Sunday, July 10, 2011

"Giblin's Rescue Thrilling Act of Great Fire,"

January 10, 1912, Utica Herald Dispatch, "Giblin's Rescue Thrilling Act of Great Fire,"

Former Ilion Man, Imprisoned in a Vault of the Burning Equitable, Had Narrow Escape from Death - Rescuer Was Ordered Away But Refused to Leave.


Mr. Giblin, Taken to Hospital, Was Found to be Suffering Only From Exposure and Was Able to Go Home Today-- Has Condition Was Much Improved.

One of the most thrilling incidents of the great fire in New York, which destroyed the Equitable Building yesterday, was the rescue of William Giblin, president of the Mercantile Safe Deposit Company, which had its offices and vaults in the north end of the ground floor. Mr. Giblin is a brother of Frank T. Giblin of 58 Rutger street, Utica and John Giblin of Ilion, where he lived until about ten years ago. He has other relatives and friends in Ilion.

Mr. Giblin was notified of the fire by a clerk in the Breslin Hotel, says the Times, and arrived on the scene in a taxicab at 6:30 a.m. Despite the objections of the police, he made his way to the Cedar street entrance of the burning building. There is a heavy steel door at the entrance which locks with a spring lock. Mr. Giblin unlocked the door and forgot to take the key out of the keyhole. A watchman whose name Mr. Giblin did not even know, accompanied him, and the door swung shut on the two and locked itself.

It was dark on the ground floor and Mr. Giblin and the watchman groped their way to the front of the building. No one missed them, apparently, for Cedar street at that time in the morning was so dark that forms could be distinguished only vaguely, and the dangling shining keys in the blacked steel door were forgotten or not even seen. There was little fire on the ground floor, but of smoke there was a great deal and Mr. Giblin and his aid reached the Broadway windows with difficulty.
Prisoner in a Vault

Within fifteen minutes after Mr. Giblin had entered the building there was a crash. A heavy safe had tumbled from an upper floor. The inrushing air brought the fire with it, and soon the ground floor was a mass of flames. Mr. Giblin, however, did not see this for he had stepped into his vault big enough to conceal a company of men, and the door was keeping both flames and smoke from him. He was busily engaged looking for the papers which he had come to save. It was only when he had obtained what he wanted that he opened the door of the vault to retrace his steps. A rush of smoke almost overcame him instantly. He pulled the door behind him and realized he was a prisoner. He glanced about for the watchman but did not see him. He knew then that his life *** was only a matter of time, and he waited for that time.

The rumor ****** outside that a well dressed man who had entered the building had perished in the flames. Some said that his name was Giblin but the busy firefighters soon forgot his incident for there were other things which kept them alert every moment.
Reporter Discovers Signal

The story of the rescue as told by the Sun follows:

At 7:30 a.m. a white pocket handkerchief which was being waved by President William Giblin of the Mercantile Safe Deposit Company between the iron bars of the gate of the Broadway entrance to the deposit company's offices in the sunken ground floor two steps down from the Broadway sidewalk attracted the attention of a reporter who was standing with the Rev. Father McGean, a chaplain of the Fire Department across the street from the burning building.

There's somebody alive over there in the ********** ********* ******** the reporter said. Father McGean had heard no cries from the basement floor, but he had been hearing groans from floors above. He and Chief ****** ran across through the smoke and spray together. The stone lintels over the doorways were crashing to the street all around the grillwork opening. Already the dark opening was beginning to be framed with a thick picture frame of ice. And for a background was a dull glare as the fire ate upward toward where the president of the company crouched beside Watchman William Campion, who was dead, and Watchman William Sheehan, whose right arm was pinned against the dead man by the fallen ceiling timbers that had killed Campion.

Three Men Saved at the Steel Bars

Fireman James Dunn of Engine 6 disobeyed orders and saved President Giblin and Sheehan. When Father McGean had heard Mr. Giblin's confession and had been pulled away from the grill by Acting Chief Devanny, a watchman named Peck came up with two hacksaws which he had found at 113 Broadway. Peck started in with one of the saws on the bars of the door and dropped the other. President Giblin reached through the bars and got hold of the saw and started to try to help Peck cut the inch and one-half bars. Mr. Giblin worked for ten minutes or until the falling water had so chilled his hands that he had to drop the saw. Peck's saw broke.

There was a wait of fifteen minutes while no one came near the iron door where the dead man stood frozen to the bars and the president of the company and Watchman Sheehan called on God for help. Then Fireman Jim Dunn of Engine 6 jumped up to the grating. Jim Dunn had a saw and started in to cut the bars.

Somebody, a superior officer at any rate, ran up to Dunn through the falling spray and ordered Dunn to get away from the face of the building where now big chunks of stone were smashing down more frequently.
"These two fellows are alive!" yelled Dun to his Chief. "I'm going to saw them out."
"OK, then, you fool," cried the chief and got out of range of the falling stones.

Jim Dunn Finished the Job

For a long time then - Sheehan says about an hour, but it was probably much less - Jim Dunn sawed away. While he was working Commissioner Johnson personally directed that a stream be sent in through the grating to keep back the fire which was creeping streetward toward where Giblin and Sheehan stood, now too cold and weak to help. The stream struck Giblin and for an instant, pressed him back forcibly against the debris that held him close to the door. And during the rest of the time the fireman was sawing the bars, the stiff spray alternately was hitting Dunn and Giblin and coating them with ice.

Dunn got through a bar and found that even when it was pried to one side the imprisoned men couldn't be pulled out to the sidewalk. He patiently started at another bar. And after an hour and a quarter of steady sawing got two bars cut through. Then he left the grill and for another ten minutes Giblin and Sheehan waited for him to come back.

The Living Out. The Dead Left

Dunn had left them only to get a crowbar to pry the cut bars aside. He stretched the bars to either side and reached in and got out first Mr. Giblin and then Sheehan. Campion evidently was dead and was left standing there. All afternoon and until dark through the spray two white blurs might be seen where his hands stuck outward through the bars.

Dunn, Father McGean and Commissioner Johnson carried Giblin and Sheehan across the street to the boiler room of the Trinity Building, where Dr. Thatcher Worthern and Dr. Garrett of the Hudson Street Hospital and Dr. Girdansky of Gouverneur Hospital had established a relief station in the hot boiler room and the two men were stripped, rubbed down and drank a stimulant. The clothes of Giblin had to be cut to get them off because of the solid coating of ice. Fire Commissioner Johnson worked his own arms to break the coating of ice on his own coat sleeves, drew off his coat and then pulled off his sweater and drew it over the head of Mr. Giblin.

Mr. Giblin at the Hudson Street Hospital was found to be suffering only from exposure and will be able to go home soon unless a heavy cold ******** ********* ********.

Sheehan suffered a broken right arm; the arm that had been pinned against Campion, which was set after he had recovered some bit from his exposure and shock.

A dispatch from New York today states that Mr. Giblin was much improved this morning and left the hospital for his home.

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