Bethlehem, PA Bethlehem Hotel Fire, Jan 1989



Bethlehem, Pa. (AP) -- The owners of a hotel that was damaged by fire began cleaning up as fire officials blamed the faulty cord of a guest's travel iron for starting the fire in which three people died and at least 14 were injured.
Five victims of the fire were still hospitalized Sunday night, three of them in critical condition.
Though a damage estimate still was not available, hotel owners Robert and Dee Decker said the nine-story hotel must be scrubbed from top to bottom, and the fifth floor rebuilt.
Mrs. Decker said the hotel's dining and meeting rooms may open before the guest rooms upstairs.
Fire Marshal William Reinhard said at a news conference Sunday that the fire started shortly after 7 a.m. Saturday after guest MURIAL BROOKS, of Croton Falls, N.Y., plugged the iron into the electrical socket and a chair caught fire.
The blaze, which was out by noon, spread to a second room on the fifth floor, but was confined to those two rooms in the nine-story building, built in 1922, Fire Commissioner Carmen Oliver said.
According to Reinhard, the 126-room Hotel Bethlehem passed inspection three months ago. He said Bethlehem's fire codes recently were changed.
"I'm sure if we go through the brand new codes today, (the hotel) probably does not meet 100 percent of them," Reinhard said. "I don't think there are real bad code violations ... as far as life safety, I don't think so at this time."
The 67-year-old hotel does not have a sprinkler system and is not required to as it was built before the city's 1974 sprinkler ordinance.
About 20 of the 190 guests at the hotel Friday night were elderly people staying there while the nearby Monocacy Towers, a retirement housing complex, was being renovated. At least 100 rooms were occupied by people attending a convention for the Music Teachers National Association, according to Dee Decker, who owns the hotel with her husband, Robert.
About 20 lawyers and judges were at the hotel for a weekend conference on criminal law.
Northampton County Coroner Joseph Reichel identified two of the dead as MONIQUE FORBES, 58, who lived at the hotel, and JOHN KELLY, 75, who was staying at the hotel while the retirement home was being renovated.
Reichel said their bodies were found in a fifth-floor room, 40 feet from the room where the fire started.
Lehich County Coroner Wayne Snyder said a third person, CHARLES P. KNOUSE, another fifth-floor guest, was taken to St. Luke's Hospital and pronounced dead from smoke inhalation at 9 a.m.
Cas Luis, administrator at St. Luke's Hospital, said KNOUSE, 69, was staying at the hotel while Monocacy Towers were being renovated. Snyder said KNOUSE'S body was found in the stairwell between the fourth and fifth floors.
Five of 14 people treated at hospitals remained there Sunday, officials said. St. Luke's Hospital spokeswoman Helen Ballek said GRACE EATON, 66, was in a critical but stable condition suffering from burns, smoke inhalation and a heart attack.
Alice Satrum, a spokeswoman for Muhlenberg Hospital, said ALMA EVANS, 79, and JOSEPH GLICK, 83, were in critical condition, suffering from smoke inhalation, cardiac problems and other injuries. She said RITA ALISIO, about 90, was in stable condition suffering from smoke inhalation and HELEN B. SMITH also was in stable condition.
The Deckers said four employees went to the guest rooms and began knocking on doors to alert guests to the fire and get them out of the building. Although several guests said they did not hear fire alarms, Mrs. Decker said the employees told her the alarms were sounding.
Once out of the building, a nearby church opened up to give the guests shelter.
Bethlehem emergency medical services supervisor David Lloyd said the number of injuries probably was reduced because of the reactions of the victims.
"Those poor people must have known what was going on for quite a while .. but it didn't look like panic," Lloyd said. "The people were very calm for what they had been through .. They deserve some credit for that. These people were thinking."
Oliver said some of the guests were brought to safety by fire ladders and some were carried from their rooms by firefighters.
The Deckers bought the hotel, built on the same site as Bethlehem's first house was built in 1741, from Bethlehem Steel Corp. in 1984 and said they updated the fire system then.

Indiana Gazette Pennsylvania 1989-01-30