Marion, OH Olney Avenue School Building Fire, Jan 1914


Fire Destroys School-Building This Morning.


Firemen Work in Ice-Encrusted Clothing.

Defective Heating System Is Held Responsible for Fire-About 300 School Children Are Robbed of Their Place of Education-The Building a Wreck-Loss Mounts into Many Thousands.

Fire, supposedly originating from an improperly protected furnace, gutted the Olney Avenue school building at an early hour this morning. Firemen worked in ice-covered clothing with the mercury hovering close to the zero point in vain attempt to save the structure, which was comparatively new. Four of the fire ladies sustained severe scalp wounds when a portion of the south wall fell upon them as they were fighting the flames from a fire-escape. One of them, A. O. Dennis, was rendered unconscious, and it is considered a little short of marvelous that none was killed as tons of the debris fell about them.

Dr. Herman S. Rhu, who resides on Bellefontaine avenue near the scene of the big blaze, discovered the flames. He was awakened shortly after 2 o’clock by the smell of smoke and the crackling of the flames and, looking out a front window of the home, saw the fire which was then roaring in the basement and first floor in the southeast corner of the school building.

Dr. Rhu told the phone operator, who, in turn sent in a call over the wire to the fire department. Department No. 2 and Chief McFarland responded. The chief, upon seeing the extent of the blaze, sent in a general alarm form box No. 39, located at the corner of the Boulevard and Darius street. The Central department and four minute men turned out on this summons.

A Record Run.
When the department arrived, the flames had eaten through to the top of the structure. The oil on the floors, together with the fact that the place has been heated continuously for several weeks because of the cold weather, thereby becoming thoroughly dried, contributed greatly to the rapid spread of the flames.

The furnace-room in the southeast corner of the basement, was the base of the fire.
The firemen were hampered in their work by insufficient pressure. Chief McFarland stated this morning that the water could only be thrown to the second story level when they first reached the place. The regular pressure of seventy pounds was increased to emergency fire pressure of 105 pounds at the pumping station when the general alarm was sounded, but this was of little avail. It required the pump to supply pressure.

The motor fire truck and pump of the Central department, purchased about two years ago by the city, was given its first severe test in this fire. It worked continuously from 2:00 o’clock until 7 o’clock. The chief was highly delighted with its efficient service. Two lines of hose were strung from the pump and two were operated direct from the fire plug.

Bitterly Cold.
The early morning hours were bitterly cold and the water quickly froze on the firemen’s clothes, ladders and other apparatus. The “boys” hazarded the dangers of ice and falling walls, however, and, after having their injuries attended by Dr. H. S. Rhu, George Kelly, A. O. Dennis, J. B. Yazel and Lewis Uhl, the four who were on the fire-escape when a portion of the south wall above them collapsed, they resumed their posts and remained “on the job” until the department left. Coffee and sandwiches were distributed to the chilled men.

Children Out Of School.
As a result of the blaze, 320 school children will, by compulsion, receive a vacation of a week or two. Needless to say, many of them are highly delighted at the costly fire. Some of the more joyous were voicing their glee about the fire-swept, smouldering [sic] ruins this morning.

The youngsters’ “school dads” are unable to see the situation in the joyful aspect of the pupils, however. A conference was held in the office of school superintendent Henry A. Hartman, in the High school building, this morning. All members were present. In communication with the State Building Inspector Thomas P. Kearns, Superintendent Hartman was informed that a deputy will be sent to Marion, Wednesday morning, to inspect the building at the corner of the Boulevard and Darius street formerly the factory of C. & E. Shoe company, but at present is unoccupied. The building, it is thought, can be fitted up so as to provide suitable temporary quarters for eight grades at present until dismissal. This is the only building in the vicinity available for school purposes, and in case the state authorities will not permit its use, the school board will face a very difficult proposition. All members are confident, however, that there will be no objecting to the proposal. It will require at lease a week’s work to put the place in proper condition which will materially handicap the school work.

Largest in Years.
This mornings big fire was the largest, in point of damage done, suffered in this city since the burning of the Grand opera-house on south street the morning of December 6, 1910. Hundreds of people visited the scene of the blaze today and many residing in the neighborhood assembled about the burning structure at an early hour, being awakened by the brightly illuminated sky.

N. J. Rouse, who resides on Wood street, was the janitor of the doomed school building. He had served efficiently in that capacity for nearly two years and was regarded by members of the board of education as being one of their most cautious and vigilant janitors. He stated, in an interview, this morning, that when he left the building at about 4:30 o’clock, Monday afternoon, everything was in proper condition. The last place he visited was the furnace room where he saw all was well. A temperature of seventy degrees was then registered in the school rooms.

Rouse further stated that whenever the wind was from the west during cold weather, difficulty was experienced in properly heating the western portion of the building. Monday morning, he said, the engine operating the fan which conveys the heat to that part of the structure was out of commission and was not put in working order until after the noon hour. However, the janitor denies that additional gas was turned on in an endeavor to heat the western part of the structure.

Origin of Blaze.
The janitor is authority for the statement that in the rear of the furnace, a large piece of plastering had fallen off exposing the lath. It is the belief that this was directly responsible for the blaze.

Chief McFarland, when asked whether building inspectors had warned the board of education of the dangerous condition, this morning, stated that it was his belief that such warning had been given, but refused to say positively that such was the case.

The Olney Avenue school building was constructed by Richard MCCarthy & Bulford, of Columbus, in the year 1906 at a cost of $33,000. The structure was insured with nine companies for a total of $22,000. The American Warming & Ventilating company, of Toledo, installed the gas flow-fan heating plant used, which was controlled by a Johnson temperature regulating system. It contained eight rooms which were occupied by a full set of grades.

When asked concerning the loss of school books, this morning, Mrs. A. M. Hutchinson, clerk of the board of educations, stated no action has yet been taken toward restoring the children’s books at the board’s expense.

Will Build Larger.
Mrs. Hutchinson stated the fire-swept building will re reconstructed and enlarged to accommodate the increased number of children in that school district. Money for this purpose will be available by the issue of emergency bonds and the payment of insurance money.

In case satisfactory arrangements can not be made for the rental of the old C. & E. Shoe company’s plant for school purposes, the board proposes to put the children attending certain grades in the Uncapher Ave, Davids Street and Lincoln buildings on half-day sessions distributing the children from the Olney Avenue school among the grades thus left open for half-days.

“We must look to the children’s interests and intend to do so.” Clerk Hutchinson said today.

Because of the high pressure used during the fire, the water in the city’s mains became rolled and was almost unfit for household purposes all day.


An Aftermath of Comment Received by the Star.

A number of complaints from citizens have reached the Star, some advanced against the school board, alleging failure of its inspector of buildings and grounds to take measures against fires from an overheated furnace; others directed against the janitor of the building burned for keeping up a hot fire during the night season and some directed against the fire department for alleged dilatory tactics in reaching the blaze.

One complaint was that it was twenty-five minutes from the time that Dr. H. S. Rhu notified the telephone exchange of the fire till the No. 2 department was on the scene. It was stated that Dr. Rhu, after notifying the telephone company, called up the Central departments and was told that it could not respond till getting a second alarm or being ordered so to do by the chief.

The Marion Daily Star, Marion, OH 13 Jan 1914