Cleveland, OH Explosion-Fire Home For Aged, Feb 1946
EXPLOSION FIRE IN CLEVELAND HOME FOR AGED KILLS TWELVE.
FLASH FIRE WILL BE INVESTIGATED.
Cleveland (AP) - Twelve of the 62 occupants of Jennings Hall, Catholic home for the aged, died today in an explosion and ensuing fire which swept through the one-story frame structure.
Coroner Samuel R. Gerber reported all 62 occupants of the home had been accounted for and that a final check disclosed a death toll of 12. Previous estimates were that the toll might reach 40.
Seven persons still remained in hospitals but the condition of only one was listed as critical by the coroner.
Five other occupants were given emergency treatment at local hospitals but later were sent to homes of relatives and friends.
The flash fire quickly engulfed the tar paper and thin frame walls of the structure shortly after an explosion at 2:15 p.m. (E.S.T.)
A "thorough investigation" of the blaze will be made, Coroner Gerber said.
Loss was reckoned by Elmer Cain, second assistant fire chief of Cleveland, at $30,000. The one-story structure was completed June 1, 1942, and named for Msgr. Gilbert P. Jennings, late pastor of St. Agnes Catholic Church, who left the bulk of his estate for erection of the home.
Some of the aged residents in the home perished when they became hysterical and resisted rescue efforts, Sister Hyacinth reported. She gave this account of the fire, the century's fourth major disaster in greater Cleveland:
"I was in my office and the nuns were having prayer period in a neighboring building when I heard the explosion. I rushed into the hall (Jennings). The smoke was so dense I couldn't see my hands in front of me. I rang a bell to alert the house and then tried to help get occupants out. In two minutes after the explosion, everything was on fire."
"The sisters felt they would suffocate, but kept trying to pull the occupants out of their rooms. I didn't see any flames because the smoke was so thick, but the heat was intense."
"In one room I saw a woman calmly while firemen tried to free her from approaching flames. Just as firemen were about to reach her, her hair burst into flame and she perished."
Sister Mary Martha, who was baking in the basement of the hall, said the explosion sounded as if it were from above stairs.
"It rocked the place so severely I was sure a bomb had dropped," she related. "When I rushed from the basement, the whole place was on fire."
The home's chaplain, Father Augustine Bena, who rescued three persons, expressed the opinion the explosion occurred in the gas furnace with which the hall was heated. But fire department officials said the cause had not been determined.
One of the first witnesses to reach the scene was Councilman John Brachowski of Garfield Heights, and chief of the suburb's safety commission. He observed fire at the west end of the structure, and added that he could not get across the street from his automobile before the building was wreathed in flames. Brachowski helped pull two injured from the hall.
An unidentified bus driver from the Garfield Transit line helped rescue at least 10 other persons, then departed before his name could be learned. Among those he rescued was MRS. ALICE HAYNES, 78, of Akron, O.
Mrs. Eugenia Marie Lease, 80, a former Baltimore resident, said she was in her room at the eastern edge of the building when she heard Sister Hyacinth scream: "Fire! Fire!"
"I opened my door and black smoke poured in," she continued. "I tried to lead Mrs. Mary Eihler who is 88 and my roommate out through the hall. Mrs. Eihler is blind. The dense black smoke blinded me and I lost contact with Mrs. Eihler. While I was groping in the darkness for her, Father Bena came along and led me and two other women through the hall to safety."
"We were fortunate to be living in the eastern part of the building."
Raleigh Register Beckley West Virginia 1946-02-03
Partial List of the Casualties:
MISS MARGARET DONOVAN, 74.
ELLEN BURKE, 82.
JOHN (JAMES) B. WATERS, 84, died in hospital.
MRS. ELIZABETH NEZMAN, 80, died in hospital.