Friday, May 20, 2016

In Honor of Jordan Pieniazek

In Honor of Jordan Pieniazek




In honor of our friend and brother Jordan Pieniazek.  Jordan was taken from us in a motor vehicle accident on his way into work at Engine 12 in Camp Washington on May 1st.  He was passionate about his Family, God, and the Cincinnati Fire Department and we are all better for having known him.  Through his example we remember to "live life."  



Engine 12 company outing organized by Jordan


Monday, December 28, 2015

Firefighter Patrick Wolterman - LODD 28 December 2015

Firefighter Patrick Wolterman
Hamilton Fire Department
Last Alarm - 28 December 2015




Today we honor Firefighter Patrick Wolterman of the Hamilton Fire Department.
Firefighter Wolterman was killed in the line of duty early this morning when he fell through
the floor at a residential fire.  Initial reports indicated two elderly civilians might have been trapped in the structure though ultimately the home was found to be unoccupied at the time of the fire.  Firefighters made entry around 0117 and the mayday call was given just three minutes later.  Wolterman began his service to the City of Hamilton in April of this year and had previous service in other fire departments including The Colerain Township Fire Department.

Patrick Wolterman was newly married.  We extend our sincere condolences
to his wife and family in this time of loss.

A fund has been established to assist the Wolterman Family

Contribute to the Firefighter Wolterman Memorial Fund
at First Financial Bank


Patrick Wolterman
Firefighter - Hamilton Fire Department
Last Alarm - 28 December 2015
Structure Fire (Arson) - 1310 Pater Avenue



Patrick Wolterman (3rd Row, Far Right) completed
fire training with the Colerain Township Fire Department.
Recruit class graduation was held on 19 November 2008.


Image:  Hamilton Professional Firefighters IAFF Local 20
Firefigher Patrick Wolterman pictured at the Beckett
Paper Mill Fire 31 October 2015


Image: Cincinnati Fire Department
Cincinnati Fire Department Engine Co.12 Flag at half staff in honor
of fallen HFD Firefighter Patrick Wolterman


Image:  Ringle Family Collection
The community came together to pay tribute to the 
sacrifice made by Hamilton Firefighter Patrick Wolterman.  We all pray for the 
healing of his family and friends in this time of loss.




Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Sycamore Shoe District Fire

The Sycamore Shoe District Fire - 21 December 1910


The Cincinnati Shoe District Fire - Frozen Ruins
Courtesy Cincinnati Fire Museum

     Some of the most extraordinary fires ever faced by the Cincinnati Fire Department occurred in the years between 1900 and 1910.  It was during this time that the paid steam fire department had reached its peak of efficiency, reliability, and size.  Despite the improvements made to the fire department, fire loss was massive in this period.  Buildings were being built bigger and higher than ever before.  Industries were using a wide variety of hazardous chemicals and materials that were largely unregulated, and fire prevention was extremely limited.  It was a period of great fires both in Cincinnati and across the country and it culminated at the end of the decade in a few days that would ultimately claim the lives of dozens of firemen.


Cincinnati Enquirer Headline
22 December 1910


The 1910 Diary of Hook & Ladder 12 (Now Truck 32)
Note the entry for 21 Dec - Box 392 at 2:14am
Courtesy: B.Houston Collection


     Cincinnati was the starting point for these days of death and destruction.  The fire that would start around 2:14am on December 21st from Box 392 would ultimately burn for 222 hours.  35 steam engine companies would see action at the blaze that consumed 68 buildings and could have turned into a great conflagration threatening the entire business district were it not for the actions of the firefighters working to extinguish the flames.  Firemen dealt with freezing temperatures covered in ice from head to toe as walls collapsed around them.  Ultimately 4 people were killed, including three firemen, and six were badly injured.  Considering the conditions, things could have been much worse.

     All was normal for night watchman Krumley.  At 2:09am he turned a key in an automatic signaling device on the 6th floor of the Krippendorf O'Neil Shoe Company indicating everything was fine.  As he started down the stairs to the 5th floor he noticed a glowing light in the courtyard separating his portion of the building from that of the Twinlock Company.  By the time he reached the ground flood he was surrounded by flames and had to run for his life.  Around the same time, Captain Peter Purcell recognized a familiar glow outside the windows of Engine Co.44s quarters.  Upon investigation he found a fire burning at the Twinlock Company and submitted the first alarm.  Several other persons were said to have discovered the fire at around the same time, including two reporters from the Enquirer who were walking home.  The alarm was received around 2:14am.


The Badge of Captain Peter Purcell
Purcell was likely the first fire officer on the scene of the 
Sycamore Shoe District Fire
Courtesy: B.Houston Collection


     Once ignited, the fire spread rapidly aided by several open shafts that created a draft in the building.  It was a cold and windy night which further aided the spread of the fire from one building to the next.  Insurance men had recognized this portion of town as a high risk for some time.  City planners had also noted the need to improve this area and at least one plan existed to turn the location into a park.

     Around 3:30am the crew of Engine 04 was working at 9th & Sycamore street under the walls of the Krippenorf O'Neil Shoe Company.  Someone shouted that the walls were coming down.  Men scattered.  Pipeman Robert Grear was caught by the falling bricks and sustained a fractured skull killing him in the street.  His body was initially removed to the County Morgue just steps away before being moved again as fire threatened the morgue.  When Coroner Coe arrived on scene he witnessed the death of 18yo sign writer Walter Morris.  Police had formed a fire line and were having difficulty keeping the public at a safe distance.  Walls were regularly seen to be collapsing into the street.  Morris was standing under a telegraph pole when a wall of the Cahill Shoe Company tumbled down.  Debris shock-loaded the telegraph wires and snapped the pole near Morris.  He was struck on the head by the falling pole.  The auto patrol rushed him to the hospital but he could not be saved.


Robert Grear was killed in the rubble shown in the center of the image.
Note the precarious nature of the remaining walls.
Courtesy Cincinnati Fire Museum


Grear was not the only loss sustained by Engine Co.4
Most of the company was injured and their Ahrens Steam Engine
The "E.G.Megrue" was destroyed
9th & Sycamore Sts
Courtesy Cincinnati Fire Museum


9th & Sycamore at the same angle today
Google Street view


     The wind seemed to push the fire in all four directions.  Firemen struggled to have an impact on the growing blaze.  Water pressure and volume were too low for a fire of this magnitude.  No high pressure system had yet been created for the fire department.  Some of the buildings were tall and the majority of the burning structures were out of reach of the hose lines.  Hot embers were carrying fire to still more buildings and the firemen, covered in a layer of ice, struggled to keep up.  Finally a break in the wind allowed for some gains.

     Hook & Ladder 15 was working on Cheapside with several engine companies.  With the help of police, dozens of horses had been released from the Sycamore Street Livery Stable.  A lone horse was unaccounted for.  Firefighter Charles Schwengel ran back into the stable in an effort to find the animal.  Walls were coming down with frightening regularity at this point.  He had been inside for no more than five minutes when the stable walls collapsed.    Precarious tall ruins of walls would prevent anyone from searching for Charlie's body for a couple of days.  Dynamite first had to be used to bring down several walls to make the area safe enough for men to dig through the debris.  Finally around 4:20 on the afternoon of the 24th, Schwengel's body was recovered.

     An entire city block had been lost in the fire.  Six men had been sent to the hospital with a variety of injuries sustained at the scene.  Among those recovering at the hospital was District Marshal Philip Hurley.  He had been in command of a group of companies operating from a one story roof on Cheapside.  The companies were using a high pressure device called a "three way."  Six men and a support beam were needed to secure the device which threw three separate streams of water.  Hurley noticed the streams were not falling in the ideal location and directed they be moved.  Suddenly the beam helping to stabilize the device collapsed and the hose, operating under 300 pounds of pressure, uncoiled, sweeping men aside and tossing Marshal Hurley off the roof.  He had several fractured limbs and was taken to the city hospital.  It was thought he would recover and he enjoyed a large number of visitors over several days in the hospital.  His condition suddenly worsened in the middle of the night and on December 29th he died.


Engine Co.45 
Standing in the rubble of the Shoe District Fire
L to R: Cosgrove, Capt. Wescott, Kingler, Tibbles, Warmer
Courtesy Cincinnati Fire Museum


Cincinnati Enquirer Headline
23 December 1910


     The Shoe District Fire in Cincinnati was the first of several terrible events that occurred in the United States in the space of just a couple of days.  While firemen here fought desperately to keep Cincinnati's blaze from becoming a general conflagration that might have threatened the city, firemen in Philadelphia were called to a fire at the Friedlander Leather Remnants Factory.  When several men were trapped a group of rescuers moved in to free them.  A wall collapsed on the group killing 13 firemen and one police officer.  It is to this day the largest loss of firemen to occur in that city.  The death toll on December 22nd would far surpass that of the 21st.  Just 59 minutes into a fire at the Chicago Union Stockyards, a 6 story brick wall collapsed killing 21 firemen including the Chief of the Department.  3 Civilians were also killed.  It remains among the all time deadliest events for firemen in the United States.  All told, some 37 firemen and 4 civilians were killed in these disastrous fires.

     Firefighters lost in the Shoe District Fire and listed among the Roll of Honor of the Cincinnati Fire Department include:


Robert Grear
Pipeman - Engine Co.04
Died 21 December 1910
Crushed in wall collapse at fire scene

Charles Schwengel 
Ladder Co.15
Died 21 December 1910
Crushed in wall collapse at fire scene

Philip Hurley
District Fire Marshal
Died 29 December 1910
Injuries sustained at fire scene on 21 December


Asst Fire Marshal Philip Hurley
Died of his injuries on 29 December 1910
Courtesy Cincinnati Fire Museum


Update (11/3/2015):  Among the firefighters injured at the Sycamore Shoe District Fire was Guy Morgan of E04.  He fractured his right leg and was transported to the hospital were he shared space with Marshal Hurley.  It was thought Morgan would recover from his injuries without complication but gengrene set in and on 15 Jan 1911 his leg was amputated below the knee at the city hospital.  Morgan live for many years following this incident.  A World War 2 draft card lists him as a retired city fireman and gives Barney Houston as a contact for more information.  



A portion of the fire area as it appeared around 1891.  9th Street runs across the top of the image and 8th St the bottom.
Sycamore is the first street running vertically on the left.  The building listed as the Blacker Gerstle Co contained 
The Krippendorf O'Neil Shoe Co & Twinlock Co at the time of the fire.
Note open area in the middle of the buildings where the night watchman initially spotted the blaze.
Engine 4 was crushed on 9th Street just outside the Cincinnati Hotel (upper left) and Grear
was killed in the street at this location as well.
Sanburn Insurance Co map - Ohiolink




Monday, November 2, 2015

Chief Houston Reminds You to VOTE

Chief Barney Houston Reminds You to VOTE

     Chief Barney J. Houston reminds you to vote on election day and if you are scheduled to be on duty please remember to vote before starting your shift!


CFD General Order 175 - Issued 01 November 1921 - E37 GO Book
Courtesy Cincinnati Fire Museum


CFD General Order 202 - Issued 01 November 1924 - E37 GO Book
Courtesy Cincinnati Fire Museum


     Unlike 1924 polls are not open starting at 5:30 and the previous shift is not required to hold over until you arrive from voting.  TOMORROW polls open at 6:30am.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Join Us...Vine Street Cemetery Memorial Re-Dedication 04 Nov 2015

Vine Street Hill Cemetery - Public Safety Memorial Restored

What:  Re-Dedication of the Vine Street Hill Cemetery 
Public Safety Service LODD Memorial

Where:  Vine Street Hill Cemetery 
(3701 Vine Street, Cincinnati, Ohio)

When:  04 November 2015 @ 12:00 Noon


Vine Street Hill Cemetery Fire and Police LODD Memorial
Courtesy: Cincinnati Fire Museum


       In 1980 Vine Street Hill Cemetery honored fallen members of the public safety services buried on their cemetery grounds with a public memorial.  The memorial included a bronze plaque that listed the names of Firefighters and Police Officers who were killed in the line of duty and subsequently buried in the cemetery.  At some point in the recent past the monument was desecrated.  The bronze name plates were pulled off of the plaque.


Vandalized Memorial:  Name Plates Removed
Courtesy:  Vine Hill Street Cemetery


     Members of the Greater Cincinnati Police Museum were conducting research related to the death of a member who was buried at Vine Street Hill Cemetery.  It was found this member was interred without a headstone.  The Greater Cincinnati Police Museum and the Cemetery purchased a headstone to honor this member and it has now been installed in the cemetery.  It was during the course of this research that the damage to the public safety monument came to light.

Vandalized Memorial - Detail
Courtesy: Vine Street Hill Cemetery


     The Greater Cincinnati Police Museum conducted research with the cemetery and Cincinnati Fire Museum to reconstruct the LODD that was vandalized.  The monument has now been repaired and will be re-dedicated during a ceremony on November 4th.

     The newly installed headstone for fallen Patrolman Frederick Karsch who was shot during a public disturbance on November 3, 1880 will also be featured in the ceremony.  Patrolman Karsch died on November 4, 1880 and the ceremony coincides with the 135th anniversary of his death in the line of duty.



Fallen Police & Firefighters 
Honored at Vine Hill Street Cemetery:

                          Frederick Karsch                                        CPD                             1880
                          Louis Klusman                                           CPD                             1896
                          John Schnucks                                            CPD                             1916
                          William Deiters                                          CPD                             1918
                          Richard Ell                                                 CPD                             1918
                          Elijah Boileau                               B&O South West RR                1919
                          Lt.Fred Hotel                                              CFD                             1920
                          Fire Marshal Peter Schraffenberger           CFD                             1922
                          Clifford Cornish                                         CPD                             1925
                          Engineer Albert Klingler                            CFD                             1929
                          Walter Commins                                 Wyoming PD                      1930
                          Lt.John Kuhfers                                          CFD                             1933
                          Charles Blymyer                                         CFD                             1934
                          Jesse Hicks                                                 CPD                              1935
                          Julius Mayer                                               CPD                             1940
                          Carl Hille                                                    CPD                             1942
                          Richard Spratt                                             CFD                             1942
                          Lewis Hall                                                   CPD                             1948
                          Lester Meyers                                             CFD                              1951
                          Walter Williams                                          CPD                             1951


Additional information about the above listed Firefighter LODDs can be found by clicking the link:

Additional information about the police officers listed above can be found on the website of the Greater Cincinnati Police Museum

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Two Horses Killed - Slippery Streets in the Age of the Steamer - 1914

Hills & Winding Roads Prove Deadly in Steamer Accident
15 April 1914




Newspaper Headline 16 April 1914
Cincinnati Enquirer


     Two boys were out causing trouble on the campus of Xavier College on Thursday April 15, 1914.  They lit a fire, intentionally or accidentally it is not known, then took off.  Firemen at Engine Company 39 were looking forward to lunch.  The bells rang above the joker stand as an alarm of fire was taken.  The horses, Bull and Roxie, rushed forward to their harnesses and the doors of he house flung open.  Snaps were fastened and the men jumped aboard.  In seconds the engine was off, tearing across Montgomery Road and down Clarion Avenue.  Rain had been falling steadily making the roads treacherous.  Once at the bottom of Clarion the engine made a left turn onto Dana.  The driver, Frank Voellmecke, noted the roads to be very slippery as he passed through the intersection with Woodburn.  With no details about the fire speed remained a priority but care had to be taken.  Hills and bends were a serious threat even in the best conditions.  Horses were driven to pull the heavy engine but once it got moving it could be difficult to stop.  The horses could be unpredictable, despite their training. 


Engine Co.39 as it appeared around the time of the accident.
E39 & Hose Wagon 39 pictured
Courtesy Cincinnati Fire Museum



      The engine continued on and started into the intersection with Winding Way.  Xavier College was to the right and the company was nearing the fire.  Suddenly, as the engine swerved to the right turning onto Winding Way, Bull slipped and fell causing Roxie to be tossed to the ground as well.  The animals let out a terrible cry.  The weight of the engine tossed the horses into the curb with the engine coming to rest on Bull whose neck was broken.  He was killed instantly.  As the engine was thrown to the side of the road it struck a telegraph pole.  Voellmecke was spit from his seat breaking his shoulder as he landed nearby.  Roxie was writhing in agony having sustained a broken leg.  The engine itself was damaged and would require service before it could be placed back in service.


Frank J. Voellmecke
Courtesy Voellmecke Family Collection


     Chief Bunker learned of the accident as he neared the fire and rushed to the scene in his automobile.  The department had only recently started switching from horse pulled steamers to new mechanized auto pumpers and Engine 39 had not yet been changed.  Accidents such as these were one of a number of reasons why it was argued that the change to auto pumpers was a necessary one.  The chief helped to package Voellmecke up and drove him home.  A mounted police officer arrived and euthanized Roxie with his pistol.  Chief Bunker notified a police detective that two boys had been witnessed running from the college just as smoke was seen.  


Engine 39 Joker Stand
Courtesy Cincinnati Fire Museum


     Soon horse pulled steamers would be a thing of the past.  The Cincinnati Fire Department had set the standard model by which all other fire departments followed for 60 years.  Horse drawn steamers operated by paid professional firefighters was a system that worked.  As technology made jumps the world was pulled into the future.  Automobiles were running along the same streets as horse pulled vehicles.  Horses were easily startled by these heavy machines.  It was clear that they would not both occupy the streets together for long.  The fire department had been luck on this day.  Voellmecke was injured and two horses were killed in the wreck but the results could easily have been worse.  The fire department had already witnessed a number of members killed in traffic accidents during responses.  Indeed the response itself was often more dangerous than the emergency the men were confronted with.  



Chiefs Report regarding the accident at Dana and Winding Way
Courtesy B.Houston Collection




Montgomery and Clarion as they appear today - Engine 39s former quarters at the intersection 
E39 crossed Montgomery and started down Clarion prior to the wreck
Google Street View




Report of the City Veterinarian regarding the wreck and the death of two department horses
Courtesy: B.Houston Collection



The intersection of Dana and Winding Way as it appears today. To the right a parking area for Xavier University can be seen
Google Street View



Thursday, October 15, 2015

Collapse of the Dater House

Collapse of the Dater House - 03 September 1877

     A terrible construction accident brought members of the fire department together in a search for survivors on Monday September 3, 1877.



Cincinnati Enquirer 04 September 1877
Headline of the story that appeared in the Enquirer following the collapse



     For a couple of weeks work had been progressing on the demolition of No.76 Longworth Street.  That building was owned by the Weighell Brothers, tobacconists.  Finally the structure was cleared from the site and the work of preparing a cellar for the new factory was started.

     No.74 was a 3 story brick tenement immediately next door.  The building was constructed around 1847 and was said to have been poorly built.  In order to deepen the cellar of No.76 the contractors dug below the level of the foundation of No.74.  They used a bank of earth and gravel to help stabilize the wall of No.74.  It became clear that No.74 would need to be shored up in order for the project at No.76 to continue.  Gilbert Dater, the owner of the tenement, hired a company to accomplish the shoring work.  Work to stabilize the structure started on Monday September 3rd in the morning.  The plan was to drill several holes in the walls so as to use wooden planks and jacks to support the wall along with bracing.  Conflicting reports are offered regarding notification residents received from the property owner.  Ultimately the only person that seems to have moved to safety was the occupant of the basement and that was largely because the work was taking place in that space.

     The Dater House was occupied by Susie Keam the keeper of the house and her husband, Ada Price, Mrs. Louie Dowling, Kittie Grant and John Disten, Laura Miller, Mertie Gray and her friend Henry Johnson, Laura Miller, Lottie Williams, and a servant girl named Mary - The construction men in the basement were working under foreman John Finnegan and included Hugh Quigley, Patrick Boyle, Pat Flaherty, and Conrad Leyden.

     The construction crew worked through the day cutting holes into the wall and digging corresponding holes in the basement floor so as to set jack screws to support the wall.  All of the cutting and digging coupled with the already weak nature of the wall and the earth that had been removed while digging out the cellar in the neighboring building was too much.  At around 3:40 in the afternoon there was a thunderous crash as the building collapsed.

     The work of digging a cellar next door at No.76 had also been ongoing.  John Mehen, Jerry Colter, Tim Maher, and John Quinn were loading soil into a cart driven by John Reilly.  The men were warned of the impending collapse by a fellow workman standing in the street.  The men immediately jumped into a preexisting coal cellar that was in front of them.  The cellar was sheltered under some pavement.  This jump saved the men's lives.  The mule and cart they had been filling was buried to the reins with brick and debris.  The noise had been great enough that it was heard a couple of blocks away at the Gifts Engine House.  In minutes there were people running up to the house calling for help.


Cincinnati Enquirer 04 Sept 1877
Illustration of the scene as it appeared in the Enquirer


     Firemen responded with the Phoenix Hook and Ladder Co.1 along with Assistant Engineer Joe Bunker and Jakey Hughes.  Scores of volunteers assisted the firemen and police in digging through the rubble in the search for survivors.  Mertie Gray and her friend Henry Johnson were the first to be rescued.  Kittie Grant was next to be saved.  She had also had luck enough to survive the Robinson's Opera House disaster in February 1876 when a false call of fire in an overcrowded venue resulted in a rush of people to the exits.  Nine women and children were trampled to death in that incident.  Near her was John Disten.  One of Finnegan's workmen, Conrad Leyden, was found on the steps of the buildings Longworth Street entrance.  In the rear of the structure firemen were searching an area from which could be heard a woman's voice calling for help.  Here Susan Keam was found crushed to death near Lottie Williams who had been calling for help.  More calls for help were heard from around the entrance and workers rescued Pat Flaherty from this location.  He was shaken and had some minor injuries but after being looked over by a doctor he immediately returned to the scene to help search for his missing coworkers.  Flaherty had been working near Hugh Quigley and knew he would be close.  Hugh was found dead in the rubble soon after.  Louise Dowling and Laura Williams were soon rescued as well.  Next were found Ada Price and Myrtle Gray who both survived the ordeal.  By 5:00 all but one had been recovered from the building.  Foreman John Finnegan was still missing.  Fire Company No.12's diary is the only known company diary to survive from 1877.  It records the event and notes that a couple of men were sent to the scene from each company to aid in searching for survivors and digging through the rubble.  By 7:00p Finnegan had still not been found and a fire was built atop the debris to light the scene.  When the fire failed to provide enough light a calcium light was placed on the roof of a neighboring store and a tree chopped away to provide more light.  Finally around 9:45p Finnegan's body was discovered crushed under the rubble.  The mule and other heavy debris was removed with the use of a hoisting rope.


Mohawk Fire Co.12 Diary c.1877 (BHouston Collection)
Entry for 03 September notes the collapse of the house on Longworth near Elm and indicates 2 men from each
company detailed to the scene.  At the time E12 was still located in the Mohawk Neighborhood (This would change later in the year).
The diary also notes a large loss of life at a fire in New York.  This is a reference to the Hale & Co Piano Factory Fire that took place on the same
date.  The initial estimate of loss was very high but ended up being much lower.  As many as 80 buildings were lost or damaged.

Cover of Mohawk Fire Co.12 Diary for the year 1877
(BHouston Collection)


     Over a hundred firemen, policemen, and volunteers helped dig through the rubble.  Ultimately three of the people inside the Dater House were killed.  The event highlights the dangers associated with the building trades as well as the absence of laws and regulations to govern construction and building safety at the time.

The Persons Lost in the Collapse:
Susan Keam
Hugh Quigley
John Finnigan






A Calcium Light (Limelight) - This was a 19th Century form
of theatrical stage lighting.  A piece of lime would be burned by an oxyhydrogen flame
creating an intense light.