Detroit Fire History: National Tent and Awning Fire

Today in Detroit Fire History - December 5, 1944

At 2:30 pm on December 5, 1944 Detroit Firefighter responded to a call from Box 246.  Fire was raging in the second floor sewing room of the National Tent & Awning Company. The company was located at  2150 Bagley (the corner of Bagley and 14th street).  Because the fire was fueled by stockpiles of paraffin coated canvas, it spread quickly.

Company president, Elmer C. Ray, was in his 2nd floor office. When he smelled smoke he ran downstairs and discovered the fire. He returned to the second floor to  warn employees who were in the office and back rooms of the company.   

Employees Trapped

Twenty of the company’s thirty employees were trapped among piles of burning canvas on the building’s second floor. They were forced to escape through windows. Three people were slightly injured when they jumped from second story windows to escape the flames. Others were helped down ladders. 

Three women were not able to escape. They perished in the fire. An investigator later discovered they had all passed open doorways to save their coats and pocketbooks before they were trapped by the rapidly spreading blaze.  

Cause of the Fire

The cause of the fire was determined to be a carelessly disposed of cigarette or match. The company rules prohibited smoking except in restrooms. During his investigation, Arson Inspector George Smith, discovered that when a foreman left the sewing room employees lit cigarettes. 

The floor of the sewing room was made of wood slats. It was old, and in some places there were gaps between the slats wide enough to stick your finger through. It was concluded that an employee discarded a cigarette or match that fell into one of these gaps. The match or cigarette smoldered and eventually ignited. 

Fire grew, undetected beneath the floor. Eventually flames rose through the gaps in the floor boards, igniting bundles of canvas stored on the sewing room floor.

National Tent & Awning Company was a manufacturer of canvas covers for Army vehicles.  Some of the canvas in the sewing room was coated in paraffin (wax) to make it water-proof. The paraffin ignited, turning the sewing room into a inferno.

As the fire spread, the building’s tar roof added fuel to the flames.  The fire went to 5-alarms. At one point, flames leaped 20 feet above a second floor window. It raged for more than 2 hours before being brought under control.   

The building was nearly entirely gutted. Nine automobiles, parked in the garages attached to the building, were also destroyed.  Firemen prevented the fire from spreading to a newly completed addition to the Roosevelt Park branch of the post office, located next door to the building. 

Changes in Fire Prevention Code Enforcement

Although the company had complied with all current ordinances the fatal fire brought attention to the need for better fire prevention codes, and the need to provide enforcement authority to the city’s Fire Marshal.  

At this time there was conflict between the authority of safety engineering and the fire department of several large cities in enforcement of fire prevention measures. In Detroit this conflict was coming to a head. The city’s Chief Assistant Corporate Counsel had been working for nearly a year on an a comprehensive Fire  Prevention Code. That code would transfer the enforcement of fire prevention measures from the Department of Buildings and Safety Engineering to the Fire Marshal. 

 

Funeral Arrangements For Detroit Firefighter Michael Lubig

Michael Lubig: Senior Firefighter E-58, LODD 11-12-2018

Funeral arrangements for Detroit Firefighter Michael Lubig are as follows:
Information for firefighters attending services below 

___________________________________________

Michael Lubig

Active Firefighter – Engine 58
Lived:  10-04-1972 to 11-12-2018
Served:  01-25-1999 to 11-12-2018

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Detroit Fire History: 2 Unit Schedule Adopted

Today in Detroit Fire History – November 2, 1918

Detroit voters overwhelmingly approve the “Firemen’s 24 Hour Amendment” which amended the city charter to set new working hours for Detroit Firefighters. the election also determined many state and local positions, including Governor and Detroit Mayor, as well as allowing women the right to vote in Michigan. 

Prior to the 24 Hour Amendment firefighters were on duty 72 hours, then off duty 24 hours. The amendment created a 24 hours on duty 24 hours off duty schedule, the 2 unit system we have today. 

The move to shorten working hours came in part because the department had become increasingly motorized (instead of horse drawn apparatus). Motorized vehicles could effectively cover more ground than horses and the population of Detroit had skyrocketed in the 10 years since motorization began. That meant that Detroit Firefighters were fighting far more fires than ever before, but the number of fire companies had not increased proportionately. 

The new schedule was not immediately implemented as the department was dangerously low on manpower. At the time there were 255 Detroit Firefighters in WWI military service. The ranks also dwindled as department members left the fire service for higher paying factory jobs with better working conditions. Top that off with the deaths and severe illness caused by the growing Spanish flu epidemic and the department was running with nearly 1/3 fewer men than they required. 

After the vote, firefighters continued to work their previous schedule, but were paid overtime for the extra hours, until manpower was brought up to a level where the 2 unit system could be implemented.

 

1951 Advertisement for Detroit Firefighters

Today in Detroit Fire History – June 3, 1951

Today in Detroit Fire History – June 3, 1951

On June 3, 1951 the department was advertising for new fire fighters. 

Applicants had to be between 5’8″ and 6’2″ tall and weigh between 140 and 190 pounds. 

June 3, 1951 advertisement

Pay for a newly hired firefighter was $3,413. A full paid man made $4,127. For comparison, the average household income was $3,515. The average cost of a new house was $9,000, a new car $1,500.  

A pay increase of $250 to $286 would go into effect on July 1st, the beginning of the city’s fiscal year.

 

Detroit’s Ladder 22 Officially Opens

Today In Detroit Fire Department History - March 16, 1922

Today in Detroit Fire History – March 16, 1922

Ladder 22 was officially placed in service after a brief 10 am ceremony at their quarters.  Fire Commissioner Murphy, Chief Timothy E. Callahan and Battalion Chief William Higby attended the ceremony. The company was in command of Captain Frank Malicke. Shortly after noon, Ladder 22 received their first alarm to a small fire on Hartford Avenue. 

Detroit Fire Station Ladder 22

 

Their newly built fire house, located on Martin & McGraw Avenues, was among the first Detroit fire stations to be built without stables. It was built at the end of the horse drawn steam pumper era of the Detroit Fire Department. The last running of Detroit’s fire horses would take place less than a month after the opening of this station

Detroit Firefighter Line of Duty Death – Otto Habermas

Today in Detroit Fire History - January 31, 1915

Pipeman Otto Habermas , Engine 27, died from injuries he sustained while fighting a fire in a store building at on West Fort Street early in the morning of January 31, 1915.
Otto was manning a hose at the top of a ladder, directing a stream through a window. A drizzling rain was falling, freezing as it hit. The ladder’s rungs quickly coated with ice. A sudden change in water pressure made the hose jump to one side. Otto swayed to counterbalance the hose, but lost his grip and footing due to the ice.
Otto fell, head first, onto a concrete sidewalk. When his fellow firemen reached him he was unconscious. He was taken to the Solvay hospital by fire department motor car. Otto never regained consciousness. He died at 9 am, with his wife at his bedside.
Pipeman Habermas had been a member of the Detroit Fire Department for three years.
He was 24 years old. He left behind his wife Kate, to whom he had been married only 11 days. Prior to his death, the newly married couple had planned a small party celebrating their marriage. It was scheduled to take place the day after Otto died.
Never Forget!

 

Funeral Arrangements for Detroit Firefighter Killed in the Line of Duty

Kevin Ramsey - Firefighter Squad 3 LODD 07-29-2017

Funeral arrangements for Detroit Firefighter Kevin Ramsey are as follows:

___________________________________________

Kevin V. Ramsey

Active Firefighter – Tactical Mobile Squad 3

Lived:  08-28-1966 to 07-29-2017

Served:  07-19-1999 to 07-29-2017

___________________________________________

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Over 5,000,000 Gallons Of Water Used To Extinguish Fire

Detroit Fire Department History - May 10, 1937

Detroit Fire Department History – May 10, 1937

More than 5,000,000 gallons of water was pumped into a five-story brick building at 23 W. Jefferson before this 5-alarm fire was brought under control.  The fire started around 4 am at the Advance Glove Manufacturing Company, on the building’s second floor. Fueled by the large bales of cotton the glove makers used, the fire quickly extended to the upper floors of the building.
 
More than 25 pieces of fire apparatus responded to the fire. By 9:30 am a section of the building’s roof had caved in.
 

Detroit Fire fights 5-alarm fire at Advanced Glove Company 1937

 

While fighting this stubborn fire, Pipeman Ray C. DeRosia, Engine 30, was injured when he speared his leg with a piece of equipment used to help support hose lines. He was treated by the department doctor at Fire Department Headquarters. Several other firemen suffered minor cuts and bruises but remained on duty.
 
The first floor of the building housed the David J. Knopman Company a wholesale luggage dealer, General Tobacco and Grocery Company and the Harris Linen Company. The companies had considerable damage from the tons of water that poured in from overhead.
 
Firefighters were able to keep the flames from spreading to the adjoining Traymore Hotel, where over 100 guests were roused from their beds due to the fire. The Traymore did have minor damages due to smoke and water.

Detroit Fire History – March 1, 1958

Wakeful Night Watch Discontinued

Detroit Fire Department History – March 1, 1958

The department discontinued wakeful night watches. A new system called the Silent Watch System went into effect. Use of running boards to track which companies were in or out of service was also discontinued. 
 
Prior to the Silent Watch System a man stood wakeful night watch. From midnight to 6:30 am the man on watch listened for alarms punched out on the Gamewell system. The system punched out box numbers for every alarm that was dispatched throughout the city and the status of every fire company was kept up to date on the station’s running board. 
 
When an alarm came in the man on watch was responsible for determining if his company was due on the alarm. If their company was due he would activate the house bell to wake the other firefighters and turning on station lights.
 
With the Silent Watch System first alarms would only be received in firehouses that are due on the alarm. The dispatcher pushes an alert button that wakes the man on watch and tells him an alarm is coming in. All second alarms and higher were still sounded via the “big bells” in all stations.
 
Chief of Department Ed Blohm, who was scheduled to retire in June of 1958, did not like the new system, but went along with it. He said “It doesn’t look right. Imagine a citizen dashing up to turn in an alarm and there is Julius, snoozing.”
 
Dan Delegato, Detroit Firefighters’ Association (union) President said “The most sought after working condition since the inception of this association has been the elimination of the wakeful night watch.” (NOTE: The Detroit Firefighters’ Association was chartered on May 8, 1933)
 
The Association hailed this step as removing one of the most tedious chores connected with the work of a Detroit firefighter. 

 

Traditional Detroit Fire Station Doors Being Replaced

Today in Detroit Fire Department History - January 1978

Today in Detroit Fire history – January 1978

The department began a program to replace the traditional swing-out doors on Detroit fire stations’ apparatus bays. New overhead roll up doors were put in place.

Engine 51’s quarters with one traditional swing-out door (right) and one overhead roll-up door (left). Engine 51’s quarters is located on Livernois at Curtis.

 

 

Engine 49’s station on Grand River and Manor was one of the first stations to receive the new doors.

A majority of Detroit’s fire stations were built when fire rigs were much smaller. As technology evolved fire apparatus got bigger. The doors were changed in order to provide more clearance for the larger modern day rigs. They also provided additional security to fire stations that had experienced several break in while firefighters were out of the station responding to emergencies.