New York City, NY Roof Collapse Fighting Fire, Aug 1978

Waldbaum's Fire


New York (AP) -- From high atop a tall crane, firemen in a bucket sprayed water on blackened beams and girders. Smoke billowed from smouldering ruins.
All day and all evening Wednesday, hundreds watched the three men in the "cherry-picker," pressing against police barricades in their curiosity to see where six men perished.
Hundreds more jammed Ocean Avenue with their cars, riding by and staring at the burned-out Brooklyn supermarket as long as they could before police urged them away.
But in two small, old brick firehouses on tree-lined streets not far from the fire scene, no crowds gathered. There were just grim-faced men standing in big doorways, waiting to go out on the next fire.
Six comrades had been carried to fiery deaths when the roof of the Waldbaum's supermarket collapsed beneath them. It was the fire department's worst tragedy in 12 years.
Seven firemen are hospitalized, four in critical condition; 36 other persons were injured, all firefighters except for an Emergency Service police officer and a medical technician.
Uniformed Firefighters Association President RICHARD VIZZINI said his union was "outraged" by the fire. He blamed the deaths on "undermanning and a delayed, inadequate response" to the fire -- two recurring themes in the union's current contract drive.
The cause of the fire was not immediately known, but the cause of the deaths and most injuries was obvious; collapse of the roof on which at least 12 firemen were chopping ventilation holes.
Ladder Company 156 on East 14th Street lost three men. Ladder Company 153 of Avenue U lost two men.
At 5:15 the list of dead was broadcast over the fire radio.
Order 5-5-5-5 began: "It is with profound regret ...."
The names of the six men followed; so did groans from firemen.
Battalion Chief JOSEPH SMITHWICK briefed a whole new complement of men at 156 who were brought in from other firehouses.
SMITHWICK said all those who had fought the fire with the dead firemen from 156 -- LT. JAMES CUTILLO, 38, CHARLES BOUTON, 38, and WILLIAM O'CONNOR, 30 -- had been sent home.
Over at 153, the firemen who had fought fires with JAMES McMANUS, 45, and GEORGE RICE, 38, and seen them plunge screaming through the roof's gaping hole, had been sent home, too.
The sixth fireman who died was HAROLD HASTINGS, 40, an aide to the chief of Brooklyn's 42nd Battalion.
JOHN MADIGAN was one of the rooftop firemen tossed into the flames. "It just melted away," he said of the roof. "Generally you'll hear a crack or something ... It just gave way."
MADIGAN missed the core of the fire and escaped by crawling toward the rays of the sun's light.
When fireman O'CONNOR fell into the inferno, his wife and children were watching. THey had arrived at his firehouse to pick him up from work just as the alarm sounded, and they followed the engines to the supermarket.
"His wife came to the fire ... and he waved to her from on top of the building," said PAT HALPIN, a boyhood friend of O'CONNOR. "Then the roof caved in and he was reported missing. That was the last she ever saw of him."

The Capital Annapolis Maryland 1978-08-03