New York, NY Trolley Car Fire, Dec 1901


Men and Women, Panic Stricken, Jumped to Street.

Defective Electric Wires Set Fire to Body of the Car in Front of Hotel Marlborough.

Trolley Car No. 168 of the Broadway line, loaded to the doors with passengers, suddenly burst into flames shortly before 5 o'clock last evening just as the car was opposite the Hotel Marlborough, Thirty-seventh Street and Broadway. There was a panic among the passengers and a crush of frightened men and hysterical women before the fire could be gotten under control. The car was completely wrecked, but no one was injured.

The spectacular sight of a blazing trolley car dashing up Broadway at top speed, making for the car barns, attracted a large crowd which tried to keep pace, and added to the confusion. The car was headed for the barns at Fiftieth Street and Seventh Avenue, but the flames, fanned by the draft of the speed, enveloped the vehicle completely, and the firemen had to be called to extinguish the flames.

The car, in charge of Motorman Joseph Brady and Conductor Peter Synn, must have been burning for some time before the fire was discovered, the cause being defective electric wires under the body of the car. Policeman Falgler, who was standing at the corner of Forty-second Street and Broadway, saw the car as it approached from a distance and noticed that smoke was issuing from under the floor. He ran to the nearest fire alarm box and sent in an alarm. About this time the fire in the car burst forth. Smoke filled the inside of the car suddenly, and in an instant flames shot high outside from under the floor and soared high over the roof. The motorman realized in an instant the danger of the passengers, shut off the current, threw on his brake, and jumped.

With the first sign of the fire inside the car panic broke loose. Those nearest the platforms tore open the front and the rear doors and jumped to the street. Among the other passengers inside the car a struggle began. Men lost their heads and rushed for the door, crushing each other in their fright, and women screamed and grew hysterical. Hardly were the people out of the car when the flames burst through the floor inside.

The car following No. 168 had come up in the meantime, and an Inspector of the line ordered the motorman of the newcomer to push its blazing mate to the car barns, at Fiftieth Street and Seventh Avenue. As the burning car began to move ahead, the draught occasioned by the motion fanned the flames still higher, and with smoke and flame bursting out of both doors and every window the car began a wild rush up the crowded thoroughfare, everything ahead of it trying to get out of the way, and a great crowd rushing along not to lose sight of the stirring spectacle.

By the time the cars reached a point between Forty-second Street and Forty-third Street there was danger that the after car also would catch fire. The engines and hook and ladders summoned by the policeman could be made out tearing down the street, and there was another wild rush of the crowd to get out of the way of the firemen. The drivers of the fire engine and the truck had considerable difficulty in threading their way through the crowded street on account of the danger of running over some of those unable to get out of the way. The engine was connected with the nearest hydrant, and soon a stream was playing on the burning car. The fire was got under control and the car, all of its woodwork destroyed, was pushed to the car barns. The incident caused a block on Broadway which lasted for fifteen minutes.

The New York Times, New York, NY 19 Dec 1901