Sunday, June 5, 2016

Amanuensis Monday - The Story of the Seven from PA Union L1

Lebanon Semi-Weekly, Lebanon, PA
21JAN1924, pg1
In a Memorial Monday post back in April I shared names from a panel of the IAFF Fallen Fire Fighter Memorial in Colorado Springs. Seven fire fighters from Union L1 in Pennsylvania died in one event in 1924. That was a large number and it made me want to find out where Union L1 was from and what happened. Please be warned that this article can be a bit graphic.

"Firemen Had Horrible Death in Blazing Oil

Pittsburgh, Pa., Today - Seven firemen were killed in fighting an oil fire at the plant of the Atlantic Refining Company in Lawrenceville today. Many suffered from the intense cold. Scores of others were reported injured.

The firemen were killed when they fell into a tank of blazing fuel.

The fire was still burning fiercely. Starting in a 10,000 barrel tank of oil, it threatened to spread to adjoining tanks.

All available firemen in the city were called out.

Company officials refused to allow newspapermen near the scene of the blaze, claiming there had been too much 'publicity' in the million dollar fire at the same plant a year ago.

The dead are:

Hoseman Patrick Abbott and Captain Edward Jones, both of No. 26 Engine Company.

Fire Captain Rudolph Bliske and Hoseman John Markham.

Three unidentified firemen.**

The seven men were thrown head-long into the burning tank when a ladder on which they were standing crumpled beneath them.

The tank let go with an explosion shaking the Lawrenceville district for blocks around.

Bob Smith Sam Bolin, Captain Frazier.

Buck Lowrie. Fireman of No. 9 Company was saved from death in the boiling tank when pulled safely by Fireman Jenkins. Loire was badly burned and taken to a hospital where it was believed he will recover.

Jesse Mercer and Al Stewart, firemen, were both seriously injured when a roof upon which they were standing gave way, throwing them 30 feet to the ground.

The firemen, aided by scores of volunteers, were keeping the blaze confined to the one tank. It was not believed at 10 A.M. that there was serious danger of the fire spreading.

Seven blackened, charred bodies of firemen were removed from the burning tank of crude oil at 10:30 A.M.

While several hundred firemen and volunteers fought to keep the blaze from spreading to other tanks and building inside the great yards, a group of heroic men rescued the bodies from a manhole at the bottom of the tank.

Their faces and hands blackened and cracked by the intense heat, the rescuers worked grimly until all the bodies had been removed.

The fire started with an explosion early today that rocked the Lawrenceville district for blocks.

Great clouds of dense black smoke poured from the tank and settled in a pall over that part of Pittsburgh.

Heroic rescues, spectacular and dramatic, marked the work of the fire fighters. It was a scene of ghastly impression as the men battled against the flaming oil, endeavoring to save 0 surrounding tanks from catching fire.

The blazing tank was lcoated (sic) in the midst of 10 other tanks, all of 10,000 barrel capacity, and was joined to a sister tank standing only a few yards away.

A runway connected the two tanks and upon this runway the firemen were forced to stand and fight the heat and flames.

Several women, wives of the firemen appeared at the gates of the oil yards after it was learned some of the firemen had been killed, many of them weeping and screaming.

The oil company guards denied them admission along with newspapermen and others who sought to go inside.

Hospital ambulances, police patrols and scores of nurses hastened to the scene of the fire. First aid was rendered to firemen. hot coffee was supplied the men in wash tubs.

The fire spread to a three story brick building in the yards and added new danger to adjoining plants where the distilleries are kept. Machinery crumpled, windows cracked with the intense heat and telephone and electric lines were rendered useless as the fire raged.

Streams of water were played upon all buildings and tanks in the yards. Coatings of ice formed immediately presenting an odd contrast with the melting pot of the fire shooting out flame and smoke.

The firemen had great difficulty in getting close enough to the tank to do effective work. Barricades were constructed and a dozen streams of water poured upon the other tanks to cool them. Little effort was made to extinguish the tank afire. Firemen said it would have to burn itself out while they did their best to prevent the other tanks from engulfing."

As I was transcribing this I kept wondering about them using water on an oil fire. We know that doesn't work. Water spreads oil fires and they really need to be smothered to be put out. We've got chemicals nowadays that can do that, but they apparently did not. My curiosity was satisfied when it got to the last paragraph. They knew they couldn't put it out. They just tried to contain it.

Another curiosity was that the company wouldn't let the newspapermen near the action. While it can easily have been said that they were trying to protect them that doesn't appear to be the case. In the fifth paragraph we see that the Atlantic Refining Company refused to let the newsmen near the fire because of a fire a year ago where the company seemed to have received some negative publicity. Curiouser and curiouser. Sounds like there was a story there!

**The article mentions unknown firemen that were killed. As mention in my previous post the seven men who perished were:

Patrick Abbott
Rudolph Bliske
Samuel Bollinger
Henry Frazier
Edward Jones
John Markham
Robert Smith

IAFF Fallen Fire Fighter Memorial Panel 1923-1924