January 10, 1912, New York Times, "Big Blaze Started in Rubbish Heap,"
Fire Marshal Believes Prompt Giving of Alarm Would Have Prevented Disaster.
Employes Fought in Vain
Reaching Elevator Shaft, Flames Rushed Through Whole Building---Johnson Praises Firemen.
The origin of the fire was made the subject of an investigation yesterday by Fire Commissioner Johnson, through John P. Prial, a Special Fire Marshal, and Edward Croker, Jr. an assistent. Their report will go to the officials later.
It is said that they found reason to believe that had the alarm been sent in when the fire was first discovered in the kitchen of the Cafe Savarin, it might easily have been checked. it seemed to be of so little consequence that the employees thought they could handle it. It was this mistake that let the fire get beyond control and offered to the first arriving companies a conflagration sweeping from the basement to the roof of the building.
The fire got its start between 3:30 and 5:20 a.m., when the police first learned of it. Bakers in the Savarin came to work at the earlier hour and told Srgt. Casey, after the alarm had been turned in, that they had been at work for an hour and a half before the fire was discovered. It began in a pile of papers and empty boxes near the foot of the stairs leading from the kitchen of the Savarin, which is situated in the basement, to the main floor of the building. The first spark might have been from a cigarette, as is considered most likely, or possibly from one of the stoves in the kitchen.
As soon as the flames were discovered the men set about extinguishing them as best they could. When the first attention of the police was attracted to the fire the men told the policemen that they had been at work about half an hour, and that they had the flames under control. They objected to the suggestion of the policemen that a fire alarm be sent in. In this respect, the fire officials say, they may have been carrying out the instructions of the heads of the building, as employees are often ordered never to send in an alarm of fire if it can possibly be avoided.
Following up the stairs, the fire was caught up by the draft of the elevator shafts, to which the stairs lead. In a few minutes they were licking the top of the building and spreading out over the top floor.
There seems to be no evidence that faulty insulation of electric wires had any part in the beginning of the fire. E.E. Rittenhouse, for the Assurance Society, and the officials of the Fire Department agreed as to this. The kitchen of the Savarin contains a number of stoves, and it was the theory of Mr. Rittenhouse that the fire had started from one of these. The fact that the blaze started near the foot of the stairs and away from the contact of the wires in the kitchen seems to throw out at once the first theory that the fire was the result of the familiar burning out of insulation and ignition of waste material by electricity.
It was learned yesterday that a year ago the firm of Charles G. Armstrong & Co., consulting engineers, at the Singer Building, was called upon by the Equitable Assurance Society to make an examination of the building. What the engineers found at that time and whether their investigations showed any danger to the building from the wiring, could not be learned yesterday. Charles G. Armstrong, who made the examination, said yesterday that he would under no circumstances give out the results of his work. He considered the report confidential and the property of the Equitable Company. He had given the report to Gerald P. Brown, Controller of the society. When Mr. Brown was questioned in regard to it, he said that the investigation had nothing to do with the wiring. He declared that the owners of the building were considering putting in some new machinery and the Armstrong firm of consulting engineers had been called in to make a report on that subject alone.
Fire Commissioner Johnson's opinion of the building and the fire danger connected with it he made known in a statement issued yesterday afternoon.
"This building," he said, "was an unrelated patchwork, started forty-two years ago, when the paid department was in its infancy. It was known to the underwriters as 'sub-standard construction.' This simply means that the building was not fireproof. But it was permitted to exist in its hazardous condition in the face of modern fire-preventive construction. Upon the character of this building allowed to stand in the heart of the financial district no comment need be made further than to say that its own employees and members of the uniformed force were trapped in it."
With the fire as a text, Mr. Johnson goes on to declare that New York is not free from the danger of a great fire such as has recently visited Boston, Baltimore, and longer ago, Chicago. He said:
"The same fuel for conflagration which exists in those cities exists in Manhattan in the old wholesale dry goods district and in the mass of buildings in 'The Swamp,' and all the way up trhe east side, as well as in several parts of the Brooklyn water front. With weather conditions such as prevailed this morning, and with an area of highly inflammable buildings such as exist in the districts I have described, and with no barriers of fireproof buildings around them, I am somewhat fearful that history will repeat itself.
"Under the conditions which prevailed I think I may say that the work of the Fire Department in confining the fire to the Equitable Building itself was a remarkable performance. Too much cannot be said in praise of the firefighters themselves, from Chief Kenlon down, who were taking lives in their hands nearly every moment."
The Cafe Savarin, where the fire started is owned by the Cafe Savarin Company. Some of its officers are also officiers of the Equitable Assurance Society. The President of the company is Louis M. Baily, who is the deputy Controller of the Equitable. The Directors also conmnected with the Equitable are William A. Day, Gerald R. Brown, and Leon O. Fisher.
Six Dead, Three Missing.
Other Lives May Be Lost---Twenty Persons Injured.
It is positively known that six persons lost their lives in the Equitable fire. Three persons certainly and perhaps several others are missing, while at least a score are known to have been injured. The list that follows is according to the poilce, as nearly correct as can be had at this time. It may be days before the number of those who lost their lives in the fire is known.
The list of dead, missing, and injured, follows:
CONTI, JOHN, employee in the Equitable Life Building; jumped from the roof to Cedar Street.
SAZZI, JOHN, employee in the Equitable Life Building; jumped from the roof to Cedar Street.
WALSH, WILLIAM, Battalion Fire Chief; believed to have been crushed to death on the stairwway between the third and fourth floors; body not recovered.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN, who fell from thew roof into the fire.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN, body partly visible in ruins, but not yet extricated.
CAMPIAN, WILLIAM, watchman in employ of the Mercantile Safe Deposit Company; body believed to be buried near vaults on ground floor; reported for duty at 6 a.m.
NEIDNER, FRANK J., watchman in employ of the Mercantile Safe Deposit Company; on duty during the night.
SEIBERT, CONRAD, watchman in the employ of the Mercantile Safe Deposit Company; on duty during the night.
BASS, Capt. CHARLES F., Truck Comapny 4; burns of hands and face. Taken to Hudson Street Hospital.
BECK, WILLIAM, fireman, Engine Company 10; cut on arm. Went home.
CURREN, THOMAS, painter, 220 East 128th Street, spectator; fracture of the arm.
DONOVAN, WILLIAM, fireman, 437 East 130th Street; overcome by smoke.
DELT, LEANDER, colored porter, 314 West 112th Street; shock and exposure. Went home.
DIAMOND, SAMUEL, Engine Company 17; injuries to both eyes.
FLANNERY, JAMES L., fireman, Engine Company 55; struck by flying glass. Attended by Dr. Rosenberg of White Cross Hospital. Remained on duty.
GIBLIN, WILLIAM, President of the Mercantile Safe Deposit Company. Taken to Hudson Street Hospital.
GROTHER, NICHOLAS, patrolman attached to the Old Slip Station; struck by falling brick while helping men who leaped from building. Taken to his home.
HEALY, TIMOTHY, fireman, Tower No. 2; cut on arm.
HUDSON, ALLEN, fireman, 207 Eighth Avenue; cut of face.
HUMPHRIES, Lieutenant of Fire Truck 1; struck by falling stone. Removed to firehouse.
McGEAN, The Rev. Father, Chaplain of Fire Department; struck by falling timber; not seriously injured.
McVERY, DANIEL, engineer Engine Company 7; legs injured by bursting hose; Hudson Street Hospital.
MANNING, TIMOTHY, fireman Engine Company 4; acute mania; taken to Hudson Street Hospital.
MILLIGAN, EDWARD, Engine Company 20; nose broken by falling stone.
PETERSON, GUSTAVUS, porter, with Beck; burned and bruised; taken to Hudson Street Hospital.
SHEEHAN, WILLIAM, special officer of the Safe Deposit Company; burned and half suffocated before rescue from the vault; treated at Hudson Street Hospital.
SODDEN, MARK, 112 Oake Street, Greenpoint, spectator; leg fractured.
UNKNOWN MAN, wrenched hip and scalp lacerations, escaping from bursting hose at Broadway and Maiden Lane; Hudeon Street Hospital.
The body of Fratta, who expired in a hospital ambulance, was identified by papers found in his pockets. Two other bodies of fire victims are in the morgue of Bellevue Hospital, those of Sazzio, [sic?] who was 35 years old, and Conti, 35, kitchen helpers, who leaped from the roof of the Equitable Building and were instantly killed. At 10 o'clock last night none of the bodies had been claimed by relatives.
At the Hudson Street Hospital it was said there was no chnage in the condition of Capt. Charles F. Bass, of Truck Company No. 4, and that it had been found that William Sheehan, a watchman, employed in the Equitable Building, had received a fracture of the right arm. The latter's condition, it was said, was improved. Later it was reported at the hospital that Timothy Manning, a fireman attached to Engine Company No. 4, who was taken to that institution suffering from acute mania, would be able to leave for his home today.
Mrs. Fratta, wife of the kitchen helper who was employed in the Cafe Savarin, and who was instandtly killed when he leaped from the roof, asked at Police Headquarters if they could find her husband. She had not heard from him since he left home early yesterday morning. She was directed to the Morgue of Bellevue Hospital, where the body of Fratta had been removed. She was prostrated with grief.