put into service before the explosion. Firefighters, in an attempt to keep damage to a minimum, did not break the large plate glass windows as the fire appeared to be very small. Forced entry was not made as a store clerk arrived shortly and unlocked the front door. Second and third alarms were ordered shortly after arrival primarily to bring additional manpower to the fire ground.
Firefighters started an attack in the front door with one 1½-inch line but had to retreat because of the intense heat; meanwhile other firefighters at the rear were laying hose lines, but the lines had not been charged. (See Sketch 2.) Then at 9:40 P.M. or just about fifteen minutes after the first companies arrived, an explosion blew out both ends of the building, injuring many firefighters at the front and rear of the building. In the rear alley six firefighters were trapped, five were able to free themselves and escaped. The sixth, the Chief's son, was killed beneath the falling wall. The men who did escape were rushed to a nearby hospital and treated for burns, fractures, and lacerations.
At the front of the building the toll was worse. A dozen or more firefighters received injuries and four young volunteer firefighters lost their lives when crushed by the fallen front wall. Firefighters and spectators worked hastily to free the trapped victims and get them to the hospital. Many spectators also had to be rushed to the hospital with cuts from flying glass. A call went out for "all available help" and apparatus and men traveled as far as 35 miles to aid their stricken comrades. Eleven pieces of apparatus and an estimated two hundred firefighters were on the scene before the fire was extinguished.
The fire, while of undetermined cause, is believed to have originated in the area of the partition on the first floor and burned undetected for a long time before discovery. Oflicials who investigated the fire feel that the explosion was the result of a concentration of heated fire gases in the false ceiling area about four feet high and the length and width of the building. There are other theories of what happened. Some feel that vapors distilled from
FIREMEN for May 1970 17