Other than the one book from 1908, and a privately-printed volume from 1993, there have been no books about the Lake View School Fire. You will, however, find chapters about it in books that round up various disasters.

#40 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2011, 06:44 PM:

My first elementary school was tiny, and every classroom opened directly to the outside. In my second elementary school, there were three stories: first to third grade on the first floor, fourth to sixth grades on the second floor, and then the library and teacher's lounge and such on the third floor. All the stairs from the second to first floor were enormous, wide ones leading into the very large atrium.

I remember thinking at the time that all the younger kids were on the first floor because, being small, they wouldn't be up to climbing stairs quite so often, and that the teacher's lounge was on the third floor because adults could handle stairs better. Never even thought to connect the matter to fire safety until now.

#41 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2011, 11:37 PM:

Very powerful. Thank you, Jim.

This is a reminder to me of why I volunteer as a floor warden at work and why during drills I have absolutely no reservations about telling senior executives "You need to get off that conference call and start moving towards the stairs, NOW. You want to complain about me to my manager later, you can do it after you talk to the Fire Marshal. MOVE. NOW."

#42 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2011, 12:24 AM:

"books actually make an excellent fire-break"

So it's a good idea to line the hallway with shelves, then? Excellent.

You know, the odd thing is that I've actually had two fire-related experiences. The first was a wildfire at the summer camp where I worked for four summers. It's a long story for something that only took about forty-five minutes of my direct involvement*, but we'd all had training on how to fight fires and got every bit of it right except for one niggling detail—going to the fire bell location first. (It was a semi-peninsula.) The ONLY staff member to show up there was the volunteer medic, who was a woman of great calm and presence of mind. She did the roll call (one short—who happened to be the little arsonist), evaluated the situation, and moved the scouts to shade when it was apparent there was no immediate danger.

The second time was when I worked at a Borders. A customer came to the desk and asked for a title. I went to the shelf, noted that the light looked weird, looked up to see that a fluorescent fixture had broken a bulb and was glowing, checked to see if the title was on the shelf, went back to the desk to tell the customer we didn't have it, then called a manager. Thankfully, one of the other staff members remembered the handy-dandy fire extinguisher by the desk, so we got a ladder and started blasting it.

Then, because the stuff sinks, we had to open the doors to the cold winter day, and we started the most laughably slow evacuation you can imagine. 'Please either check out or put your books on hold.' You see, we could keep the light from igniting as long as we kept blasting it, but to stop it entirely we'd have to turn off all of the lights. I thought to get my coat before leaving the building, which was a good idea as most of my coworkers were shivering well before the fire department had finished their checks.

I don't recommend that particular course of action when spotting a potential fire, but at least it worked out okay.

*I think of it in comic-book format, actually. It was that sort of day.

#43 ::: Connie H. ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2011, 09:22 AM:

I can't remember many fire drills where any attention was paid to figuring out details about ALTERNATE ROUTES if the designated one was unusable. It's something to bring up the next time you're participating in one. Also practicing taking mobility-impaired coworkers out the hard way, via chair-carry if necessary.

#44 ::: Bill B ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2011, 09:23 AM:

Stories like this are why I've asked to have the main breakers for the computer lab at my workplace moved to the wall outside my office--- during three separate fire drills (and two actual fire calls due to the chem lab in the adjacent building), I've had to kill power to the internet connection just to get students out of their chairs and moving towards a door.

#45 ::: E. Liddell ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2011, 09:49 AM:

If I believed in reincarnation, I would think that I had died in a fire like this in a previous life: I am, an always have been, terrified of fire. I'm not comfortable even around candles, my hands shake if I try to strike a match, and a fire safety film I was forced to watch in elementary school gave me a panic attack severe enough that the teacher had to separate me from the class and send me to the library to calm down.

Reading this, I experienced an unpleasant frisson of, "There, but for the grace of God, go I." The elementary school I attended until grade four was an elderly two-story building with a basement. I understand it to have been built in two stages, of which the first would have been sometime in the 1920s. Some attempts had clearly been made to retrofit it--there were a fire escape and an exit door from the gym that I don't think were part of the original construction--but there were only two stairwells, both at the south end of the building, and I can see now how easily a class in the A/V room or the 3rd-grade classroom beside it could have been cut off from all the exits.[1] (Internally, the school was shaped sort of like a serif'd capital I[2], with the top pointing west. The stairwells with their associated doors were at either end of the eastern serif; the fire escape and ground floor gym door were at the north end of the western serif; the third exit door, which had no associated stairwell and therefore could be used only from the ground floor, was in the middle of the western serif. You can probably guess where the A/V room was.)

Fire drills were occasional, and I can't now remember how seriously we took them. It may be fortunate that the building was demolished a few years ago, once the population of the town had dropped so much that the more modern building that had formerly housed grades 5-8 was capable of taking all the students.

Bad as that could have been, the university residence I lived in for four years as an undergraduate was worse. It was an old stone building dating from 1910; electrical wiring had been put in during the sixties and ran in conduits outside the walls. There were no smoke detectors in the rooms until my last year there. As you can imagine, the corridors were also quite narrow.

Due to the peculiar floor plan of the building, it would have been *very* easy for someone in a panic to overshoot the stairwells and run into one of the end-corridor cul-de-sacs--fortunately, the number of people living there wasn't so large that anyone would have been likely to stay trapped there for long, but I can still imagine things getting . . . messy.

Added to that, the poor setup in the third-floor kitchen meant that there were a *lot* of false fire alarms, so the one time we did have something resembling a real fire (in a waste basket, and quickly put out), no one took the alarm seriously--they just assumed that someone had burnt some toast again.

I understand that that building has also been knocked down. Despite the fact that, from the outside, it was a pretty and historic piece of stonework, I think that, on the balance, it's a good thing that it's no longer with us.

[1]One thing that they may have done right was using the fire escape as a normal, non-emergency exit from the building for the two classes that were nearer to it than the main exits--no chance that way of the kids forgetting it was there in an emergency, or being reluctant to use it because it "wasn't allowed".
[2]From the outside, it looked more like a T.

#46 ::: Stephen Hope ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2011, 09:52 AM:

This wasn't the story I expected it to be. Ash Wednesday fire brings a different story to mind in Australia. Even more horrifying, though.

#47 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2011, 12:47 PM:

The Good Thing: at work, our fire drills are regular, although not predictable, and our exits are many, plus well-lit, well-signed, and the only people allowed to remain behind are those actually in the middle of surgery.

The Bad Thing: yesterday, while attempting to clean his room, my son found a paper related to his now-ex girlfriend (who dumped him on Monday, via the Friend Network); he decided he needed to burn it and so he did. When I smelled the smoke inside the house, which grew stronger as I went closer to his room upstairs, I was rather irate and upset.

The End Thing: this morning I showed him several fire videos from NIST, to emphasize just how fast a fire can grow, even without a dry pine tree to get things moving. A dorm room without sprinklers is engulfed in 2-3 minutes. Fatal conditions probably exist within 3-4 minutes. He seemed impressed.

(He's been fascinated by fire for years, and has been repeatedly told to use the fireplace for his burning desires to burn something. This still has not sunk in. )

#48 ::: V's Herbie ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2011, 12:55 PM:

after I finished reading this I took a look around the brand-new campus building I was in. Not such a good story. I was in a second floor space open to below with artfully designed walkways between me and the official exit. Floor plan something like this: ^ =open space drop of ~12 feet.

---------------------------->empty future lab space

The exit is to fire stairs with all the modern features, including auto-closing fire doors, which would likely make them harder to find, since they would no longer be the obvious wide doorway I used on my way up.

Thanks for the awareness booster shot!

#49 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2011, 01:11 PM:

Reading back through some of the comments and such --- hm.

The library building I work in is cobbled together from three separate buildings, built in 1928, 1958, and 1982. The floors don't match up perfectly -- for example, deck 5 in the old building meets floor 3 in the 1958 building with the help of a little ramp, and getting from LL1 in the 1982 building to the basement in the 1958 building requires a half-flight of stairs. So it's a complex space. The oldest building and the newest building have the most wood. There ARE fire doors between the sections and at the entrances to the stairwells, and we have a sprinkler system and an intercom system.

But we don't have fire drills. We have power outages often enough that we do evacuations once or twice a year, and we do have about one tornado evacuation per summer (an internal evacuation, if you will, herding people downstairs to the designated safety area). I have been pushing for years for a serious annual review of procedures and a drill, but administration has blocked my efforts.

I think I'll go back and try again next week.

#50 ::: sara_k ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2011, 03:45 PM:

I teach Kindergarten. We have a fire drill every month even in terrible weather. Our last drill (last Thursday) My class headed quietly for our usual exit only to find an administrator waving a sign that said FIRE HERE. We turned and went out a different door. AFAIK there are no designated 2nd exits (but we can exit from one of our windows if there is fire or smoke directly outside the door) and it seemed that most teachers turned the same direction. It was just after breakfast and students keeping to the right tripped over trash and meal baskets set out for pickup.

My boarding high school had a fire in 1980 where the largest building (an old post office) burnt down. The building had been remodeled, the fire alarms went off, 2x the fire dept came and went through looking for the fire. It was apparently spreading in the insulated layer between the priginal ceilings and the dropped ceilings. Nobody died but it was traumatic. There was not enough water to put out the fire. The second worst thing was families coming from down the street with their children and a picnic to watch the fire.

#51 ::: Dr Rick ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2011, 04:55 PM:

Wow. I got as far as "The last time she is seen alive, her clothing is on fire, but she’s still pulling children from the crush" dry-eyed, but that broke me.

Great post. Maybe if I forward it to the People In Charge, they'll start holding fire drills at times other than 10:50am (every single time).

#52 ::: D. Potter ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2011, 06:01 PM:

Huh. I don't remember the layout of my old elementary school at all, but I do remember reading about the Our Lady of Angels fire (I took up reading newspapers at about 6 or 7). All my other schools until college were one or two story structures and we had lots of fire drills, although I don't think it was ever explained to us.

A 3 story building I worked in for a number of months had I think one fire drill when I was there. Their idea of alarms sounded like the chimes in Macy's. Guess who had learned to ignore the chimes in Macy's...

#53 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2011, 12:56 AM:

While I was employed at my most recent job, Corporate headquarters was moved from an ex-warehouse building in rural CT ( 1 story, relatively small exit doors) to a retro-fitted locomotive factory in downtown Providence RI. (again relatively small exit doors).

At the old location I do not recall any actual fire drills -- a couple of times the alarms went off because of wiring issues in the fire alarm system(one which generated smoke), and water pressure drops in the sprinkler system.

At the Providence location, we did have a couple of fire drills -- but only while the alarm system was being installed and tested. Again, we had some false alarms because of wiring. At that location I should have been more concerned -- old factory, lost of really old (dry) wood, big open spaces that could provide lots of oxygen if windows at either end were broken.

Closer to home (much closer) was the time when one of our tenants (2nd floor of a triple decker)fell asleep with a pot boiling on an electric range. Lots of thick, foul-smelling smoke, and both the battery-operated and wired alarms worked fine. I looked out into the back stairwell and could see and smell smoke.

I had my wife call 911 to report when I went up to make sure the tenants on the third floor didn't just figure the fire wasn't *their* apartment so they could stay put, and that everybody was out from the second floor. When I checked the 2nd-floor apartment the first time I didn't see anyone (I pulled the power cord for the stove after a quick visual check and yelling "anybody here?") , but that didn't seem right, so I re-checked again, and found my tenant sleeping very soundly because of some medication. We got her out, and the guys from the fire department were happy as clams that all they had to do was convince her to go to the hospital to be checked out (I used lots of salt and baking soda to smother the fire itself).

#54 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2011, 01:43 AM:

The fire described up-thread about the fire spreading in the insulation between the ceilings has resonance here in Worcester (MA) -- in 1999 the Worcester Cold Storage warehouse caught fire. The abandoned facility was compartmentalized by walls insulated with oil-impregnated cork and polyurethane and polystyrene foam.

6 firefighters died in the blaze, and it took eight days to recover them.

With the push to deregulate and privatize everything, and the incentives to cut corners to turn a (bigger) profit there will be more of these fires.

#55 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2011, 09:26 AM:

If any of our Cleveland-area correspondents could find and photograph the grave of Katherine Weiler, I think it would be a good thing. Miss Fiske's tombstone is frequently photographed. Miss Weiler's, so far as I can tell, not at all.

It is supposedly in the Lake View Cemetery on Euclid, but I'm not 100% sure of this, either.

#56 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2011, 10:17 AM:

The bookstore I work in would be another "total obliteration" case -- close-spaced walls of books at every hand. Upstairs and front room can just run into the street, but getting out of the (smoky/burning) basement would be a problem. Hmm, there's a potential fire exit down there, I must see about getting it clear and posted.

#57 ::: Evelyn Browne ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2011, 11:03 AM:

My childhood home, where my parents still live, is a school built in 1907 to a very similar pattern; two of the upstairs classrooms have been converted into a three-bedroom apartment, two of the downstairs ones contain my father's shop and smithy, and the rest of the building has sat empty since 1965. (And unheated-- parts of the west wall are now shored up with timbers on the outside, and frost heave has turned the bare concrete of the gym floor into a morass of desk-sized slabs tossing around like sea ice.) It never even occurred to me what a firetrap that place would be if it ever went up.

(My father has taken precautions. The apartment opens onto the fire escape in back, the furnace and ductwork are new and very well-insulated, and the shop has its own ventilation system and fire extinguishers near at hand. Still.)

#58 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2011, 11:22 AM:

B. Durbin, #28: For a while, there was a fad for Real Cedar Shingles in many upscale neighborhoods around Houston; this was frequently enforced by Neighborhood Homeowners' Associations. About 20 years ago, there was an incident in which kids shooting off 4th of July fireworks managed to land one on a wooden-shingled roof, and that house AND the ones on either side of it were all completely destroyed. The owner of the house in the middle had petitioned to install asbestos shingles and had been turned down by the NHA. The resulting lawsuit was pretty much open-and-shut for the plaintiff; the NHA was bankrupted and dissolved, and insurance companies unanimously refused to write policies for housing developments with Association rules that did not follow fire codes any more.

Note that building codes and standards are among the things frequently railed against by Libertarians; they're considered "unnecessary government interference with private enterprise".

#59 ::: Columbina ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2011, 11:37 AM:

Way back at #4: The curtain-material changes and door changes you mention came about mostly because of the Iroquois Theatre fire, which was the other event which came quickly to my mind when reading this piece:

#60 ::: Columbina ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2011, 11:41 AM:

I stand corrected. Stupidly, the law about doors opening outward in public buildings was NOT made national after the Iroquois fire. We learn too slowly.

(And I see even as I type this that someone has listed doors-opening-outward as a "stupid law" over at Feh. Troglodytes.)

#61 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2011, 11:59 AM:

David Harmon @56 -- again, books slow fires, they don't feed them. I've seen this be true.

Fires require fuel, ignition, air, and time to build. If there's a lot of potential fuel and very little oxygen, the time-to-build goes way up. There's likely to be more smoke early on, which is mixed -- smoke is the most-noticed warning sign that there's a fire happening, as well as an effect that lowers visibility and breathability. The stock in your bookstore would probably be ruined by smoke and the water from the firefight, but it's much less likely that people would die there if it's cramped and full of books than if it's open and airy.

I'm not a fire-fighting professional: this is my opinion from being around books and fires, and I'll be glad to have any fire-fighting professional tell me I'm full of it if I am.

#62 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2011, 12:50 PM:

Like others, I went through both shelter drills and fire drills in elementary school (one standard redbrick, one mid-50s "modern").

My middle/high school occupied 2 floors of an office building in Manhattan. I don't recall ever having a fire drill during the 5 years I was there, though it seems likely that we did.

We did, however, have a "smoke condition" early in my freshman (7th grade) year. The fire alarms went off between classes--this, btw, is a big problem with fire drills in schools. There's an assumption that students will be in class, rather than in the halls, the lunchroom, the bathroom, etc.

We were all milling around in the halls when the bell went off. It was so early in the school year that there had been no fire drill. Little wisps of smoke could be seen in the hallways. Several friends and I immediately headed for the enclosed fire stairs in the corner of the floor.

We were about 12 floors above the street.

As we went down, the smoke got thicker. We couldn't see well, so we started going more slowly. Each person grabbed the back of the shirt/blouse/dress of the person in front of her. I was in the front of the group and I began to sort of ease my foot from step to step and to count steps so that I would know when the landings were due. Luckily the flights all had the same number of stairs. When I reached a landing, I would say "landing" so the person behind me knew, and she would do the same, so no one would be surprised and fall.

It felt like we were going very slowly, and it was very smoky, but it wasn't hot (though I was sweating) and there were no visible flames.

At last we came to the bottom. I'd lost track by them of how many flights we'd gone down; the only reason I knew we hit street level was that the stairs stopped. We might well have wound up in a basement if the stairs had kept going.

I could see a door through the smoke. Before I touched it, I put the back of my hand close to the metal (Girl Scout training). The door was not hot, so I yanked it open and we all flew out onto 45th Street.

There were a few dozen girls behind us.

There was no fire in the building, but the building sat over the train tracks that ran into Grand Central Station, and there was a fire on the tracks. The building's ventilation system had sucked up the smoke.

Many teacher and students never even left the school. Most of us who wound up on the street went home because we were kind of smokey-smelling. The sweater I wore that day was never worn again. Either the smell of the smoke never came out or my brain never forgot that it had smelled of smoke. Either way, I couldn't wear it.

Went back to school the next day without any trouble.

Over the next 5 years, we experienced a few more "smoke conditions" (none as bad as the first) and several bomb threats (not against the school but against the offices of Penn Central, which were on other floors in the building). So we got very familiar with the fire stairs over time!

The fire drills we have in the office consist of going into the main lobby on each floor to listen to people tell us what to do in case of fire.

There's only one staircase, and it's open and right down the middle of the building. It's a little more than 2 people wide. There are no fire escapes. There are sprinklers in the halls but not in the offices.

Sometimes it makes me very uneasy.

#63 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2011, 01:12 PM:

Son of a gun. They do list it at ""

Doors of all public buildings must open outwards.
18 December 2009

823.06 Doors of public buildings to open outward. All buildings erected in this state for theatrical, operatic, or other public entertainments of whatsoever kind shall be so constructed that the shutters to all entrances to said building shall open outwardly and be so arranged as to readily allow any person inside said building to escape [...]

Yeah. Well, here's why that law isn't stupid.

Meanwhile, as I've said elsewhere, some situations are non-survivable. Try to stay out of those situations.

Now: if you have the choice between a non-survivable situation and a life-threatening situation, some practical tips.

If you have to go out a window, if it's at all possible, climb down. A ladder, a rope, twisted bedsheets, what-may-have-you. If those aren't options, hang by your hands from the window sill facing the building. Bend your knees slightly. (You might consider crossing your ankles, which will force you to bend your knees and will prevent you from landing on just one leg.) Let go. When you hit, roll backwards. That which does not kill you still hurts like hell and may leave you permanently disabled. Just sayin'. But if the alternative is certain death ... make your own decision.

The LD50 for falls is 11 feet. ("LD" stands for "Lethal Distance." 50 is the percentage. That is, half of the people who fall 11 feet will die.)

The distance is measured from the lowest part of your body (thus hanging by your hands to get the bottoms of your feet as low as possible). Variables include how you hit (landing on your head is bad) and what you land on (snow-covered pine trees are much better than an iron fence). Age and health are also variables, as well as the availability of fast and efficient EMS.

#64 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2011, 02:34 PM:

James @ 63: Whoever's responsible for compiling the list at apparently thinks it's stupid to require that "No owner or person in charge of a property shall permit a cellar, door, or grate located in or upon a sidewalk or public pathway to remain open except when such entrance is being used and, when being used, there are adequate safeguards for pedestrians using the sidewalk."

Um... who's being stupid here? Not the people saying Don't leave open holes in sidewalks or public pathways unless you block them so people won't fall in, IMO...

#65 ::: Jonathan Hutchins ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2011, 02:45 PM:

Meanwhie, in Kansas, schools are complaining about having to bring buildings up to code, and a bill has been introduced to allow them to delay.

#66 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2011, 03:47 PM:

Melissa Singer: It's interesting that a study of the Bystander Effect (Latane, B., & Darley, J. Bystander "Apathy", American Scientist, 1969, 57, 244-268. had an experiment much like yours. Smoke was introduced into a room where people were taking a survey.

If they were alone, they left.

If they were will people who were intentionally staying (participants in the study who were in on it), they stayed.

If they were in a room with other "naive" participants... they stayed.

As to Stupid Laws... it's a lot of stupid. Not the least is a lot of the, "laws" don't have citations, so one can't know if they are real, or just something "everyone knows". What's more, a lot of the one's with actual citation (as with the one on doors) explain the rationale.

#67 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2011, 04:05 PM:

Back to books as fire breaks:

At Our Lady of the Angels, the room with the lowest fatality count (of those rooms with fatalities; just two dead as opposed to around 50% fatalities in the other involved rooms) was the one where the teacher had the students stack books and furniture against the doors.

#68 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2011, 04:40 PM:

Terry@66: That experience marked me for life. If the fire alarm goes off when there isn't a drill scheduled--and isn't immediately countermanded by an "oops" announcement--I grab my purse (which is always within reach) and am gone.

At least twice I have been several floors down before the PA announced that the alarm was false.

I'd rather be embarrassed than dead.

(September 11th reinforced this reflex but did not create it.)

#69 ::: Luthe ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2011, 07:03 PM:

One of the dorms at Bryn Mawr still has the original horsehair insulation. And very thin walls. The building has been retrofitted to have *four* stairwells, all leading out, and an extensive sprinkler system. The dorm is also haunted by a ghost that puts out open flames very quickly.

Bryn Mawr also got electrical lighting at the turn of the century after another dorm burned down because of the gas lamps. John D. Rockefeller donated the money for it.

#70 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2011, 07:04 PM:

Melissa: Me and gunfire. I have atypical reactions. 1: I recognise it. 2: I, generally, flinch. 3: I evaluate. 4: I move to cover/observation point, as I deem appropriate.

Other quirks. I always look to see if a cop is right/left handed. These days I also look for a taser. This tells me which way to move it drops in the pot; because s/he has to do some specific body movements to clear the weapon.

#71 ::: Jon Baker ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2011, 07:17 PM:

1) Doors that open outwards.

In Bujold's "Mirror Dance", at one point Miles, somewhat the worse for wear and amnesic, makes his way out of a hospital, traveling up several stories and through various hidden doors. When his rescuers find him, they speculate, "we have a security problem, if he could get out." He mumbles "Not security, fire safety." And someone else says "He's right, all the doors he went through opened outwards."

2) I've heard stories of some Jerusalem seminaries - seminary in this case is a post-HS program meant to indoctrinate girls with sufficient conviction about their Judaism to be able to handle college, with its diversity of ideas (and often to discourage them from going to college altogether) - that are so worried about the girls sneaking out to hang out in the tourist areas downtown that they chain the fire doors shut. Pretty much everybody who hears of this decries the danger and stupidity.

3) Triangle Shirtwaist Fire: IIRC, the NYU SF club, about 25 years ago, used to meet in the building that had been the Triangle Shirtwaist Company. Or was it the building across the street?

#72 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2011, 07:17 PM:

Lexica @ #64: hooray, a chance to quote my favorite legal finding!

"If the defendants were at fault in leaving an uncovered hole in the sidewalk of a public street, the intoxication of the plaintiff cannot excuse such gross negligence. A drunken man is as much entitled to a safe street as a sober one, and much more in need of it." --Robinson v. Pioche, Bayerque & Co., Supreme Court of California, 5 Cal. 460 (1855)

#73 ::: paul ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2011, 08:24 PM:

Jon Baker @71:

Regarding your 2), I wonder which set of fundamentalists picked the idea up first: the saudi version.

#74 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2011, 08:41 PM:

#69 ::: Luthe John D. Rockefeller donated the money for it.

Like the victims of the Collinwood Fire, John D. Rockefeller* is buried in Lake View Cemetery.


*As too are President Garfield and Eliot Ness.

#75 ::: Jon Baker ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2011, 09:12 PM:

A lighting-design friend, obviously trained in architecture, explained "panic hardware" to me. That's the push-bar exit handle on fire doors.

In a fire, people panic, and push against the door. With a typical door latch, that puts pressure on the flat side of the door latch, which locks it in place so you can't turn the knob - too much friction against the strike plate in the door frame.

With panic hardware, the same reaction automatically opens the door. Panic, press against the door, that pushes the bar, and that opens the door latch.

#76 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2011, 09:50 PM:

I just remembered another family "close call" with a fire.

When my mother was a Much Younger Lady she and her cohort were big fans of the Boston College football team.

On November 28, 1942, Boston College lost a playoff game to Holy Cross 55-12. Upset over the lost chance to play in the Sugar Bowl, the team and their supporters (and my mother and friends) canceled their plans for a victory celebration at a swank Boston nightclub.

Out of about 1,000 patrons on hand at the Cocoanut Grove that night, 492 died and 166 were injured. A toll in American fires exceeded only by the Iroquois Theater fire in 1903 Chicago.

Egress from the fire was hampered by crowds jamming against a revolving door, and another exit door, though it had a panic bar, was locked shut. Other exit doors were locked to prevent patrons from being able to slip out without paying their tab. Doors that *were* unlocked opened inwards.

The contemporary report from the Boston Fire Department in re the fire can be found at: Report concerning the Cocoanut Grove fire, November 28, 1942

#77 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2011, 10:18 PM:

Ah, yes. The Cocoanut Grove fire. The location was here (the block to the northeast of the intersection, with Shawmut St. on two sides of it).

There've been some excellent recent book-length descriptions of that fire. It gave us the modern methods of treating burns (when supplies for the traditional methods ran out, doctors had to get creative). That was where we learned that burning plastics released cyanide gas. And that was where we discovered that panicked crowds can't make it through revolving doors (which is why, these days, you'll see a pair of normal doors to either side of the revolving door in public buildings).

A couple of blocks north of the site is the Boston Park Plaza Hotel, the former Arisia con hotel.

I walked down there once, during an Arisia. It all seems so normal now. There's a little memorial plaque set into the sidewalk. And that's all that remains of the Cocoanut Grove.

(When you see signs in clubs and taverns and hotel ballrooms that says "Occupancy by more than [some number] of persons is unlawful" by order of the Fire Marshall -- believe 'em. People died to give us those laws.)

#78 ::: tw ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2011, 01:34 AM:

Gendisasters has a list of historical fires, and other disasters, from which I found the basic info for the Hochelaga School fire of 1907 in Quebec.

#79 ::: hamletta ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2011, 01:41 AM:

The second worst thing was families coming from down the street with their children and a picnic to watch the fire.

I'll see them in Hell.

#80 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2011, 07:30 AM:

Hopefully not, you don't seem that way inclined.

#81 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2011, 08:42 AM:

Re: Triangle Fire--the recent American Experience (PBS) on this was excellent.

#82 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2011, 09:07 AM:

Jim @63

If the LD50 for falling is only 11 feet, Nicholas Alkemade must really have skewed the statistics.

Well, actually, no. It's not a mean figure. Median, I think.

#83 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2011, 01:20 PM:

Dave Bell @82

LD50s are calculated by figuring out the percentage of 1ft falls (or 10mg doses, or whatever) that kill, then the percentage of 2ft falls/20mg doses, and so on until you get to the point where half of the subjects don't make it. So parachute failure survivors won't skew the numbers.

(Obviously you'd usually do this statistically rather than experimentally)

#84 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2011, 01:47 PM:

One hundred things to do to make your home safer. Many involve fire-safety.

#85 ::: Ursula L ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2011, 01:48 PM:

On the first floor, Miss Ethel Rose lined her students up in the classroom. When she opened the door, she too knew that something was wrong. The hall was filling with smoke. She turned to her class and said, “Follow me. Run as fast as you can.”

It seems to me that this is where things started to go wrong - the first class out started to run, then to trip and fall in the process.

I remember as a child in school not understanding why our teachers insisted that we never run during fire drills, and that everyone was to walk carefully and stay in line. Surely the point of a fire drill was to get out as fast as possible? But it only takes one or two people panicking to create a blockage that leads to disaster.

I've pointed out before that the successful evacuation of the twin towers on 9/11 is a testament to the successful fire safety education of our schools. If you were able-bodied and worked below the impact levels, you were pretty sure to get out of the towers safely. That took thousands of people coordinating to evacuate safely, calmly, without panicking or running or fighting and pushing. And people did so, more-or-less spontaneously, following the habits that had been drilled since their first fire-drill in kindergarten.

#86 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2011, 04:57 PM:

James Macdonald @84: One my mother taught me bone-deep that always gobsmacks me when people disregard it is simply this:

Never set anything down on your stove that you wouldn't mind applying fire to.

Never. Not even to set it down. Not even 'for a minute' -- because if you get in the habit, you'll leave it there, and there are any number of ways a stove can start up when you didn't think it was going to (especially if you have a toddler in the house, but that's not the only way).

Including, and MAN have I done this a lot, turning on the wrong burner by mixing up which knob you grabbed. I scorched a lot of tea-towels in my adolescence before I finally got reflexive about this rule, let me tell you.

It has a corollary: Never put anything in the oven you wouldn't mind baking. I wouldn't've even thought about verbalizing the corollary until a friend of mine told me about a time her mother-in-law came to visit ... apparently, at home, her mother-in-law habitually stores the cereal in her oven, for reasons that seem good to her. However, my friend turned on the oven to preheat before dinner, and suddenly things got VERY EXCITING.

I guess these are all really variants of the same ur-rule that gives "Never point a gun at anything you don't intend to shoot" -- tools have purposes, and even when you don't intend to activate them, may activate.

#87 ::: Pfusand ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2011, 06:49 PM:

James @77:

The Cocoanut Grove site is closer to my work than I had imagined. I work across Arlington Street from the Park Plaza, and if you go to the street view, and look at the part of the map labeled "Landry & Arcari," you will see the fire door we come out on our fire drills. (Three or four times a year, and definitely shortly after we hire someone.)

You will not see any fire escapes.

#88 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2011, 06:59 PM:

If you go to Google Street View of Boston, along Piedmont St, between Church and Shawmut, set in the brick sidewalk, to the north side of the street, just east of the lamp post ... that dark square is the Cocoanut Grove memorial plaque.

Requiem aeternam dona eis.

#89 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2011, 07:19 PM:

Et lux aeternam luceat eis.

#90 ::: Jean Rossner ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2011, 10:36 PM:

Thank you, Jim.

I grew up in NYC and learned of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in, I think, seventh-grade year. (But from a book, not school.) This is the first time I've heard of either Collinwood or Our Lady of the Angels.

I first heard of the Hartford fire when I lived in Hartford, much later--and a book about it came out that year, and then a musician I like wrote a song about the incident.

Nobody I knew well has died in a fire, but there have been a few near-misses. My mother had an auto accident that resulted in permanent scars from third-degree burns incurred while crawling out of the flaming car. Also, she received a bill from the city for fire damage to the West Side Drive.

I was living in Oakland during the 1991 fire and heard the beginning of the fire over my police-and-fire-band scanner; later, I watched the Berkeley hills from farther down Ashby Ave and saw the wall of flame take house after house after house, just about that fast. My apartment was about two blocks beyond the edge of the evacuation zone; I sat on the front steps under the swirling gray skies, with my neighbors, smelling burning and seeing burnt leaves and bits of charred wood fall around us. The cars were packed to be ready to leave if more of the area was evacuated.

My brother was living in Warwick, RI in 2003. On February 20, he'd bought tickets for the Station nightclub show that night but decided on the way home from work that he was too tired to go.

(Also, albeit not directly fire-related, I was in a large unreinforced-masonry building South of Market in San Francisco on October 17, 1989. We ran out with chunks of stone falling all around us, and the building was closed for repairs for months, but nobody was badly hurt.)

#91 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2011, 11:38 PM:

Jean Rossner @90: You've just reminded me that I do have a relevant fire-safety regulations-and-standards anecdote to share. I was a witness to it, just barely, though I was too young to remember, but it has lived on in family legend for reasons that will become obvious.

The summer after I was born (May or June 1976), as The First Grandchild, my paternal grandparents trooped all their (adult; my dad's the oldest) kids into their newish mobile home to drive out to Kansas to see that half of the family, and show off the baby. Lots of the nicest Baby Stuff received for me was also brought along, for use on the trip.

It is somewhat relevant to note at this point that none of the windows in this vehicle opened farther than you'd need to toss some tollway change out the side. It was quite a large one, and well-equipped, with I think six bunks, a kitchenette, and a bathroom with shower. There was a tank on the roof that filled from rain (or garden hose) supplying the shower and other nonpotable water needs. The stove was run on propane, and the tank was quite conveniently situated near the (single) entry/exit door, up at the front, so you wouldn't have to manhandle it through the whole shebang to the kitchen at the back when you needed to change it out.

Somewhere in the middle of Iowa or Nebraska, while moving down the highway at speed, my uncle (who was driving) suddenly noticed a jet of flame spraying from the propane tank across the exit stairs. He shouted alarm and pulled over.

There was no way out except through the curtain of fire, and since this WAS the 1970s, there were polyester curtains, horrible shag carpeting, and many other soft furnishings handy about to go up in an inferno. The propane canister and its surround were already too hot to touch, though it was tried repeatedly with various materials wrapped around hands. All the bunks were stripped for their sheets, and the wimmenfolk started cycling through the shower, wrapping up in a sheet and drenching themselves, hoping like heck the water would hold out (nobody could remember when the tank was last filled).

My grandmother took me, and got the three extra sheets. She soaked us, got a good running start, and -- by accounts of all witnesses -- did a really lovely rolling cannonball through the flames into the ditch at the side of the road.

Everyone got out. Some of the (remember: 1970s) long flowy hair on the ladies present was a bit raggedy afterwards, and my grandmother -- who had already for genetic reasons been thinning -- went entirely bald front to back from that day forwards, since she neglected wrapping her head thoroughly in favor of getting more layers of wet sheet over *me*. However, there were no serious injuries.

The motor home and all contents were a total loss. After the nearest local fire department showed up to hose the smoking ruin down, my mother retrieved the slagged corpse of her favorite Nikon F camera; with a lot of TLC over the years, she eventually got the shutter to work again, but it was definitely more modernist sculpture than camera from then on.

Interestingly, the family peekapoo, Itto -- a white calf-high dustmop of a dog with footlong streaming white hair all over its body like an animated Halloween wig on scuttling legs -- ALSO got out unscathed, though no-one knows how. The family was standing on the side of the road just as my last uncle made it out, shaky, when they suddenly remembered the dog. Everyone had had just enough time to feel thoroughly sick to their stomach when a little red sports car with a cute young couple in it came driving down the road, the girl holding Itto in her lap, and said, "Is this your dog? She was just running and running and running ..." Nary a mark or a singe on her. The nice young couple drove one of my uncles to the nearest gas station to call the fire department, the insurance company, and so on.

You can just bet that when the time came to buy a replacement motor home, they checked that the windows opened, there was a secondary exit, and for DAMN sure where the propane tank was! Apparently 'suddenly bursting into flames' happened significantly more than once on that model of motor home; my grandparents' lawyer raked the company over the coals eighty ways to Sunday, and they deserved it royally, too.

So that's how I didn't die by fire before I was even old enough to talk, and why my grandma went bald.

#92 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2011, 07:29 AM:

My school took fire drills very seriously indeed for reasons displayed here. Especially as the parents included firemen and cops who responded to the fire and one of whom stayed on duty all night...arranging identifications.

As a result, our primary school fire drill was carried out against a stopwatch and there would be serious trouble if we weren't all out, paraded on the playground, and counted in under three and a half minutes. I remember we once muffed it and they called a second fire drill ten minutes later.

We also had a variant drill for bomb scares, thanks to the IRA, (the only difference was that you took along your belongings in the event of a bomb scare, to facilitate searching the building) and we even used it for real once when a fellow student was threatened with expulsion for setting fire to a toilet and phoned in a bomb hoax. (What a gem.)

Years later, I lived in this building, supposedly the third highest firefighting priority in southern England after Windsor Castle and the Heathrow Airport Jet-A1 tank farm. The Victorian insulation consisted of straw dipped in paraffin wax and the service sections of the building couldn't have been more byzantine. Power supply to students' cells rooms was restricted to 500 watts and there would be serious trouble if you tripped a breaker. Detectors were everywhere, and there were constant false alarms which always involved a full evacuation and at least two fire engines attending. Typical causes: toast, cigarettes, and steam from the showers. At any time of the day or night, you'd be passed on the roads by fire engines responding to the SOS, Toast! message.

One spring, I was working on a donation drive for which a common room had been converted into a temporary call centre, when the alarms went off. The (outside) manager announced that there was just a fire drill and no reason to stop calling, so I interrupted his Triangle Shirtwaist re-enactment, opened the door, and showed him the crowds streaming out of the building. The whole crew left in short order, but he stayed at his post like the boy on the burning deck to protect a dozen ancient laptops with 11Mbps 802.11a cards. (What a gem.)

It was, of course, a toast alert. However, there was probably something to be said for being able to evacuate the building at five o'clock in the morning, blind drunk...

#93 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2011, 07:39 AM:

In Bujold's "Mirror Dance", at one point Miles, somewhat the worse for wear and amnesic, makes his way out of a hospital, traveling up several stories and through various hidden doors. When his rescuers find him, they speculate, "we have a security problem, if he could get out." He mumbles "Not security, fire safety." And someone else says "He's right, all the doors he went through opened outwards."

And that was on Jackson's Whole -- the libertarian/capital-feudalist paradise (or, as everyone else in the nexus considers it, lawless hellhole).

But then, the Durona Group might have chosen to have their building built according to galactically accepted fire safety practices even if nobody else on Jackson's Whole would enforce a law forcing them to do so.

#94 ::: Neil W ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2011, 09:55 AM:

Melissa Singer @62 The fire alarms went off between classes--this, btw, is a big problem with fire drills in schools. There's an assumption that students will be in class, rather than in the halls, the lunchroom, the bathroom, etc.

The first time there was a fire alarm at the school I was working at, the lunchbell had gone about 5 minutes before. There was a little confusion (some staff on duty during lunch not having reached their posts; others still dealing with pupils after class; pupils scattered everywhere). On a temporary contract I didn't have any particular responsibility. I'd just herded a group of year 7s outside* when some Year 11s popped up. "Hello Sir." "We've just come in for an exam and we're not registered!" "Where do we go?" "What happens if we can't take our exam?"

This wasn't actually hard to deal with, but was the moment when I realised properly that I'd been responsible for their lives all the time I was there.

There's always the entertainment when it's a false alarm and stops ringing before we've reached the fire evacuation point. "It's stopped! We can go back in!"

"We go back in when you've been registered and dismissed."

"But it's stopped!"

Sometimes I resorted to the faintly possible reason "What if the fire got to the alarm?" rather than try and explain that "We always follow the drill, because we ALWAYS follow the drill, so if it's real we get it right."


#95 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2011, 11:16 AM:

Thinking about fire drills and schools and lunch periods . . .

I don't know if this is true outside NYC, but here, it's rare that an entire school eats lunch at the same time. In my daughter's elementary schools and middle schools, it was common to have three different lunch periods, each one used by two grades. These were decent-sized schools, around 700 students each, and it's just not practical for all the students to eat at the same time given the sizes of the facilities.

IIRC, fire drills at these schools generally took place during the periods that were not lunch periods. Lunch is not supervised by classroom teachers. I don't know if the lunch staff are trained in what to do during fire drills.

In both of my daughter's elementary schools, the lunchroom was on the first floor. In one case there was immediate access to the street from the lunchroom. The doors opened out and had a panic bar but I don't know if they were locked during the day or not, though I assume they were. In the other case, the lunchroom was immediately next to the school's main entrance, so as long as that entrance was not engulfed in flame or otherwise blocked, the students should have been able to get out. There was probably another ext through the kitchen but I never saw it.

The middle school's lunchroom was in the basement and had immediate access to the playground. The playground was fenced-in but there were several exits. The drawback was that the middle school had a second building added onto it (in the 1970s, I think); the addition was built above the playground, on stilts. Children exit the lunchroom under the bridge that connects the old building to the new, and much of the playground is covered by this building. If that building is dropping burning debris (or if people are jumping out of windows), I expect it (they) would land on whoever/whatever was in the playground.

As in elementary school, fire drills did not take place during lunch periods.

At my daughter's high school, the lunchroom is on the top floor (the 5th). It exits into hallways and onto the roof garden. The hallway exit is almost directly opposite the main staircase, which is very large. There are other large staircases as well. Like her other schools, this one holds about 700 students (725, since the freshman class is a little bigger than usual this year; I think they are working their way up to 800 students). The building is only 2 years old and from my visits there, it feels like it has plenty of ways for students to get out in case of trouble.

But like her other schools, the kids eat lunch in three different periods. Unlike her other schools, some teachers are in the lunchroom during some lunch periods, though they are not supervising students--they're providing tutoring.

The much bigger high school near my home has more than 3,800 students. The whole school runs on shifts--some kids start at 9 and some start late enough that they are getting out around 5 PM--and I've no idea how many lunch periods they have, but I'm guessing at least 6.

I think the general idea is to not have fire drills during lunch periods because then some children would not get to eat lunch that day.

But fire, as we know, does not respect schedules.

I wonder who in the NYC DOE has, or has not, thought about that?

#96 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2011, 11:23 AM:

Ursula L: The irony of the 9/11 evacuation is that it went so well because of the earlier attempt at bombing in the 90s. That evacuation went horribly, so they found the problems (bad lighting, inadequate drills) and fixed them.

Elliot Mason in re cereal in the oven: It could be a reflex from a bug-infested place to live. The oven would be somewhere the bugs couldn't easily get into.

I only thought of this because ants caused me to store cat food in the freezer for a while—it was the only place they wouldn't find out within half a day, rendering the whole bag useless.

#97 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2011, 03:09 PM:

I thought the "panic hardware" was not because you'd push on the door (which won't help - you have to push the bar on the door), but because in a panic, the stairwell gets crushed with people, and the ones crushed against the door *will* press the bar by force, and the door will open.

Yeah, I know, same thing. But I know I've missed the crash bar, even when it was not a panic.

Re: Miles, most "crashbar, but don't use" doors in areas we don't want people leaving have big signs on them saying "Emergency exit, alarm will sound" on them. Some of them, there's even an alarm attached. Still seems odd that he hit only doors that weren't alarmed or guarded or used enough for people to see him. On the other hand, even in a cryo-amnesiac state, his "how to hide from people" skills probably were still in gear; and even in a secure area, the people checking the door alarms (assuming they're silent) are probably not paying 100% attention 100% of the time, or rationalizing the alarms.

#98 ::: Gabriel ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2011, 06:12 PM:

I cried my eyes out, it is truly amazing to see the work Christian people are ready to do, Sacrifice their lives for others.

Should make atheist and evolutionist Think.

God Bless them All.

#99 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2011, 06:43 PM:

Gabriel, 98: Many Christians believe in evolution, including plenty of people in this community. And the post was about a public school, where teachers are able to follow any religion at all. Christians aren't the only heroes in the world, you know.

Also, welcome to Making Light. Do you write poetry?

#100 ::: jnh ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2011, 06:56 PM:

Gabriel, Christians don't have a monopoly on self-sacrifice — atheists and evolutionists* would and have rushed in as well. Caring for and saving children is an evolved biological imperative, after all. Caring for your fellow man isn't far behind. If you open your eyes and look around, you'll be able to find many examples — like the member of the despised religious minority who helps the beaten and robbed stranger in the biblical tale of the Good Samaritan.

*As well as Muslims, Sikhs, Hindi, Buddists, Wiccan, and Christian Evolutionists like our hosts, as well as almost anyone from any religious or non-religious tradition or belief.

#101 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2011, 07:04 PM:

I've just tried, again, to read the main post. I just can't. It's too upsetting.

I'm a wimp when it comes to children dying horribly. I know it happens, but I can't read the details.

#102 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2011, 07:07 PM:

Gabriel @ 98... Should make atheist and evolutionist Think

This here atheist does think.
He also hasn't been called a selfish person for quite some time now.

#103 ::: Naomi Parkhurst ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2011, 07:21 PM:

Xopher @101 - I can't read the whole thing, either. I read the beginning and the end, but I can't read the middle.

#104 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2011, 07:36 PM:

Gabriel, as a Christian, I find it offensive to claim that only Christians are willing to sacrifice their lives for others.

#105 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2011, 07:42 PM:

#98 is, at this point, a drive-by. It remains to be seen whether there is any interest in taking part in the conversation, or if this was merely a poor attempt at random heathen-shaming.

#106 ::: sara_k ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2011, 07:44 PM:

At our school, 700 students pre-K through 6th, all the doors to the outside have panic bars and most are locked for outside access but open from the inside. Does that make sense? Only the doors that lead to the temporary (outdoor, trailers) classrooms are unlocked for access from outside. The doors are chained and locked at night.

We have monthly fire drills. In December the fire drill was before lunch (lunch shifts from 10-12:30) but during Kindergarten lunch the alarms went off again. The lunch monitors and K teachers led the students out the cafeteria doors to the outside. The kitchen workers are only responsible for themselves. There was a short in the fire alarm system. We waited 20 minutes for the system to be checked and reset and returned to the cafeteria. They set back all the lunches by 20 minutes to make up for it. We really try to feed the students 2-3 times a day (2 meals and a afternoon snack).

#107 ::: Scott G ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2011, 07:45 PM:

To #98 Gabriel
Really? You turned a tragic story of a school burning and children dying due to poorly thought-out fire safety setups into a declaration that only Christians can sacrifice for others?

Check the population figures and you'll find only 32% (and falling) of the world is Christian. It turns out that a good number of non-Christians over the past thousands of years of human history have sacrificed their lives for the sake of others (and usually literally for the sake of OTHERS - not for their sake of their own souls).

Evolutionists and atheists DO think. It's one reason they're evolutionists and atheists.

In the meantime, I'm grateful for the fire code and fire drills we (and my children) practice in schools.

#108 ::: tw ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2011, 07:55 PM:

PZ Myers has linked up to this, so some of his preachy trolls may spill over here.

#109 ::: James P. ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2011, 08:04 PM:

# 55: I live in Cleveland and visit the Lakeview Cemetery at least a couple times a year. I will see if I can locate the grave and photograph it.

#110 ::: tw ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2011, 08:21 PM:

I was able to find a detailed write up on the Hochelaga Protestant School fire here:
But the Halifax Poor Asylum fire account got to me because I'm disabled and the idea of patients trapped in their beds to die is unnerving.

#111 ::: Alvin Brinson ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2011, 09:07 PM:

Can't forget about the New London school explosion. While not technically a school fire, as there was no chance of escape, it had a death toll of 295, making it the worst school disaster in US history.

#112 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2011, 10:11 PM:

Yes, New London. I ran into it while researching this. It's another chapter in the catastrophe book linked to above. The NFPA has an extensive article about it.

Essentially, at a high school in Texas, near an oil field, the school was being heated with "wet gas," that is, natural gas mixed with gasoline that was being piped from a nearby field to where it would be burned off. No mephitic smell was added to it so folks would notice a leak (that requirement came about because of London School). Because it wasn't intended for commercial use the gas pressure was variable. And the piping in the school had been laid by the custodians, not by qualified gas-fitters.

As a result, gas gathered in an unfinished under-floor area until, one afternoon, just before the final bell ... it blew. The death rate was somewhere around 90%.

#113 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2011, 10:12 PM:

Yo, everybody jumpin' on the new guy...jump off, hey? He made a little faux pas, not a declaration of hatred for all humankind.

It's kind of turning into a pileon. That's not the kind of community we want to be, is it?

#114 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2011, 10:54 PM:

This one time, the engineering building had a fire alarm during the 4:45-6:00 class. Most professors just dismissed everyone. Since I had stuff still in there, I stuck around, as did many others.

There isn't a lot of parking around the engineering building. It is common to park in the loading zone across the street for quick things or, more illegally, in the fire lane.

The fire truck came up. There was a car in the little indentation for the hydrant, not blocking the pipe but the parking space. The truck honked. The people in the car-- for they were present-- moved forward... to block the hydrant itself.

This is when I seriously considered tapping on the window and saying in my best Polite Dammit voice, "Hello, the engineering building may be on fire. You are blocking the hydrant. You are surrounded by engineers with multitools. Move, or your car will be removed around you."

The one thing that I learned from years of fire drills is that it's never a fire. Kind of like tornado warnings. Posts like this remind me that yes, it matters, and more importantly, give me something I can point people to if they object to me treating it like it matters.

Further fire safety: I work in special ed. We have designated time-out rooms with padded walls and doors. The door latches do not engage unless someone outside is pressing in the handle. They can still be panic-held shut-- it happened with the one kid* where we held the door for a while, and he was pushing on it from inside, then we tried to open it and it wouldn't. Except for that, the time-out room design pleases me. Well, except for that and two non-time-out rooms in one school that have the same latch, but open in.

*I worked with him for six weeks or so. It was a long six weeks.

I also mentioned this post to the boy. His response to the heroism was that he wouldn't-- put a kid under each arm, run, save two.

This is a major difference in how we function. If I'm in a school, I am a a Grown-Up. It is my job to be the Grown-Up. I act like a Grown-Up, I think like a Grown-Up, and if something happens to My Kids-- they are all My Kids but some are designated Mine-- it will happen to me instead or along with.

#115 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2011, 11:08 PM:

Xopher @ 113... A little faux pas?

#116 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2011, 11:18 PM:

Diatryma @114 -- at one Baycon there was a fire alarm which was actually a fire (small, electrical, easily contained). The fire marshal was astonished that the hotel was basically completely emptied in about 3 minutes, faster than they'd ever managed with another group -- quicker than they thought possible.

Fans aren't always bull-headed about this sort of thing.

#117 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2011, 12:05 AM:

When firefighters find cars parked in front of hydrants they tend to do things like run their hose lines through the car. (They have serious power tools and know how to use them.)

When you see "Fire lane, do not block" remember that someone died for that sign.

(BTW, since Our Lady of Angels, we've averaged one death per year in school fires in the USA.)

#118 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2011, 02:34 AM:

Many moons ago I was at a Regency dancing convention, in Fox Hills, so it was... 30 years ago. The hotel's fire alarm went off. All of the fen were out of the building, and collecting in the parking lot.

This happened during a break between sessions. I seem to recall that I was in the restaurant having lunch, and the entire table looked at each other, and got up.

The rest of the hotel, continued blithely on, but I don't think any of us let the, apparently false alarm (or very minor) nature of the event diminish our idea that getting out of building which might be on fire is a good idea.

#119 ::: Dissol ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2011, 05:03 AM:

Very powerful post. I work as an access consultant, and I am horrified on an almost daily basis at how poorly most buildings, and their managers cater for people with disabilities. Whether it is lifts, with big signs on saying "Do Not Use in Case of Fire", with no alternative escape for the mobility impaired. Or only an alarm bell for warning, no thought to people with hearing impairments. Too often the fire drills ignore the safe evacuation of people with disabilities, as "it is just too difficult", then I am told that they are sure it would work OK in a real they expect people to be heroes...and to go back inside to carry the disabled out. There are few real heroes in the world, and you cannot possibly put a plan together that relies on there being several in any building at any particular time... So many buildings are hazardous for disabled people...who number between 10 - 20% of any population.

#120 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2011, 05:39 AM:

Dissol #119 then I am told that they are sure it would work OK in a real fire

Tell 'em, "You fight the way you train."

And run through scenarios in your own mind about what you'd do in case of the real thing, with variations. Just the fact of thinking about it puts a script in your head which makes it more likely you'll act correctly on the day the big one happens.

Don't dwell on disasters, but think through, "Okay, the east exit is blocked. What then?" or whatever the case may be.

#121 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2011, 09:10 AM:

In re fire drills, fen, and conventions:

I'm sure some of it is that fandom has a high proportion of detail-oriented, documentation-reading geeks. However, if I look at my now-decades of conventiongoing (at one point, more than 8 a year), I realize that on average there's been a fire drill during at least one out of every three, including several two-drill cons, of course.

If I think back on my non-convention hotel usage, I can't think of a single fire drill happening while I was in the hotel.

Bored teenagers pulling the alarm? Probably. But it does mean we both get more practice, and have the chance to build up a widespread cultural norm, including using the positive side of the bystander effect to our advantage, given a certain minimum percentage of automatic-leavers.

A couple of years ago, at one of those multi-drill conventions, I was IN an elevator on Saturday about 10:30AM when the second alarm of the weekend went off, headed down. I got off at 1 and proceeded to the exits, joining a river of fen pouring out of the dealers' room and fire stairs. I recognized a fannish friend of mine who's a parent walking with her toddler, and struck up a conversation while we walked. She admitted to me, "I was on my way to (do a time-sensitive errand), and considered just doing that first and then leaving, but (Kidname) looked right up at me and said, "Mommy, fire alarm! Stairs, Mommy." So what could I do? It's not like I want to teach him to ignore fire alarms!"

During the earlier (very late Friday night) alarm, I noticed several groups of partying mundanes being visibly shamed into actually evacuating, when they were going to ignore it. Not because the fen went and told them to, but because they saw bunches of barely-dressed people leaving their hotel rooms at 3AM (and the partiers coming down the fire stairs, IN their hall costumes, CARRYING their completely-impractical shoes) and progressing out like a giant school of fish.

#122 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2011, 10:09 AM:

dd reports that they have had 1 fire drill this year that she remembers. doesn't mean there weren't more, but I suspect there was only 1. there will probably be another between now and the end of June; I think two per year is the requirement.

#123 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2011, 10:10 AM:

121: or maybe it's just because SF fans have a lot more vivid worst-case scenarios running through their heads? Where most people are thinking "oh, damn, someone smoking under a detector, what a nuisance", fans are thinking "OMG CYLONS! WITH FLAMETHROWERS!"

#124 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2011, 10:49 AM:

Fans have songs about fire drills.

It sometimes seems as if we have a very different culture.

#125 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2011, 11:04 AM:

Dave Bell @124: We not only have songs about fire drills, we have awesome songs about cons where the fire alarm kept going off over and over.

#126 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2011, 11:11 AM:

Addendum to my @125: Here's a really great mp3 file of my friend Tony performing the song to a circle of listeners who had never heard it before, but about half of whom at been AT that con just a few months previous.

#127 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2011, 11:19 AM:

ajay @ 123... An SF fan will go to Washington DC and think not in terms of "Mister Smith Goes to Washington", but of "The Day the Earth Stood Still".

#128 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2011, 11:28 AM:

Aside from fans being slans, fans have a large number of scenarios in their heads. If you've thought about a zombie apocalypse a building fire should be inside of your scope.

As we know, history is the secret weapon of the science fiction writer. History may also be the secret interest of the science fiction fan. Therefore fans may know about such things as the Iroquois Theater Fire, the Hinckley Firestorm, the Cocoanut Grove fire, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, the Hartford Circus fire, and other disasters great and small. What you've already thought about doesn't require you to switch gears to act upon.

Situational awareness and pre-thought mental scripts will get you out of a lot of sticky places. The number of people at any fire disaster who die trying to get to the exact place they entered the building, in many cases passing clearly-marked exit doors to do so, is non-trivial. Time is something you don't have on the day. It's often true that if you aren't out of the building in a minute and a half, you aren't getting out.

Distance equals safety. (As one of my captains once said, "It's difficult to have a collision at sea if they bear one-eight-zero relative and you're doing flank.")

#129 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2011, 12:02 PM:

I have had security evacuate a building due to a bomb scare, and they sent everyone into the park by the building -- and directly under the windows of the US Attorney's office where the "bomb" currently was sitting.

It was a Friday afternoon, and I took all my things with me. The only remaining OI agent and I looked at the crowd -- and mutually decided that sticking around might not be the wisest thing to do.

The good thing was the "bomb" wasn't loaded -- if it had been it would have exploded on the 4th floor of an 18-story building and the folks in the park would have been toast.

#130 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2011, 12:03 PM:

Pardon my ignorance, but could you explain that? I'm guessing "if they bear one eighty relative" means "if they turn around and head exactly the opposite course to their present course", but it might mean "if they head directly away from you" or I could be wrong about both guesses - and I've no guess at all what "and you're doing flank" means.

#131 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2011, 12:12 PM:

"bear one-eighty relative" = they bear 180 degrees from you, relative to where you are heading. In other words, you're heading directly away from them.

"Flank" = top speed.

#132 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2011, 12:19 PM:

I think, as well, that a lot of contemporary culture is essentially passive. There's a feeling that a lot of it is about waiting for somebody to tell you what to do. But fandom has this streak of active participation in it. We're all somewhere on the SF writer spectrum, and Dr. PNH has diagnosed some of us. And our heroes are people who go and do things. It's not that we don't appreciate Hamlet, but when we see the play, the thought that crosses our sensitive fannish minds is "What would Miles Vorkosigan have done?"

#133 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2011, 12:40 PM:

ajay @ 131: Thank you! Makes a change from me noticing a blank or puzzled look when I use a word which I've forgotton is not common vocabulary.

#134 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2011, 12:41 PM:

Relative bearing: Relative to your heading (the direction you're going). Bearing from you to them.

Dead on the bow (directly ahead of you) is zero. To your right-hand side, their relative bearing is zero-nine-zero. Dead astern, directly behind you, is one-eight-zero relative. Straight out to your left, broad on the port beam, is two-seven-zero relative.

Flank is an ahead bell. On your engine order telegraph (EOT), the ahead bells are: 1/3, 2/3, Standard, and Full. (Sometimes Dead slow, Slow, Half, and Full.) As in "Full speed ahead." What comes beyond Full is Flank. Flank is the true full speed of the vessel, the maximum the engines can put out (even though they might overheat, and fuel economy goes straight to heck).

So, bearing 180 and doing flank means they're directly behind you and you're going as fast as you can.

Let's not get into target angle right now. That's where things get confusing.

To stray back to topic for a moment: The Navy's manual on how to move patients, including workshop instructions on how to do a fireman's carry.

#135 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2011, 12:42 PM:

Lori Coulson @129 -- a lot would depend in that situation on how powerful the bomb was. Very likely it would have showered broken glass on the people below, but not that many would have been seriously injured. It's still stupid.

#136 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2011, 03:28 PM:

Re drills: The Army is really good for both drills, and templates of thinking style. There is an exercise I think anyone who gets a chance to do ought to: the military name for it is some variation of Leadership Reaction Course.

You, and a small group, get handed a problem to solve, e.g., get the wounded guy across the raging river. You have a line, and a stretcher. That's it.

There are no "book" solutions. The "right" answer is the one which solves the problem with no one getting hurt/dead.

Jim is right, distance = life, and knowing where the nearest bit of safety is (for whatever the problem happens to be) is what Situational Awareness is for your present situation.

Right now I am in a "media center". My crutch is in arm's reach, oriented so I can ship it without a lot of thought. My chair has casters. In the event of a big earthquake, I am under the desk, hard against the front panel, because the desk's surface is a cantilevered panel. That's the spot which will have the most space.

For a fire, the exits are equidistant.

In a plane... I tend to plan on swimming over the headrests to get to the door. I can haul people out, or leave, as needed. But I intend to have the choice.

I do say that the problems of multi-level exit are more plain to me than they were two months ago. It's enough to make one a disabled rights activist.

#137 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2011, 03:37 PM:

re bombs: When I was in college, the first time, I was doing journalism. It was the second day of the term and someone said, "Hey Terry, do you know why the fire dept. is on campus?"

I looked out the window and said, "That's not the fire dept., that's the bomb sqd."

They were saying something to the effect of, "No, really," as I was vaulting the railing from the stairs, notebook in hand to get details.

Al Reddick (a really good campus cop. He later made District Chief of Police, which was a slight loss for Pierce College, but a net gain for the LACCD, but I digress), and I were croggled at the crowd of students.

Everytime the bomb guys approached the device, the kids came out from under the shade. to get a better look. This was something which looked like a stick of TNT/Dynamite, with some wires, and maybe a battery/capacitor attached; under the gas tank of a pick-up truck.

Al and I had already negotiated where we meant to hit the dirt if it blew up. We went into the sun when the bomb squad was at their truck, and when the went toward the thing, we retreated to the shade.... putting about 20 cars between us and it.

It turned out to be some sort of really oddball capacitor. Probably dropped by someone, from a repairman's truck of some sort.

#138 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2011, 05:12 PM:

Tom Whitmore @35:

The OI agent and I figured anyone who'd send a bomb (it was a package)* to the US Attorney's office probably meant business, and we'd rather not be in the neighborhood if/when it went off.

*We did meet up with someone from DOJ who told us the size of the package, and they were also departing the scene, very quickly.

It was a good thing that it was sent to scare not to go BOOM! For historical reference this was not long after OKC.

#139 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2011, 05:37 PM:

It is possible to have cool fire escapes.

#140 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2011, 05:48 PM:

Jim @ #134

Speaking as a completely landlocked Moose (as far from the sea as it is possible to get on .uk, I think): the Royal Navy does not use "Full Ahead" in normal practice, instead, it's "Half Ahead, Normal Revolutions", followed by "Half Ahead, Maximum Revolutions".

"Full Ahead" has a special meaning: I want everything you can give me, Right Now, and I am prepared to risk damage to the ship".

#141 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2011, 06:15 PM:

Speaking of explosive devices, the minimum stand-off distance I'd want for myself would be on the order of a half-mile.

#142 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2011, 07:00 PM:

James D. Macdonald @39: get to the roof to vent the fire, too. Unvented fires are prone to bizarre behavior: Flashovers and backdrafts.

I'd wondered about this. Why, just yesterday, I got to observe roof venting from right across the street. When you put it like this, I guess it makes sense. Previously I would have thought venting would just give it a nice chimney to suck more oxygen with, but I can kinda see how that would work.

#143 ::: mom2cne ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2011, 08:29 PM:

I went to a combined K-12 school. The K-8 portion was all single level. The high school portion was 3 stories, with two wide stairwells, one at either end of the hall and no additional fire escapes. Our building was all brick and tile (and asbestos, can't forget that removal process while I was in high school), no wood to be found. The entire ground floor, not counting windows, had 9 doors open to the outside plus the big roll up bay door from the shop class. I remember only a few fire drills a year.

My kids' school isn't really any better. Only 2 stories, 3 stairwells, but also only 4 exits, all of which, except one, require the ability to navigate stairs to be able to access. I only know of one drill that has been run this year and that was when everyone was in class, with their teacher, no practices with the lunch staff or specials (art, music, PE and library) teachers.

I work at a private preschool and our building at least has sprinklers but that is about the best thing I can say about it. I've worked there 2 years and we've never had an actual fire drill. They test the system a few times a year but we are always told that it is just a test and we don't need to evacuate. We only have 2 legitimate exits, both upstairs. We have the main exit of the building, which would require 2 teachers to get 20 scared and distracted 3-4 years up a full flight of stairs, through the lobby and out the door. The few times we've had to use those stairs, it takes them FOREVER to actually climb them and doesn't seem like a real option to me. Our other option is at the end of a long hallway and up about 5 stairs, which puts us less than 10 feet from a busy street. Now that I'm thinking about this, I really need to find out our evacuation procedure and see about maybe practicing it.

#144 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2011, 08:47 PM:


One preschoolers-in-urban-setting option that I recall seeing when I used to live in a medium large city (Portland, OR) basically appeared to be a rope with knots or hand-sized loops tied every couple of feet. Each kid grabs a knot and is taught to HOLD ON AND WALK IN LINE with an adult at each end.

I remember seeing a group of probably a dozen to fifteen kids in the late-toddler-to-pre-K age group calmly navigating a busy city sidewalk that way and it seems like it might be a useful way to herd a group of tiny kids through a fire drill.

#145 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2011, 09:30 PM:

When I was a six year old kid I wasn't good at standing in line. Would that have made me less good at surviving a fire?

#146 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2011, 12:05 AM:

The number of people at any fire disaster who die trying to get to the exact place they entered the building, in many cases passing clearly-marked exit doors to do so, is non-trivial.

Wait -- what? Why??!!

No, no, I realize you can't ask them. I do.


#147 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2011, 12:16 AM:

Lizzy L, I'd be one of them. When something reminds me, I try to train myself not to be, but I am very much a route-follower. I have never used the stairs to get from the second floor of the hospital to the first, nor going up, because a part of me believes that if I try, I will get lost. The stair door is around the corner from the elevator I use instead. I rationalize it, but I am a creature of incredible habit. Chances are, I'd never notice the alternative exits.

#148 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2011, 01:46 AM:

I grew up in California, so it never occurred to me to wonder about school design. See, the basic earthquake-safe school plan in California is to have each wing of a single row of classrooms standing apart from its fellows. Wall of windows on the north side, strip of windows on the south side (because it's a hot area, so we want to keep the sun out, not in.)

Any door or window takes you directly to the outside. Sure, there's a roof over the hallway, but three kid-sized steps gets you to the grass. So fire drills were more about getting kids to the gathering area to be counted than getting them out alive, because with a design like that, sheer panic is just about enough to get you safe. (Barring running into the street, of course.)

#149 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2011, 11:58 AM:

I've finally gotten around to remembering the junior high school I attended in 8th and 9th grades. I don't recall any fire drills, and we sure could have used some. The building dated from the 1920s, had a new wing, and any number of idiosyncratic accretions to the old part. I should be incrediby thankful that nothing ever happened when I was in 8th grade, for my homeroom was in the basement right next to the coal furnace, exit up some outside stairs, and in order to get to my English class, you had to walk *through* the large chorus room on the second floor, with its one-person-wide entrance, and up some wooden stairs, to get to a third-floor room with no other exit except onto the roof.

There must have been a few fire escapes tastefully scattered about, but I can't picture them in my mind. Nor can I remember quite as many outdoor exits as would have been appropriate for a school with a capacity of roughly 900.

The building is all gone now, and I'm sure good riddance.

#150 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2011, 12:18 PM:

I don't remember much issues with firedrill in school (standard 3-story long-wing, stairwells on end of each wing), except when they would hold them in the middle of winter. If your coat is in your locker (or you're playing volleyball in shirt and shorts), -35 can kill you just as well as the fire. They did get the especially dangerous ones into buses ASAP after counting, but in a real fire, it could have got really ugly.

I do remember the doors into the stairwells being pull-entry, though, which wasn't the best idea. Also we never (that I knew) hit a "FIRE HERE" page, or a "do it during lunch" (not as much a problem for us, being 3km from the nearest store, but how do you determine who's "gone to the sub shop" and who's "still in the building"?)

But the firebell rings, I leave. Still. automatically. Might be because I can't do anything with the usual bells going off anyway, though :-)

#151 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2011, 12:21 PM:

Dave Bell @132: It's not that we don't appreciate Hamlet, but when we see the play, the thought that crosses our sensitive fannish minds is "What would Miles Vorkosigan have done?"

Oh, dear Ghu—will somebody please write this!? Oh yeah, and produce a bumpersticker:

What would Miles do?

In re building design and evacuation: I'm in a building with one (relatively wide) central staircase, open all the way up, and one narrow staircase (enclosed by fire doors). Both are in the core of the building.

At least there is a fire alarm system, and sprinklers in the ceiling. I've been here three years: no fire drills yet.

#152 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2011, 12:55 PM:

Thena @144: That seems like a very sensible technique and it's a charming image too. The children could let go of the rope at any time, but they don't. With our monkey heritage, it's reassuring to hold on to something or someone.

#153 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2011, 02:33 PM:

Meanwhile, back at the ranch.

Fun times on Planet Earth, eh?

#154 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2011, 02:50 PM:

James D. Macdonald @134: Just realised I didn't thank you yesterday evening for the fuller explanation, so - thanks.

Thena @144: That knotted rope sounds like a great idea.

#155 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2011, 08:09 PM:

Thena @144: My son's preschool also uses a rope, but without the knots or loops. Knots might help, but I'd worry about risk of entanglement with loops. You want the kids to be able to let go of the rope if it gets caught on something.

They keep the rope next to the "go bag" (I don't think they call it that), a day pack containing a first aid kit, flashlight, etc. near the main exit. If the main exit is blocked, they'd go through a connecting door to one of the adjacent classrooms, which have their own go bags and ropes.

#156 ::: cajunfj40 sees SPAM ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2011, 08:35 PM:

#156 is a copy/paste + the letters "ya" from post #155, and has a wholesaler link in name.

#157 ::: thomas see SPAM ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2011, 08:35 PM:

The comment could be real, but the link is to a sales page that misuses a bunch of security logos.

#158 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2011, 09:51 AM:

My kid's preschool uses loopy tethers (they have integral 'circle' or 'square' padded loops, each about 7" across) constantly. Going from the homeroom to the Gross Motor Room (in winter) or outdoor playground (in summer). Walking around the halls/lobby of their building in general. The older kids, once the HOLD ON AND WATCH TEACHER reflex is strongly ingrained, get to walk three blocks (across several not-terribly-busy streets) to an offsite city playground. I imagine it would work really well in a fire drill, because they use it allllll the time ordinarily, so it's normal.

#159 ::: Laura Runkle ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2011, 10:55 AM:

I work in a church built in 1913. Three floors. Brick exterior, wood-framed, wooden floors under carpeting. Crash bars were finally put onto the sanctuary doors that open directly to the outside. In 2009. Thank goodness for fire marshals who are serious about their jobs.

During the week, the church education wing, built in 1965, hosts anywhere from 100 to 200 children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years in three separate Parent's Day Out and preschool programs. In the event of a fire alarm, we in the office do *not* go out the nearest door. Instead, we go down the 100-yard long hallway to the nursery and infants rooms, and add arms for carrying out those who can't walk. Next month, they'll have to do it without us, as our building custodian is very serious about drills at least once a month on different days of the week and at different times of day. In spite of all that, the longest evacuation time for the building is still right at three minutes.
Thank you for the reminder of why we do what we do.

#160 ::: Ambar ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2011, 12:46 AM:


Don't know your source for Ms. Weiler's father being a German minister, but assuming it's correct, I believe I have found her and her family in the 1900 census. They lived in Toledo, Ohio. She is a schoolteacher, and her next-youngest sibling, Henry, is a music teacher. Her father, Gustav Weiler, is listed as a preacher, and was born in Germany; her mother Mary in Ohio. The census gives Ms. Weiler's birthdate as July 1879.

Haven't been able to dig them up in 1880 but I don't have a lot of time to devote to the project, either.

#161 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2011, 03:15 PM:

My source for Miss Weiler's father being a German Methodist minister was Complete Story of the Collinwood School Disaster And How Such Horrors Can Be Prevented
By Marshall Everett, Cleveland, 1908. Her father's name is given there as Gustav N. Weiler, and he was, at that time, per Everett, the minister of a church in Pittsburgh, PA. Miss Weiler herself was described as having been educated in Toledo and Detroit. I have seen a reference to a Rev. G. Weiler being the minister of the Zion Methodist Church, but whether it is him, I cannot say.

The spelling of Miss Weiler's first name is in doubt: Equal numbers of sources spell it Catherine as spell it Katherine (including the local newspaper the following day, and Mr. Everett's book, both of which use both spellings seemingly at random). I preferred the German spelling here for reasons that seemed good to me.

#162 ::: Pyekett ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2011, 10:39 PM:

Jim, thanks for this. It is unforgettable.

Thanks also for the link to 100 ways to make the home safer. I am going through it now.

#163 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2011, 08:02 AM:

On pre-thought scripts:

I ran an endless string of "what if's" through my mind that night as I leaned against the earthen wall of the old French fort. Time so spent is never wasted: if even one "what if" comes to pass a commander will be a few precious seconds ahead of the game.
-- We Were Soldiers Once ...And Young, Moore & Galloway, 1992

A friggin' outstanding book. Recommended to all.

#165 ::: Elva Brodnick ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2012, 11:31 AM:

Surprised you didn't mention Edward Kern's book The Collinwood School Fire of 1908, published in 1993. Ed talked to some of the last survivors while writing his book - he was able to get interviews no one else could!

Also, you should know that the Collinwood Nottingham Historical Society (which grew out of the Collinwood School Fire Centennial Commemoration Committee, who conducted memorials on the Fire's 100th Anniversary in 2008) has done extensive work on this -- we have what we believe is the most accurate list of victims, as well as constantly expanding research on the Fire. (You can reach us at: or 216 – 486-1298


#166 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2012, 12:42 PM:

I hadn't read Kern's book, though I may well go find it.

Do you happen to know where Miss Weiler is buried?

#167 ::: Elva Brodnick ::: (view all by) ::: February 29, 2012, 07:07 PM:

Jim -

We believe Miss Weiler is buried at Lake View Cemetery here in Cleveland (according to a family member we'd talked to, who said they'd always believed this to be the case) but there's no marker.

Find-a-Grave thinks so:, likeliset near the Fire Monument, but there's only a marker there for Grace Fiske, the other teacher who died.

Definitely look up Ed's book - his family lost 4 members to the Fire, so it's a personal story as well.

#168 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 29, 2012, 10:30 PM:

I know that Find-a-Grave lists Miss Weiler as being buried in Lake View, but I suspect that they just dumped the entire list of fire victims into the site. I find it difficult to believe that she would wind up in an unmarked grave. Rather, I suspect that she is buried in the Pittsburgh, PA, area, where she had family.

I'm definitely going to get a copy of Ed's book.

#169 ::: Elva Brodnick ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2018, 05:04 PM:

It IS "FRITZ" Hirter. Not "Fred". Says so on his headstone.

#170 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2018, 01:12 PM:

Elva (169): Thanks for confirming that.

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Incoherent copypasta, or perhaps computer-generated text.

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