Today in Detroit Fire Department History – March 4, 1917
Five Detroit Firefighters were killed and 3 others were seriously injured while fighting a fire in the Fields Cloak & Suit Company. The building was located at 187 Woodward Ave, which was then the center of the downtown business district.
Fire was reported around 2 am. About a half an hour into fighting the fire the 3 lower floors of the 5 story building collapsed without warning. They carried 20 firemen down in the wreckage. Two firefighters were also thrown from a ladder to the sidewalk from the 3rd story.
Buried Beneath the Collapse
Several firefighters were buried beneath a mass of twisted timer and steel ceilings. Vincent Gordon was pulled out virtually uninjured a few minutes after the crash. About two minutes later Ladderman Oscar Locke, Hook & Ladder 1, was uncovered. He was dead.
Pipeman Otto Mattick, Flying Squadron 30, who had been crushed and overcome by smoke died 30 minutes after being discovered. Captain Alexander Cockburn, Engine 2, was able to direct rescuers to his place of entrapment for an hour before he was discovered. He died from his injuries after being admitted to Receiving Hospital.
Pipeman Alonzo Raymond, Engine 2, and Pipeman William Schill also died in the collapse. Firefighters and policemen searched feverishly for the 4 men still buried in the ruins for four hours before all were uncovered.
The fire also consumed the top floor of the R. H. Fyfe Shoe Company building to the south. Monetary loss from fire and water damage was estimated at $500,000.
Findings of the Coroner’s Inquest
A few weeks after the fire a coroner’s inquest was convened. Architect Adolph Eisen testified that the joists of the third and fourth floors were made of soft pine and were not strong enough to hold the floors.
Charles Hassenbach, secretary/treasure of the Fields Company also testified that the third floor of the building had sagged about an inch, but no one paid attention to it. He also testified that the building inspector had never inspected the building.
The building had been owned by E. Van Noorden and Edward Rintels of Boston.
In memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice to the citizens of Detroit:
Captain Alexander Cockburn, Engine 2
Ladderman Oscar J. Locke, Hook and Ladder 1
Pipeman Alonzo F. Raymaon, Engine 2
Pipeman William J. Schill, Flying Squadron 30
Pipeman Otto A. Mattick, Flying Squadron 30