January 10, 1912, New-York Daily Tribune, "Firemen Risk Lives To Rescue Others,"
William Giblin, Trapped in vault, Saves $6,000,000 in Papers; One of Four Helpers Lost.
The great fire was fraught with thrilling situations. Firemen, reckless of their own safety, fought against peril of fire and falling masonry while they strove to rescue imprisoned men in the basement of the big building. Employees in the building proved themselves hereos in a dozen different ways. Some of these men exposed themselves to almost certain death in the attempt to prevent boiler explosions or to save valuable records kept in the safety deposit vaults.
William Giblin, president of the Mercantile Safe Deposit Company, which had offices on the first floor of the burned building, owes his life to the bravery of a squad of firemen working under the direction of Fire Commissioner Johnson.
Mr. Giblin had hurried to the scene of the fire from the Hotel Breslin, and had made his way into the basement of the building. He was accompanied by William Sheehan, a special officer; Frank W. Peck, a wtachman, and two porters. The president of the company opened the massive steel doors of the vaults with his passkey and entered, followed by the other men. There were papers in the vaults representing more than $6,000,000, and it was these which Mr. Giblin was after.
Having secured the papers, Giblin and the others started back toward the doors, prepared to make their way again to the street. Giblin tried the door and found It was locked. He had left the keys on
the outside in his hurry to get in, and the steel bolts, working on a spring lock, had sprung back into place. Imprisoned in the steel box, with a mountain of fire roaring above them and the sound of tons of brick and mortar falling on the flooring above their heads, the men knew they faced almost certain death.
The Rescue of Giblin.
Led by Giblin, they ran to the steel barred windows facing on Broadway and shouted for help. Then they wrenched at the two-inch bars, trying to tear them from their fastenings in sheer desperation. Their cries were heard by firemen in the street. Chief Kenlon called for volunteers from among the men. Every man on the job stepped forward. Even while they awaited the word of command from their chief, great masses of stone and steel cornice work fell crashing in front of the window. There was no more dangerous spot in the burning area of the building.
After vainly trying to batter down the heavy steel bars with their axes, the firemen got hacksaws and began to cut away the bars. Fireman Brown, larkin and Young, of Truck 1, did this work with feverish haste, but their strength was spent under hazardous conditions, and to Giblin and the others within it seemed maddeningly slow. It was fully an hour and a half before the first bar was cut through. In the mean time other firemen, directed by Kenlon, played a constant stream of water on the flames, which momentarily approached nearer.
A heavy rope was now tied about the end of the cut bar and a dozen men pulled on it until an opening was made, through which Giblin was first pulled, semi-conscious and exhausted. Then the others were taken out. Sheehan was in a serious condition.
Another incident, in which a man's life was snuffed out, occurred in the vaults of the safe deposit company. John Campeon, captian of the vaults, was standing guard at the doors, when firemen warned him to escape while there was yet time. Campeon, mindful of the great wealth which was intrusted to his care, refused. Even later, when escape by way of the floors had been cut off by the seething wall of flames and the only path to safety lay by way of the barred window on Broadway,
through which Giblin and the others had been taken, Campeon stuck to his post.
"No!" he cried to the firemen who would have saved his life. "I am the watchman here. I will stay."
Hours later, when the ruins were smouldering above his head, the body and face of Campeon could be seen from the street. His face was pressed against the steel bars, his charred fingers fastened in a death grip.
A man who lived through perils which few men pass alive, was Davis, night fireman in charge of the twelve great boilers in the Equitable sub-basement.
Davis had charge of the boiler rooms at night. He kept about his work, unknowing of the fire which raged above him, until the building was a mass of fire. Then he heard the crash of falling walls, followed by the roar of fire, and the boiler room was filled with smoke and water.
Davis knew he was in great peril, but he knew, also, that if the fires were kept burning beneath the great boilers there would be terrific explosions, with attendant loss of life. he started to work, and drew the coals from the grates, one by one. This required more than an hour. Then Davis tried to escape, only to find his way blocked.
Again and again he tried to fight his way through smoke and flame and tons of water, some of it scalding and some of it freezing. It was not until noon that Davis managed to make his way over the wreakage to the Pine Street side of the building, battered and bruised, but content in knowing he had perhaps saved other lives.
Leander Delk, a watchman in the building, was another who escaped almost miraculously. He was in the basement when the fire broke out, and finally got out by way of one of the steel trapdoors on the sidewalk. Firemen heard his frantic hammerings with a crowbar on the door beneath their feet, chopped down the door and lifted him out.