At 2136 HRS on Oct. 17, units responded to a fire in a four-story structure at 7 E. 22nd St. The location housed an art dealer who reportedly stored highly flammable paint and lacquer in the building’s cellar where the fire originated. All photos courtesy FDNY.
Upon arrival, the fire was so intense, firefighters couldn’t make entry via the front of the building, so they went around the corner to the Wonder Drug store to try to make entry there.
It took firefighters 14 hours to remove the rubble and dig out the 10 bodies of their fellow firefighters.
Firefighters pause as one of their deceased brothers is removed from the scene.
The wreckage created by the fire and subsequent collapse
Ten thousand firefighters lined 5th Avenue on Oct. 21, 1966 to say farewell to the fallen men.
Services were held at both St. Thomas Protestant Episcopal Church and at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Firefighters from all over the nation attended the services.
By FireRescue Editor-in-Chief Tim Sendelbach
Prior to Sept. 11, 2001, the largest loss of firefighter lives suffered by the FDNY occurred on Oct. 17, 1966, during what later became known as the 23rd Street Fire. Killed in the line of duty that day were 12 of New York’s bravest:
• Thomas A. Reilly, Division 3
• Walter J. Higgins, Battalion 7
• John J. Finley, Ladder 7
• Joseph Priore, Engine 18
• John G. Berry, Ladder 7
• James V. Galanaugh, Engine 18
• Rudolph F. Kaminsky, Ladder 7
• Joseph Kelly, Engine 18
• Carl Lee Ladder, 7
• William F. McCarron, Division 3
• Daniel L. Rey, Engine 18
• Bernard A. Tepper, Engine 18
Today, we remember the sacrifice these firefighters made 44 years ago.
At 2136 HRS on Oct. 17, units responded to a fire in a four-story structure at 7 E. 22nd St. The location housed an art dealer who reportedly stored highly flammable paint and lacquer in the building’s cellar—where the fire originated—which made the fire so intense that by the time firefighters arrived, they couldn’t make entry via the front of the building. As an alternative means of entry, firefighters went around the corner to Wonder Drug, a store located at 6 E. 23rd St. in a five-story commercial building.
The two buildings involved in the fire and subsequent collapse had undergone three major alterations:
1) At 7 E. 22nd St., a two-story extension had been built that butted up against the rear of 6 E. 23rd St.;
2) At 7 E. 22nd St., a load-bearing wall had been removed to create a 35' extension under the first floor of 6 E. 23rd St.; and
3) Thick flooring had been added to 6 E. 23rd St. that consisted of 3 x 14 wood beams topped by 3/4" wood planking, then 5 inches of concrete with a terrazzo finish.
The thick flooring prevented firefighters operating inside 6 E. 23rd St. from knowing the conditions in the cellar.
The fire burned for approximately 1 hour when the 3 x 14 floor beams, weakened by heat and flame, gave way. At 2239 HRS, a 15 x 35-foot section of the floor collapsed, sending 10 firefighters to their deaths. Two others were killed by a large ball of flame that erupted on the first floor.
It took 14 hours to unearth the bodies of the 10 firefighters.
As the largest loss of life ever experienced by the FDNY at the time, the outpouring of grief and support was monumental. On Oct. 21, 1966, 10,000 firefighters lined 5th Avenue as a procession of apparatus moved down the street, each one carrying a coffin of one of the victims of the collapse. Firefighters came from as far away as Anchorage and San Francisco; 500 members of the Boston Fire Department alone came to pay their respects.
Services were held at both St. Thomas Protestant Episcopal Church and at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
The fire went to five alarms, but its cause remains unknown.
Renovations and structural modifications pose a great deal of risk to firefighters during interior and rooftop operations. Although it's virtually impossible to know the interior make-up of every commercial occupancy within your response district, pre-fire planning, commercial risk assessments and CAD notes (transferred to responding units via MDTs or MCTs) provide an extra avenue of safety for those members who carry out these duties.
This incident is yet another example of why it’s so important to have a strong fire prevention program, including an aggressive annual fire inspection program, minimal square footage sprinkler ordinance and mandatory retro fit for commercial remodels.
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