New York, NY Public School 189 Fire, Dec 1906


Old Building Lacks Proper Facilities for Escape.


If the Fire Had Gained Headway, They Declare, 500 Would Have Perished - Drill Proves Its Value.

When the cry of fire was raised in Public School 180 at 12 Vandewater Street yesterday there was great excitement among the teachers and pupils, who for months had been complaining of the lack of facilities to escape in case of trouble. The building, which is old and lacks modern conveniences, is equipped with one big stairway, but that would not have been of much service to the 800 children in the school if they had to get out in a hurry. The only other exit was by way of a flight of narrow stairs, and then by way of a steep stairway to the schoolyard.

The fire was discovered in a vaultlike storeroom adjoining the narrow stairway. Several policemen, aided by the janitor, succeeded in putting out the fire before the firemen arrived. Their prompt action and the good work done by the teachers, who enforced the fire drill rule, undoubtedly resulted in the saving of life.

None of the pupils in the school was more than 10 years old. The majority of them were tots of 7. They were children of various nationalities - Greeks, Italians, Russians, Germans, Swedes, and Spanish.

It was 2:40 o'clock in the afternoon when the janitor, John F. Hughes, saw smoke issuing from the ground floor. Hughes, who was repairing a door bell, ran up stairs to inform the principal, John E. Brown. Mr. Brown, who had started to investigate, met the janitor, who told him it looked like a fire in the storeroom on the ground floor.

Principal Brown turned in an alarm from the school firebox. Then he ran up stairs and notified the teachers, telling them to stick to their classes until every child was safely out of the building.

The fire drill signal was then sounded. The monitor in charge of each class led the children in single file down the main stairway to the street. Each teacher watched to see her pupils safe. On the way to the street the children were obliged to pass the storeroom, from which the smoke was pouring in dense volumes. On the other side of the storeroom was the steep, narrow stairway, so often complained of. Some of the teachers who learned that the fire had not gained much headway led their pupils out by way of the narrow stairs to gain time.

On the fifth floor there were seventy girls, and some of them became hysterical. They wept and clung to the skirts of their teacher, but she finally succeeded in quieting them by telling them that the fire had been started as a joke to see how many could keep from getting excited. By this means she got them to the street without mishap.

Policeman Clinton of the Oak Street Station, aided by several other policemen and the school janitor, extinguished the blaze in the storeroom without the aid of the firemen, who declared, when they arrived, that if the flames had had a five minutes' start, at least 500 children would have perished on account of the lack of propery facilities to escape. The narrow stairway, they said, would prove a death trap if a fire ever gained any headway in the building.

The New York Times, New York, NY 19 Dec 1906