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, April 12, 2024

FIRST FIRE

"Denver’s first recorded fire took place March 18, 1860, when a livery stable in Auraria burnt to the ground with a loss of $18,000" - Rocky Mountain News, Feb. 18, 1951

Thursday, April 11, 2024

GLOBEVILLE - 1920



Photos: Rocky Mountain News


On Sept. 6, 1920, two Denver & Interurban Railroad interurban trains collided in the Globeville area of Denver. Scores of people were hurt. About a dozen died.

"
Fifty patrolmen and two details of firemen were rushed to the scene," the Rocky Mountain News reported. "Ambulances were sent from hospitals and police headquarters."

Uninjured passengers aided in the rescue.

Passenger P.F. Zarina., whose brother died in the wreck,  described the collision to the Rocky Mountain News:

“I was riding with the motorman on the inbound Interurban ... the car was so crowded there was hardly room to breathe."

"As we rounded the long turn coming into Globeville, the conductor turned to me, white as a sheet, and stammered, ‘My God! What is that? Then the motorman shouted ‘Jump!"

 “The conductor and another of the men hit telegraph poles, and were crushed by the impact. I was lucky and hit dirt."

"As soon as I could walk I started to look for my brother. Pretty soon I found some firemen and policemen pulling him out of the wreck."

The News said pickpockets mixed in with rescuers, adding insult to injury.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

DENVER - 1878

Scene of Denver in 1870s


In the 1870s, Denver was a growing "two-horse town" having been a fledgling "one-horse town" in the 1860s.

Fire and flash floods posed an existential threat, even after precautions, such brick construction and improved firefighting, were implemented after the Great Fire of 1863 and the calamity of the Great Flood that followed that.

Following is an excerpt of a first-hand account of an 1878 blaze at 15th and Wynkoop streets accompanied by a flash flood of Cherry Creek. It was published in the Denver Tribune of May 22, 1878. Sadly, we have yet to come upon photographs.

"Never did flood swell so," the Tribune reporter wrote that day. Well, perhaps that was true of 1878, however, greater calamities followed as Denver reached metropolis status by the 20th century. 



 


Excerpt from Denver Daily Tribune, May 22, 1878
 

ORIENTAL REFINERY - 1955


Volunteer Firefighter Harold Hubbard of the South Adams County Fire Department suffered fatal injuries at the Oriental Refinery in Commerce City, Colorado, on April 5, 1955. Five other firefighters were hurt when a  gas-cracking furnace exploded. Bystanders and refinery workers were hurt, too. "All of the sudden, the whole damn building blew up," Assistant Fire Chief Kenneth Gahagen told The Rocky Mountain News. "It went with a whoof."  The blast also damaged the fire engine and the hose.

Monday, April 8, 2024

TURNER HALL - 1920





On July 9, 1920, a conflagration swept East Denver and water was scarce.

Flames gutted East Turner Hall, a social venue at 20th and Arapahoe streets, and spread to businesses - including an auto company and hotel - as well as houses. Sections of the hall collapsed, showering bricks and cinders.

A general alarm summoned 22 engine and truck companies, almost all of Denver's firefighting force. Police patrolman Forrest Ross carried a semi-conscious woman from the Madison Hotel, The Rocky Mountain News reported.  

Low hydrant pressure disrupted operations .

Quoted by the News, W. F. R. Mills, manager of the city water department, said: “An attempt to direct twelve hose streams from two six-inch mains would naturally tend to reduce the pressure, to say nothing of the fact that everywhere demand was being made on the mains by garden hoses used in fighting the score or more of fires that sprang up." 

Describing the initial stages of the fire, Denver Fire Chief John Healy said: "Engine Company No, 4, whose engine house is only a block from Turner Hall, responded to the alarm as soon as it was sent into the central station. It hardly took a moment for it to get to the scene, and when the combination wagon arrived they were unable to park in the alley on account of the flames flaring thru the windows."

East Turner Hall was located at 2150 Arapahoe Street. Earlier that day, firefighters contended with a major blaze at St. John's First Evangelical Lutheran Church, 1846 Arapahoe Street. Remnants of both structures are long gone. 


FIRE RESPONSE


SAVED WOMAN


Sunday, April 7, 2024

CHIEF HEALY


Chief John Healy led the Denver Fire Department for 33 years - a classical smoke eater who ushered in the age of motorized fire apparatus and oversaw a dramatic expansion of the city's emergency service.

The Associated Press described the chief as "one of the best known firefighters in the country."

Healy, who immigrated from Ireland, joined the fire department in 1894 and rose to the rank of fire chief in 1912.

He was a "fireman's fireman" - directing firefighting at many of Denver's largest blazes during the early 20th Century, including the Turner Hall conflagration in East Denver on July 9, 1920.

As an assistant fire chief, Healy was critically hurt in an acid spill at the Denver Post in 1904, but returned to duty after a six-month period of recuperation in California. 

"His physician has advised a lower altitude, and his friends have prevailed upon him to take a short vacation," the Rocky Mountain News reported on Oct. 14, 1904. 

Healy also served as president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs.

It's probably safe to say he loved his job.

Saturday, April 6, 2024

9/11 RESPONSE

Photo: FEMA
Colorado Task Force 1 assisted in the search and recovery at the World Trade Center in New York the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Friday, April 5, 2024

THEATER DISTRICT - 1929

Photo: Denver Public Library
Denver Theater District on Curtis Street, circa 1927-1930. To the front right is the Nanking Chop Suey Restaurant, which probably did a thriving business. 

Photo: Rocky Mountain News
Firefighters, police and spectators at Quincy Building fireground at 17th and Curtis.


On Feb. 2, 1929, seven Denver firefighters were injured or overcome by chemical fumes in a two-alarm blaze at the Quincy Building at 17th and Curtis streets - in what was then known as the Theater District.


That's where the citizenry thronged to see the movies.

The fire, naturally enough, broke out in or near a stash of films, negatives and chemicals stored in the basement of the Quincy Building by Universal Studio, the Rocky Mountain News reported.

Firefighters advancing hoses into the basement were beaten back and the crew of Truck Company 10 was partially overcome, the News said. They finally cut holes in the floor and flooded the basement.

The fire drew 2,000 or more spectators and "police struggled in vain to beat the crowds back as firemen shouted warnings that an explosion might happen," the News said.

Fire Chief John Healy directed 13 downtown fire companies, assisted by District chiefs William S. Bryan, Clarence A. Hawkins, Raymond Giffords and J. Moses   

The first alarm was transmitted at 12:16 p.m, the second alarm as ordered at 12:22 p.m., and the fire was out at 3 p.m., the News said.

DENVER FIRE CLAY - 1930


Firefighters inspecting the railroad tank car, rescuer Richard Davies (inset) and Denver Mayor Stapleton at the scene of the industrial accident.

 


On Aug. 27, 1930, deadly chlorine gas escaped from a railroad tank car and drifted into the Denver Fire Clay Co. plant - causing a major industrial accident.

Twenty-three people, including 13 Denver firemen, were overcome by the yellow-colored gas, the Associated Press reported. The tank car carried 16 tons of the chemical.

J.W. Gibbs, a plant worker, donned a gas mask and closed a leaking valve, AP said.

The firemen weren't equipped with masks, AP said. The entire crew of Engine Co. 10 was felled by the fumes, the Rocky Mountain News reported.

Richard Davies, 24, a Yale University student working at the plant, hustled into the gas to administer first aid with a flask of ammonia - a chemical that can counter the effects of chlorine, the News said.

Davies said he learned that in chemistry class.

"There wasn't time to wait for doctors and ambulances, so I just dived right in," Davies, who eventually fell ill, said from his bed at Denver General Hospital. The ammonia was stored in a plant emergency kit.

The Denver Fire Clay Co. was located at 32nd and Blake streets - in the "factory district," as the News called it.  

CASPER BANK FIRE - 1955

Photo: Casper Fire and Rescue
On 
Jan.  21, 1955, firefighters battled a blaze at the Casper National Bank in Wyoming in the bitter cold. Firefighter Ed Schwerdtfeger is on the nozzle of a 2-1/2 inch diameter hose line. Below him it looks like there's a booster line snaking into the bank.  

Thursday, April 4, 2024

COLD CASE - 1997

Colorado Bureau of Investigation Files

On Jan. 27, 1997, Anthony Bunn, Susan Garrett, Vivian Garrett, Erik Waite, and Tad Wescott died in an arson fire at the Hacienda Plaza Inn, 11 E. 84th Ave., Thornton. Anyone with information is asked to call the Thornton Police Department.

READ MORE

ROCKY MOUNTAIN ARSENAL

 

The Rocky Mountain Arsenal was the scene of many-a-fire over the years and topping the list is a spectacular blaze that seared storage tanks holding deadly chlorine gas on July, 27, 1947. 

"We'd have been powerless if those tanks exploded," Denver Fire Chief Allie Feldman told the Associated Press. No injuries were reported.

The Rocky Mountain News reported a locomotive engineer, James Priller, braved the heat and moved eight tank cars laden with chlorine from a siding near the fire. The newspaper called Priller a hero.

The fire started in coal bunkers at a powerhouse near the chlorine tanks. News reporters covering the blaze were told they did so at their own risk.

The sprawling industrial complex was located in Commerce City and manufactured incendiary bombs for World War Two. After the war, a section was leased to the Colorado Fuel and Iron Co. Today, the site is a nature preserve.

Army personnel responded with eight pieces of fire apparatus kept at the arsenal, the News said. Denver sent an initial assignment of two engines and a ladder truck.. Additional Denver rigs followed. South Adams responded, too.

Feldman, Deputy Chief Patrick Boyne and Assistant Chief John Horan led the Denver firefighting force.


Other Rocky Mountain Arsenal blazes:

On Oct. 11, 1951, a gasoline bomb fuse triggered an explosion that injured nine women. Two succumbed to their injures at Fitzsimmons Army Hospital in Aurora.

On Feb. 28, 1952, fire destroyed a three-story building on the arsenal grounds operated by the Julius Hyman Chemical Company.

On July 20, 1952, a worker died in an explosion on the fourth floor of another building on the arsenal used by the Hyman company.

On Oct. 24, 1953, flames erupted at a building housing the U.S. Army Chemical Corps. The Rocky Mountain News described the blaze as spectacular "with phosphorous bombs shooting hundreds of feet into the air."   

On July 4, 1953, appropriately enough, there were more fireworks at yet another Hyman company operation on the arsenal grounds. "Flaming chemicals spurted out of pipes," The Rocky Mountain News said.

On March 17, 1954, fire destroyed a warehouse.

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

'IT COULD HAPPEN HERE'


On Dec. 5, 1958, a Colorado newspaper took local taxpayers to task for voting down a school construction plan and made its case citing that week's deadly school fire in Chicago.

"It Could Happen Here," the Louisville Times warned its readers after Chicago's Dec. 1, 1958 tragedy. (Louisville is located between Denver and Boulder.)

Ninety-two students and three nuns perished at Our Lady of Angels school in spite of the valiant efforts of the Chicago Fire Department, the fire patrol, police, teachers, neighbors and parents. The school was old and lacked fire escapes.


"The tragic school fire in Chicago should make taxpayers who voted down a new grade school building for Louisville stop and think," the Times said. "Most certainly it will add more worry to the mothers who every time the fire alarm goes off run out to look for smoke at the grade school and listen to see which way the fire truck takes."

About two weeks later, Louisville area firefighters held school fire drills, and the Times reported: "In the St. Louis school 163 pupils cleared the building in 75 seconds. ... At the new Fairview consolidated school where rooms all have outside doors, 485 pupils were out of the building in 65 seconds and at the old Fairview building it took 77 pupils 65 seconds to clear the building."

ST. JOE'S - 1916

On Jan. 26, 1916, a basement fire billowed smoke through Denver's St. Joseph's Hospital, causing a commotion. Patients dressed and fled by fire escape in snow. Nurses rushed mothers and babies to safety. Fumes sickened nuns and firefighters, including Chief John Healy. Firefighter George Drake crashed through a skylight - and an expectant mother, Mrs. Leo Stack, gave birth thereafter. Newspapers identified the injured nuns as Sister Mary Edwards and Sister Mary Ligouri. [Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection]

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS - 1939

Photo: Museum of Northwest Colorado

On Jan. 24, 1939, fire devoured the 100-room Cabin Hotel in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, killing two people trapped in the flames.

All that was left of the three-story frame resort was "a skeleton of charred wood and ice," the Associated Press said.

Mayor Claude Luckens and others tried to gain access but were driven out by smoke, the Steamboat Pilot newspaper reported.

The battle was lost before firefighters could get water on the blaze, which started near a chimney leading to a furnace room in the 30-year-old hotel's south wing. The volunteer fire department, under the command of Chief Lavern Nelson, was very small, with just 10 or so members. 

Remains of Merle Sweet, 71, a Strawberry Park rancher, were found on the springs of his burnt bed, the Pilot newspaper.

The body of Mildred Keltner, 24, of Meade, Kansas, was located outside her room. She worked in Steamboat Springs.

The Pilot reported hotel manager 
C . P . Homer "rapped on doors and called to tenants to leave the building . Then he rang the buzzers in each occupied room . It was supposed that all had left the structure."

The hotel was owned by Routt County, having been seized for back taxes.

FIREMEN CHASE FIRE - 1929

Typical Denver Milk Wagon 


Pittsburgh Press - Dec. 22, 1929 

Holiday Pursuit in Downtown Denver

By The United Press


DENVER - "Julius Caesar," a milk wagon horse with a sense of humor, and the Denver Fire Department gave Christmas shoppers a treat when they played "tag" in the main business section Saturday.

Julius, as a rule, goes about his business like any ordinary horse, but when an oil stove in the wagon exploded while the driver was delivering a bottle of milk, he broke away.

As Julius kicked up the snow in a burst of speed down a busy avenue, scattering bottles of milk, six fire trucks took up the pursuit.

The firemen "tagged" Julius after a chase of five blocks and extinguished the blaze.
 
COLFAX & BROADWAY

The Denver Fire Journal uncovered more about this most unusual fire in the Dec. 21, 1929 edition of the Rocky Mountain News.

The incident began at 20th and Broadway.

When firefighters arrived "they saw the fire careening down Broadway" and "flames and milk bottles were leaping from the doors and windows on  the wagon," the News said.

The horse and flaming wagon were corralled at Broadway and Colfax Avenue, a busy intersection near the state capitol.

"The horse suffered only from fright," the News said.

[The UP story appeared on page 2 of the Pittsburgh Press of Dec. 22, 1929]

Monday, April 1, 2024

THIS IS A FIREBUG


Introducing Warren Cramer, the notorious Denver arsonist.

It's a hazy photo - but his story is pretty straight. On Aug. 26, 1935, Cramer, 17, confessed to setting 20 fires across Denver in five days - terrorizing the citizenry.

"It was fun," Cramer told police.  He even torched City Hall.

Click here to READ MORE

Sunday, March 31, 2024

CARLINO BOMBING - 1931

 


Denver was a Mafia town once upon a time.

On March 17, 1931, a bomb leveled the 
home of Colorado mobster Pete Carlino on Federal Boulevard in Denver. Firemen combed the ruins for bodies but found none. Carlino, his wife and seven children had left town.

Carlino had a mark on his back. He was attempting to extend his booze network from Pueblo to Denver and survived an earlier ambush by gunmen on a Denver street.

Carlino's mobster brother, Sam, wasn't as lucky. He and another thug were shot dead in Denver on May 8, 1931.

Pete's luck faltered, too. He was mortally wounded on Sept. 10 or 11 while traveling to Canon City. His body was found on a rural road riddled with bullets.

In the aftermath, bombs rocked Denver on the night of Sept. 28, 1931.

In a strange twist, if thing weren't strange enough, the original bombing of Carlino's home was determined to be a a facade - a deliberate attempt by his gang to collect insurance money.

Three of them were convicted of the crime. Pete Carlino faced charges in the matter, too, and was out on bail when he succumbed.

WHITTIER APARTMENTS - 2021

Photo: Boulder Fire-Rescue

Flames devoured the Whittier Apartments complex on Pearl Street in Boulder, Colorado, on Oct. 19, 2021 - one of the largest structure fires in the city's history.

The blaze started on the exterior at about 3:30 a.m., according to Boulder Fire-Rescue, and danced across six buildings housing 81 units, causing the structures to partially collapse.

First-arriving police officers reported a 40-foot wall of flames.

911 received the initial report of fire at 3:32 a.m., firefighter were dispatched at 3:34 a.m. and arrived at 3:39 a.m., and the fire was declared under control at 5:40 a.m., Boulder Fire-Rescue said.

Boulder Rural Fire Rescue, Louisville Fire Protection District, Mountain View Fire Department and Boulder Emergency Squad provided mutual aid.

No serious injuries were reported.

According to a city press release issued Feb 4, 2022: "There were no ignitable liquids found nor any other found sources of ignition. Therefore, the cause of the fire has been declared undetermined, with no found evidence of intentional fire setting."

The Denver Field Division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives joined the investigation.

The Denver Fire Department also assisted. 

ARSENAL PLANE CRASHES

The Rocky Mountain Arsenal in Commerce City was the scene of at least three aircraft accidents. On March 25, 1949, an Air Force C-45 on approach to Stapleton Field crashed in a snowstorm, killing three crewmembers, the Rocky Mountain News reported. On Dec,. 4, 1951, a United Air Lines training aircraft crashed at the arsenal, killing three. On Nov. 15, 1956, the arsenal's firefighters saved an airman pinned in the wreckage of a smoldering Air Force B-36.        

SUNCOR REFINERY - 2016

Photo: The Denver Channel
On Oct. 15, 2016, an orange plume billowed from the Suncor Refinery in Commerce City following a power outage. Emergency services responded and local officials issued a shelter in place order.

UNITED FLIGHT 328

Photo: NTSB Accident Report

On Feb. 20, 2021, United Airlines Flight 328 suffered an engine fire and fan blade separation that showered jet parts over the Front Range minutes after departing Denver International Airport.

The flight crew radioed a "Mayday" call, declared an emergency and returned the Boeing 777-222 to DIA where Denver Fire Department crash crews stood ready.

There were no injuries in the air or on the ground and the landing was smooth all things considered, however, debris punched a hole in the roof of a home in Broomfield.

Investigators determined a cockpit-controlled "
spar valve" closed properly, preventing a more serious fuel-fed fire.

Flight 328 was bound for Honolulu, carrying 229 passengers.

Photo: Fox 31
Denver firefighters doused the engine with foam. 

Photo: Broomfield Police
Much of the debris landed in the Northmoor and Red Leaf sections of Broomfield, with an 
engine cowling plunking in the yard of a home on Elmwood Street in the vicinity of East 13th Avenue.

ROCKY MOUNTAIN MOTEL - 2024

Photo: West Metro Fire Rescue
On Jan. 16, 2024, West Metro Fire Rescue struck a second alarm for a fire at the Rocky Mountain Motel on West Colfax Avenue at Harlan in Lakewood, Colorado. "The extremely cold weather made it challenging, as two fire hydrants on scene were frozen," West Metro said on Facebook. There was one injury.

BNSF LOCOMOTIVE - 2023

Photo: South Adams Fire
On Nov. 2, 2023, firefighters from South Adams and Brighton attended a BNSF Railway locomotive fire in Commerce City, Colorado, near the site of the old Rocky Mountain Arsenal. The locomotive was pulling a grain train.  No injuries were reported.

COLD CASE - 1981

Colorado Bureau of Investigation Files

On the evening of Feb. 8, 1981, the Denver Fire Department responded to a fire at the XV Logan Apartments on North Logan Street. Firefighters found the bodies of 13-month-old Gerald Perez and two others. The fire was ruled arson. Anyone with information to call the Denver Police Department.

Saturday, March 30, 2024

AURORA INFERNOS - 2023


 




Photos: Aurora Fire-Rescue

Aurora, Colorado, was the scene of a pair of construction site infernos in December 2023.

The Dec. 16 blaze (bottom three photos) at East Colfax Avenue and Peoria Street went to five alarms.

It was "
the largest in AFR’s history in terms of property loss, amount of fire apparatus used and duration until it was extinguished," according to an official press release.

"A total of 42 units from across the Denver metro area initially responded to the fire, and over 50 apparatus in total were used to fully extinguish the fire over a five-day period," the press release said.

Damage was estimated at $150 million.

The Dec. 14 fire (top two photos) occurred 
near the 7300-block of South Addison Court and went two three alarms.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

PULMOTOR



The Pulmotor was an early 20th Century pressure-driven device for reviving people overcome by smoke, fumes or in respiratory distress. This is a photo of a victim of a waterworks tunnel accident in Cleveland, Ohio.

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

MISSOULA ROXY - 1994

Photo: City of Missoula

On Feb. 19, 1994, fire struck the 
Roxy Theater in Missoula, Montana, following the matinee. 

"
Ruled as arson and unsolved to this day, rumors persisted, describing a sleazy underworld of nefarious characters and jealous lovers who had both been promised the theater" upon the owner's death, according to the Roxy's website.

Today, it is a community non-profit theater.

The Roxy was was built in 1937.

UNION PACIFIC MILL - 1910



Before the fire

In 1910, flames devoured the 
Union Pacific Rolling Mill in Laramie, Wyoming, which produced steel rails.

The roof collapsed shortly after the arrival of firefighters.

The Boomerang newspaper reported a
locomotive spark ignited the fire. The Republican newspaper said the blaze started in one of the stacks.