Fire Buffs promote the general welfare of the fire and rescue service and protect its heritage and history. Famous Fire Buffs through the years include New York Fire Surgeon Harry Archer, Boston Pops Conductor Arthur Fiedler, New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and - legend has it - President George Washington.

Friday, March 11, 2016


Photo: Denver Public Library

Albany Hotel - Sept. 2, 1962

In the years following World War Two, the U.S. hotel industry suffered a spate of deadly fires, with three of the worst striking in 1946 -- Canfield Hotel in Dubuque, Iowa, 19 dead; LaSalle Hotel in Chicago, 61 dead; Winecoff Hotel in Atlanta, 119 dead.

Hotels of that era - including those in Colorado and Wyoming - were plagued by a lack of maintenance and investment owing to the Great Depression and shortages of building supplies and other material during the war.

Many hotels were serviced by open stairwells, allowing for the swift spread of smoke and flame. Buildings lacked sprinklers and adequate fire exits. Open transoms over guest room doors were common as were varnished hallways and lobbies.


Stella Bruce died in her sleep as flames raged at the Albany Hotel in downtown Denver.

On Sept. 2, 1962, a basement fire burned for more than four hours, killing 
Bruce, 35, a coffee shop waitress, and injuring 50 others, including firefighters.

Her body was found on a dressing room cot where she had been napping.

Deputy Fire Chief Cassio Frazini told the Rocky Mountain News:

"She had apparently just finished a hard day's work.

"Mrs. Bruce had unfastened the top button of her blouse and lay down on the cot with her glasses in her hand.

"There were no signs of the inborn fear of fire."

ADT Box 157 was received at fire alarm headquarters at 2:22 p.m. and

additional alarms followed at 2:34 p.m., 3:30 p.m. and 4 p.m.

Off-duty firefighter were called to work.

Twenty-six Denver fire companies, including the civil defense fire reserve, were at the scene at 17th and Stout streets.

Skyline, Arvada, Aurora, Englewood, Littleton, Bancroft, Pleasant Valley, College View and Evergreen provided mutual aid.

Assistant Fire Chief Vernon Parrahm told the Rocky Mountain News:

"It seemed like we had it under control as we fought our way to the basement when suddenly the fire broke free an shot to the back of the building and up to the first floor.

"That's when we pulled the second alarm."

Another firefighter said:

"We just couldn't get to the damn thing."

The seven-story hotel had 300 rooms.

Part of the interior collapsed including the ballroom.

Firefighter Frank LaSasso rescued Capt. Jack Lynch who was overcome by smoke after his breathing apparatus failed.

Once revived Lynch went back to fighting the blaze.

Firefighters also rescued three people trapped in an elevator.

Police surgeon Harold Goldman and members of the rescue squad treated the injured.

Some people were brought down by ladders.

Hydrant water pressure was adequate and supplied 35 lines, Robert Millar, managed of the Denver Water Board, said.

The hotel was built in sections, with the oldest constructed in 1912.


A fire at the Johnson Hotel in Laramie, Wyoming, claimed six lives on 
March 15, 1955.

"The stairs were a sheet of flame," survivor Alfred Warner said. "I climbed out the window and hung onto the hotel sign."

The blaze started behind the lobby on the main floor of the building, which was built in the early 1900s.

Guest rooms occupied the top floor of the two-story brick structure.

Fire Chief Blake Fanning told the Boomerang newspaper:

"When we arrived smokes was pouring out all the front windows of the building and men were leaning from the windows, hanging from the two signs at the front and shouting from the roof of the adjoining building.

"The heat was so terrific we couldn't get in the upstairs and we couldn't reach the inside rooms where we could hear men yelling."

Among the dead was retired rodeo rider Ed "Boots" Smith, who toured Europe in the early 1900s as a member of the Buffalo Bill Cody and Gandy Brothers Wild West shows.


On Aug. 26, 1950, fire killed four people and injured 13 others at the Denver Hotel on 17th at M
arket Street, The Denver Post reported.

Two firefighters were among the injured.

"Flames roared along the L-shaped hallway, curling into transoms and through panel doorways," the Post said.

Matt Mesteth, 24, of South Dakota, who escaped the fire, also survived the fire at the Winecoff Hotel in Atlanta in 1946 that killed 119 people, The Rocky Mountain News reported.

"Once is bad enough but twice is too much," Mesteth said.

Careless smoking was suspected as a smoldering mattress was rolled into a hallway, Fire Chief Allie Feldman said.

Stanley Snyder, 27, a bartender at a nearby tavern, caught two children, Linda Leyba, 10 months, and er brother Jerry, 4, dropped from aindow by their parents, Paul and Beatrice Leyba, the Post said.

The Associated Press reported:

"Two men found dead in the hotel have been identified by Denver detectives as SHORT GANZALES, about 35, of Broomfield, Colo., and HARRY SMITH, 60. SMITH'S home is not known, but he recently worked on a cattle ranch near Jefferson, Colo.

"VERA GREGORY of Denver died this afternoon in Denver General hospital of second and third degree burns suffered in the fire.

"The medical examiner said she had burns all over her body.

"... NORMAN COMBS of Denver, is reported "critical" by the hospital."

Combs died Aug. 29, the Post said.


On April 10, 1974, fire killed three people at the three-story Lewiston Hotel, a refuge for transients in downtown Denver, and sent others scrambling out widows.

About a dozen other were injured; several firemen were also hurt.

Residents tried to escape on makeshift ropes of sheets and drapes; one snapped as a resident was descending, Assistant Fire Chief Jack Lynch told the Denver Post.

Jack Stewart, 48, latched onto the "Lewiston" sign outside a third-floor window until he was rescued. "It was getting a little warm on the backside," Stewart told The Rocky Mountain News.

Wendell Deringer, 34, broke his ribs jumping from a second-story window. "We opened the door and smoke from the hallway filled the room and that left just the window," Deringer told the News.

The hotel was located at 731 18th Street.
Fire doors were propped open and fire raced up the stairwell, Fire Chief Myrle Wise said.

The fire code exempted older hotels from modern standards, i.e., transoms, panel doors, wire mesh over windows.

Assistant Fire Chief Kenneth Neville told the News:

"It couldn't be considered a firetrap in the traditional sense of the word but there were a number of features in the hotel that made it less than safe."


On Feb. 8, 1969, fire destroyed the Miller Hotel in Denver.

The Denver Fire Department contended with three simultaneous three-alarm fires that day.

The others were at Carney Lumber Co. and  Empire Roofing Co.

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