The Ghosts of Fires Past

In January of 2002, a fatal fire broke out in the Plaza on DeWitt condominium hi-rise at 260 East Chestnut in Chicago.  In that fire several firefighters were injured and residents were rescued from the building’s roof where they were forced to flee to escape severe smoke conditions.

A few mornings ago as reported here on Fire Daily, history repeated itself.  As the first brutally cold and windy night of winter charged into the city, fully one-third of the on-duty personnel of Chicago’s firefighters were again called to the Plaza on DeWitt.  The 36th floor fire was again fatal; again eight firefighters were injured; several residents again were rescued from the building’s roof where they were forced to escape severe smoke conditions.

A little over a week ago on December 3, we all took pause to remember the Worcester Cold Storage Warehouse fire of ten years ago.  Six firefighters lost their lives that day on an interior rescue for squatters believed to be inside the old building.

Yesterday, history again repeated itself.

A two-alarm blaze in a vacant South Boston warehouse yesterday was eerily reminiscent of the Worcester fire.  Boston Fire Rescue Company 1 was advised that the building was known to be occupied by squatters and people may be trapped inside.  They entered, split into two groups and began their search.  Two of Boston’s bravest tripped and fell into FOUR FEET of standing water during the effort.

One of the firefighters was able to feel his way up some stairs and found the lone occupant who had become disoriented in the heavy smoke conditions.  That firefighter, 63-year old John Smith, a FORTY YEAR VETERAN FIREFIGHTER. led the man outside to waiting EMS workers.

The report from the Boston Globe describes the scene:

“Fire officials said the rescued man was one of several people living in the warehouse. Inside the building, an intricately organized squatters’ residence could be seen, with beds, televisions, microwaves, and even a stocked kitchen setup, complete with a spice rack. Fire officials said yesterday that the legally vacant building was even wired for electricity.

South Boston is home to an array of warehouses and industrial-type buildings, and fire officials know that homeless people gather here.

“Since Worcester, there’s been a heightened awareness among firefighters’’ as they go about their searches,” (Boston Fire Department Spokesman Steve) MacDonald said.

Smith said his crew stayed focused on saving anyone who might be inside the warehouse yesterday. “This is a prime spot for homeless people at this time of year,’’ he said. “Inside these buildings, they can set up quite a bit of housekeeping and stay there for quite some time.’’

The firefighters in Massachusetts and Chicago have witnessed history repeating itself.

Because they applied knowledge gained from these previous incidents, they were better prepared to handle the next incident.

Here is tangible proof that the Worcester 6 an others like them have not died in vain.

We have learned from their tragedy and all become better prepared to handle the next call where history will invariably repeat itself.


Stay stoked!



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John Mitchell

Firefighter/Paramedic and a Lieutenant in suburban Chicago

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