Hartford, CT Niles Street Hospital Fire, Dec 1945




Hartford, Conn. (AP) -- A fire that started when a Christmas tree blazed up took 13 lives, according to police estimates, Monday night at the Niles street hospital, a small institution for convalescents and chronically ill persons.
The number of dead had been estimated by Mayor Cornelius Moylan at 15 but several hours after the fire, which started at 9 p.m., Deputy Police Chief Peter A. Anderson placed the number at 13.
With the exception of a kitchen employe, all of the dead were elderly patients.
More than 20, including eight foremen, were injured.
The fire burned until midnight as 200 firemen, aided by police fought it in bitter, near zero temperatures.
Crowds that were controlled with difficulty thronged about the three story structure as litter-bearing fireman and police plunged time and again into the choking smoke to emerge with the moaning injured and charred bodies of the dead.
Many of the victims were lying helpless in their beds when the fire swept rapidly thru the hospital. The faces of some of the victims were charred, their clothing burned from their bodies.
One victim was burned so badly that authorities were unable to determine the sex.
The first victim positively identified was MISS JOSIE DOOLITTLE, 70, of Hartford. The identification, was made by her step-brother, Raymond H. Benthley of Northampton, Mass., who came here immediately after he heard of the fire.
Every ambulance in the city, reserve policemen and state police went to the scene, where about 70 patients, many of them ill or elderly, were trapped in the burning Victorian brick structure.
Two hours after the first alarm city firemen were pouring water from the roofs of adjoining structures into the still blazing building. Inside Rev. Francis X. O'Neill administered the last rites of the Catholic church to patients still trapped in the structure.
Surrounding communities ordered their fire departments into standby status as three-fourths of Hartford's fire apparatus went to the scene.
Amublances and doctors from East Hartford and West Hartford assisted in moving and caring for the sick and injured.
The Salvation Army stopped its Christmas service and sent a unit to the scene, led by Maj. Milton McMahon. Its eight members provided coffee for firemen and first aid to the injured.
A Red Cross mobile disaster unit was on the scene and its members served as litter bearers.
About 20 ambulances carrying two on each trip made shuttle runs to St. Francis' hospital, nearest to the fire scene, and Hartford hospital. Persons escaping from the burning building, even those who were uninjured, required hospitalization because of their convalescent condition.
Two hours after the fire started the firemen were still reaching the charred bodies of the trapped hospital patients. At that time no one could give an accurate estimate of the death toll because the two upper floors were still inaccessible.
The fire was Connecticut's second disastrous one in less than 24 hours. Earlier in the day, four small children were burned to death in nearby Meriden and their parents died Monday night in a blaze which swept their home.

Nebraska State Journal Lincoln 1945-12-25




Hartford, Conn. (AP) -- Seventeen persons are dead following a tragic Christmas eve fire at the Niles street hospital which also sent 26 others, including 10 firemen to other hospitals where, spokesmen said, at least five remained in "critical condition."
State Police Commissioner Edward J. Hickey, heading an official investigation in his role as state fire marshal, said the blaze resulted from a short circut that ignited cotton decorations on a Christmas tree in the hospital's first floor office.
As one of his first acts, Commissioner Hickey joined Dr. Stanley H. Osborn, state health commissioner, in issuing instructiong to all state police to advise supervisors of all convalescent homes in Connecticut to take extra precautions against Christmas tree fire hazards.
The supervisors were asked to remove at once from the vicinity of trees all cotton or other inflammable material and to make certain that fire extinguishers were quickly available and in working order.
After a night of inquiry, Hickey said at noon Tuesday that the investigation had been postponed until Wednesday. At the same time a spokesman at police headquarters said complete lists of dead and injured would not be available until late in the day, "after the officers who worked on them all night have had some rest."
Hickey said the dead included 14 aged and chronically ill patients and two night attendants. Seventeen other patients, he said, were gotten from the blazing three-story structure which was a converted brick duplex dwelling.
Dr. Walter Weissenborn, medical examiner, said that two of the 17 rescued patients were in grave condition at St. Francis hospital late Tuesday.
The blaze spread quickly, he said, when a front door was opened, presumably to guide first floor patients to the street. Some patients were more than 90 years of age, police said. Of the dead, they added, 13 were women.
Firemen working in near zero temperatures were unable to check the rapid spread of the blaze, and Hickey said Tuesday the structure was "almost completely gutted."
There was no official estimate available on the loss.

Nebraska State Journal Lincoln 1945-12-26