Detroit Firefighter Line of Duty Death – Werner G. Blaess

Today in Detroit Fire Department History – April 11, 1954

Detroit Fire Department Captain Werner G. Blaess made the ultimate sacrifice in service to the citizens of Detroit on April 11, 1954. At the time of his death Werner was assigned to Engine 1.



Captain Blaess responded with Engine 1 to a fire at Twelfth Street and Michigan Avenue. After entering the burning building twice Werner collapsed and died from a heart attack.

At the time of his death Captain Blaess had been with the Detroit Fire Department for 30 years. He was 54 years old.

Werner left behind his wife, Laura, two daughters, Dorothy and Mary Jane, a son Robert W. and 12 grandchildren. He is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery.

Detroit Firefighter Line of Duty Death – Fred Bergman

Today in Detroit Fire Department History - April 4 1947

Detroit Fire Department Sergeant Fred Bergman made the ultimate sacrifice in service to the citizens of Detroit on April 4, 1947. At the time of his death Fred was assigned to Engine 32.

Initially it was thought that Bergman had become overcome by smoke while fighting a fire in a residence at 9343 E. Vernor. He was revived at the scene, but became ill while his company was returning to their quarters.


Sergeant Bergman was transported to Receiving Hospital. He passed away about 40 minutes after reaching the hospital. It was later found that he had suffered a heart attack.

At the time of his death Fred was 49 years old. He was a 23 year veteran of the department.

Fred left behind a wife and daughter.

Detroit Firemen Get 300 Alarms, All At The Same Time

Detroit Fire Department history - April 4, 1956

Today in DFD history – April 4, 1956

In 1956, Detroit was still using a telegraph based fire alarm call box system. Boxes were located throughout the city, typically on street corners. Each box had an individual number that identified its location. alarm box

When there was an emergency a person would go to the nearest box and pull the hook. The box would send a series of electrical pulses through cables that would punch a tape and ring bells in fire stations. The number of rings and holes in the tape corresponded to the box number. Firefighters had run cards that identify the box number, location of the box and what companies responded to the alarm.

On the night of April 4, 1956 firefighters throughout the city were extremely busy when they received 300 alarms all at the same time.

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Funeral Arrangements For 2 Detroit Fire Department Members Who Died While On Duty

Sgt. Vincent "Vinny" Smith, L-13 and Fireboat Capt. Walter Szelag

Funeral arrangements for two members of the Detroit Fire Department who passed away last week have been announced.

The two died in separate incidents just 2 days apart while on duty at two Detroit fire stations.

Related Story: Second Detroit Firefighter Death On Duty in 2 Days.

Last alarm information was issued by the Detroit Firemen’s Fund Association as follows:

Vincent H. Smith

ACTIVE Sergeant, Ladder 13
Lived: 02/06/1966 to 11/19/2015
Served: 08/10/1992 to 11/19/2015


 Visitation: Friday, November 27, 2015
James H. Cole Home for Funerals – NW Chapel
16100 Schaefer Hwy., Detroit, MI 48235
Visitation is open from 9:00am to 9:00pm
(The Smith family will be at the funeral home
to receive guests from 4:00pm to 7:00pm)

 Service: Saturday, November 28, 2015
Family Hour: 10:00am
Funeral 11:00am
Greater Life Apostolic Church
5276 Tireman, Detroit MI 48204

Interment: Detroit Memorial Park – East
4280 E. Thirteen Mile Rd., Warren, MI


Walter R. Szelag

ACTIVE Captain, Fireboat
Lived: 11/07/1950 to 11/20/2015
Served: 05/08/2002 to 11/20/2015


Memorial Visitation: Saturday, December 5, 2015 10:30 – 11:00am
St. Peter and Paul Catholic Church
7685 Grandville, Detroit, MI, 48228

Service: Saturday, December 5, 2015 11:00am
St. Peter and Paul Catholic Church
7685 Grandville, Detroit, MI, 48228


Second Detroit Firefighter Death On Duty in 2 Days

Another Sad Day For the Detroit Fire Department

Once again central office has delivered a radio message no firefighter wants to hear. fireboat


For the second time in 2 days the Detroit Fire Department grieves the lost another member who died while on duty. Walter Szelag, Captain of Fire Boat 1, passed away from what appears to be a heart attack.

At approximately 4:15 pm, November 20, 2015 crew members radioed for an ambulance to be sent to the fire boat station. Captain Szelag was transported to Detroit Receiving Hospital where he was pronounced dead.  At 5:47 pm department radios delivered the sad news. ““Central office regrets to inform you of the untimely death of Capt. Walter Szelag of Fire Boat 1.”

One firefighter reported that this was Captain Szelag’s last scheduled shift of the season before the Fire Boat is shut down for the winter.

Related Story: Funeral Arrangements For 2 Detroit Fire Department
Members Who Died While On Duty

Captain Szelag’s death comes on the heals of another Detroit Firefighter death. Just 2 days prior, November 18, 2015, Sgt. Vincent “Vinny” Smith passed away while on duty at Engine 48’s quarters.


Vinny Smith

Vincent “Vinny” Smith on the roof while he was a firefighter at Ladder 19.

He was found at approximately 7:30 am seated in his recliner.  At this point there an official cause of death has not been released, his death also appears to be from a heart attack.

Vinny served on the department for 23 years and was currently assigned to L-13. Sgt. Smith leaves behind a wife and 5 children.


Related Story: Funeral Arrangements For 2 Detroit Fire Department
Members Who Died While On Duty



Locomotive Hits Hook & Ladder Company 5: Detroit Fireman Killed

LODD Anthony Korte May, 17, 1895

Detroit Fire Department History – March 7, 1895

An accident caused the death of one Detroit Fireman and injured 8 others.

At 3:23 am, Hook and Ladder Company #5 was called to a fire at 1036 St. Aubin Avenue, Box 273.  The regular driver was on leave and Ladderman Anthony Kort took his place.

After extinguishing the fire and picking up, Ladder 5 headed back to their station shortly after 4 am. They crossed the Detroit, Grand Haven & Milwaukee Railroad tracks at Canfield Avenue.  A careless watchman had been taken ill and had to leave his post. He neglected to lower the crossing gates before leaving.  The rig was struck by a locomotive. Crew members later stated they had not heard a locomotive whistle or bell that would have indicated the train was approaching.


Detroit Fire Department Hook and Ladder Company – 1890

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Detroit Firemen Ride To Fire In 116 Taxis

Today in Detroit Fire Department History – March 4, 1957

Detroit firemen reported in style to a four-alarm blaze today.

They used 116 taxicabs to reach a fire in a two-story building that  caused damage estimated by Fire Chief Edward J. Blohm at $50,000.


The fire was still burning when a new shift of firemen reported for duty at 8 a.m. Since all their trucks and other equipment were at the scene, the reporting firefighters hailed taxicabs to carry them to the blazing building.

The firemen going off duty used the taxis to return to their stations.

A tally on the city’s taxicab cost was not immediately available.

Source: The Escanaba Daily Press, March 4, 1957


5 Detroit Firemen Killed In The Line Of Duty – March 4, 1917

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.

1917 fields suit and cloak fire aftermath

Aftermath of the Fields Suit and Cloak building fire where 5 Detroit Firemen were killed.


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.


Never Forget

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


10 Detroit Firemen Trapped on Top Floor of Building – March 3, 1909

Today in Detroit Fire Department History, March 3, 1909

Ten men faced death on the top floor of a three-story power building Tuesday when they were cut off from escape by fire on the lower floors.

Several of them tried to jump from the windows, but were restrained by their champions until the firemen rescued them with ladders.

All suffered smoke and heat, but none with serious results.

Source: The Huntington Herald, March 3, 1909

 1911 postcard fighting the flames