Grant Fire: November 5, 1973
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Grant Fire: November 5, 1973

"LOOKING BACK" By Captain Greg Roembke

IFD Historian - 1998
Photos by Roger Birchfield IFD

It started with a telephone call from a very calm man. He stated that he worked in the Thomas building at 15 East Washington Street, and that smoke was coming from the 4th floor windows of the empty building next store. Within a matter of seconds, the Dispatcher had fire apparatus on the way. As he finished the dispatch, the telephones began "ringing off the hook".

November 5th marks the 25th anniversary of one of the largest and most costly fires ever fought by the Indianapolis Fire Department, the Grant fire. Before the end of the day, over 220 firefighters extinguished fires in 15 buildings consisting of 84 business, with a dollar loss of $5,321, 000.00. It was several days before firefighting operations were completed, and Fire Prevention and the Arson Squad spent the better part of the next four weeks sorting out what happened.

What is it that seems to make this fire special a quarter of a century after it took place? The City has had its share of big fires, expensive fires, and spectacular fires over the years. And there have been fires with larger dollar loss, taken longer to extinguish, and required more apparatus. But the Grant fire continues to occupy a special place in the history of the City and Department.

Perhaps the best way to answer this question is to look at this fire through the eyes of the people who were there that day. As over 1/3rd of the City's 1900 Fire and Police Officers were involved in this incident, there are many stories to tell.

And in order to fully appreciate what took place at Washington and Meridian Street, we begin with a look at how we did business 25 years ago.

IFD Circa 1973

Over the years, the basic tasks have remained the same, saving lives, protecting property, and extinguishing the fire. However, as new technology comes and goes, and apparatus changes, we tend to forget what the "good old days" were really like. As this story unfolds, it is important to remember what tools and procedures were available in 1973.

The average Engine in service was a Maxim, 1000 GPM with a single stage pump. A large diameter hose was 2 1/2 inches and every engine carried just 1000 feet. The Attack line was 1 1/2 inch, and deck guns were not carried on engines. Six Maxim 1500 GPM engines that were just four years old protected the Mile Square. Additionally, there were three 1955 1500 GPM Maxim's that had began their careers Downtown, and were now scattered around the City. Before the day was over, all three would be at the fire, ironically all within a half block of each other. The Engines were supported by four GMC Hose tenders that carried between 600 and 1000 foot of 2 1/2 inch hose.

While there were 17 Truck Companies in service at that time, a potential weak point was the number of aerial devices available. Only nine of these Trucks were capable of being used as Water Towers, with the remainder utilizing Service Trucks. Included in the aerial fleet were four 100 foot aerials, two 75 footers, and one 85 foot unit. Additionally, a 75 and an 85-foot Snorkel were in service, along with a 54 foot Squirt.

There are a couple of other important facts to remember when discussing the Aerial fleet. Only the Snorkels were "pre-piped", at the time. All of the other units required a 3-inch hose to be laid up the ladder and attached to the ladder pipe. At the same time, the Aerials were limited in the height that they could safely operate as a water tower, normally just 80 percent of its listed length.

The majority of the apparatus at this time was gasoline powered, with only a couple of diesels in service. The biggest downside to the gasoline-powered units was the large amount of fuel they consumed while operating. An IFD Fuel Truck staffed with a full time driver handled refueling.

The Command structure that IFD operated under in 1973 was very simple. The Chief gave orders to the Company Officers who carried out the task. This system was very effective on most of the incidents faced by the Department, but on an incident as large and complex as the Grant Fire, coordination between Chief Officers, Company Officers and the Alarm Office was difficult at best.

The problem was compounded by the radio system used in 1973. All dispatches, fireground operations, and everything else were on one channel. There was a Fireground channel known as "3-Way", but is was basically the main dispatch channel without the repeater. Communications between IFD and the surrounding Fire Departments was done by telephone. There was not a great deal of radio communications between Command and the Company Officers as the Department was just starting to receive a few hand-me-down "Handy-Talkies" from the Police. Roughly twice the size of today's portables, the Chief's had the only units in service at the time.

Another innovation that was several years away was FireHouse Alerting. In 1973, the radio in every station was on all the time, 24 hours a day. So when Captain Gregory announced that "this is a working fire", every firefighter on duty knew something was happening Downtown.

Report of Smoke Coming From The Building

The Alarm Office was then located on the first floor of Fire Headquarters, located at 301 East New York Street. Upon receiving an alarm, the Dispatchers looked up the address to get a box number, and dispatched the apparatus displayed on the running card. The Computer aided dispatch was a couple of years away, and the Dispatchers had most of the Boxes committed to memory.

Box 45 covered the first block of East Washington Street, and at 1249, the initial dispatch was made. Utilizing a relatively new procedure designed to reduce congestion in the Mile Square, a Still Alarm consisting of Engines 7 and 13, Ladder 7 and Car 2, the Division Chief, began heading toward the fire.

At the time, and over the years, there has been speculation as to if the use of a Still Alarm instead of the Box made any difference. However, even as the Still Alarm was being announced, the number of telephone calls being received caused the Dispatcher to strike the Box at 1250, less than a minute after the first dispatch. Seven more pieces of equipment were now on the way.

At this point, several things were happening at once. The Department was experimenting with reporting "on the scene", and Captain John Gregory of Engine 13 now used this procedure to let the department know that "this is a working fire"! The Box Alarm Companies were beginning the trip Downtown, and as Engine 6 turned east out of their West Washington Street house, Chauffeur David Sims thought the entire Mile Square was in flames. And as noted, the Alarm Office was deluged with calls reporting "a large fire". These calls would continue for most of the afternoon, and Chief of Communications Robert Copper headed down to assist. As the day unfolded, even more people crammed into the tight Alarm office to assist with the phones. 

The Fight Begins

It is now just two minutes since the call reporting the fire and Companies are arriving and beginning to attack the fire. The fire had started in the old W. T. Grant Building at 35 East Washington Street, a five story brick and wood building that was in early stages of being demolished. Even as the first apparatus is pulling in, this building is heavily involved, and there are exposure problems everywhere the firefighters looked. Engine 13 laid their line from in front of the fire to the corner of Washington and Pennsylvania. Before Chauffeur Charley Miller could even connect this line, it was burning up in the street.

Already, fire was lapping out the windows of the Grant building and threatening the 13 story Thomas building located to the west and separated by a 15-foot wide alley. Lt. Don Wolf positioned Snorkel 13 in an effort to setup a water curtain down the alley. However, even as the Snorkel began to throw water, fire was breaking into the Thomas building.

At the same time, Aerial 7 was setting up their ladder pipe to attack the Fire in the Grant building. Before they could put the stream into operation, the walls of the Grant building started coming down, causing them to move the Aerial to the north side of the street. This was the first of many times that they would change location.

Drawn by the clouds of smoke and the parade of fire apparatus, Downtown office worker and shoppers began to pour into the streets, adding to the confusion. Before the day was over, an estimated 5000 people were evacuated from the area.

Second Alarm

B Shift Division Chief Harold Bowers responded on the Still Alarm from his quarters at Station 7. Pulling in with Engine and Aerial 7, Chief Bowers does not hesitate in calling for help. At 1252, he contacts the Dispatcher and tells them "Second Alarm on this". It is now just four minutes since the first call and at least 19 pieces of equipment are at the scene or on the way.

All over the City, firefighters who have heard the radio traffic are heading to out to the approach and looking towards Downtown. They are greeted with the sight of a towering cloud of smoke and fire. Others are checking the Running Cards to see if and when they are due to respond. And everyone is listening to the radio as more and more equipment is being sent to the fire.

Along with the Second Alarm Companies, Administration Chiefs have responded to the fire, and begin the task of sizing up what is quickly becoming a major incident. It is evident to everyone that most of this fire is taking place high above the street, and the fire is quickly communicating to buildings on all four sides. Chief Bowers wastes little time in calling for additional Aerial Trucks, telling the Dispatcher to send Aerial 5 and 17 to Washington Street "immediately". Four of the nine Aerial units are now committee to the fire.

At street level, firefighters are fighting more than the fire. The heat is intense, and hose lines begin to smoke and burn as they are laid in the street. A steady shower of bricks is now falling from the Grant building. And despite a wind of 15 to 21 miles an hour out of the Northwest, the buildings on the north side of Washington Street begin to burn, including the 17 story Washington Hotel. Also about this time, the buildings to the south and east begin to burn, prompting a new round of phone calls. District Chief 4, Fred Dilger Jr., has responded on the Second Alarm, and is on Pennsylvania Street when he sees the fire on the roofs of the Federal Reserve building and the Century building. He calls for Aerial 5 to report to that location. Now having seen the scope of the rapidly spreading fire, Car 2 calls for the Third Alarm at 1301. We are now 11 minutes into the fire and Engines 9, 19 and 27 are on the way.

Are All The Aerials On The Way?

Deputy Chief of Operations Robert Chaplin has arrived on the scene, and less than four minutes after the Third Alarm is dispatched, orders an Extra Alarm. At the same time, District 4 requests an Engine and Aerial sent to his location on the southeast side of the fire. The Running Cards, then as now, only listed apparatus up to a Third Alarm. With little hesitation, the Dispatcher makes up a Fourth Alarm consisting of Engines 12, 15 and 29, along with 27's 85 foot Aerial.

It is at this time that Chauffeur Sims on Engine 6 utilizes the Fire/Police Call Box at Washington and Meridian to contact the Alarm Office and let them know that a man was reported trapped on the 8th floor of the Thomas building. Aided by an alarm system, and a stairwell away from the fire, all of the occupants excepted 73 year old Edward McElfresh have safely made it out of the building. Utilizing a portable ladder, Firefighter Dale Davis and Police Detective Mike Grable attempt to rescue him from the roof of the Kirk Furniture building. The ladder is a bout three feet short and McElfresh has to reach through the smoke in order to reach it. Davis and Grable then lead him to safety.

The shortage of Aerials is now beginning to have an impact. At 1307, Chief Chaplin asks the Dispatcher if all of the Aerials are on the way. Because of the confusion in the Alarm Office, he is told that everyone except Aerial 14 is on the way, somehow overlooking Aerial's 1,34, and Snorkel 31. Chief Chaplin tells the Dispatcher to "send them", and 14's is dispatched. Within 15 seconds and aided by a quick call from the 1's, Aerial 1 is also dispatched, and is on the way with their 100 foot Maxim.

Out on the far northeast side of the City, Acting Chauffeur Ralph Dungan is pacing around Station 34. Aerial 34 is the oldest apparatus in service, a 1949 Peter Pirsch 75 footer that spent most of its years at the 5's and 27's. But it's an Aerial and listening to the radio, Ralph figures it is just a matter of time. Shortly after being told by others that "they wouldn't get that on post card", the Chief of the Department proves them wrong.

Don Lamb had only been the Fire Chief for one month at the time of the fire. Arriving on the scene, he too knew that every elevated stream available would be needed to fight this fire. At 1308, he tells the Dispatcher to "get every available Aerial we got in here". When told that everything is either there or on the way, he reminds them about the 34's and Snorkel 31. Aerial 34 and Snorkel 31 begin the long trip Downtown.

It is necessary to remember that the Dispatchers at this time were completely covered with radio traffic and telephone calls. Their only means of tracking available apparatus was by using a manually operated status map. With at least six people working in a room designed for three, the job they did all day was exceptional. The temporary "loss" of a couple of apparatus is easy to understand, and had no impact on the fire what so ever.

Many Multiple Alarm Fires

Back on Washington Street, things are looking bad. Fire had now taken over most of the Thomas Building, and was threatening the Kirk Furniture building next store. At the same time, fire began to burn cars parked in Parking Garages located to the south of the main fire.

While the fire at the Federal Reserve is mainly confined to the roof, over at the Century building, fire is starting to spread through the upper floors. But the worst event was taking place on the north side of Washington Street.

Radiate heat has set fire to the upper floors of the Washington Hotel, a 17 story building located just 120 feet from the Grant building. Firefighters were more than familiar with this building, the site of several Extra Alarm fires over the years. They also knew from experience that this building did not have a standpipe system. You had to take your water with you.

Captain Charles Spurlin and the crew of Engine 7 had laid lines to Aerial 7, and were in the process of advancing a hand line into the Thomas Building. They now backed out and moved to the Washington Hotel, where they fought fires on the 15th, 16th, and 17th floor. Aerial 7 also turned their attention to the Washington Hotel. Swinging the ladder around, they began to pour water at the top of the building. Firefighter William Linder was on the top of the ladder, and later had to be treated for burns to the back of his legs. Snorkel 13 joined the fight to stop the fire in the Washington Hotel.

In the meantime, Chiefs were gathering all the firefighters they could find and sending them into the Hotel in an effort to prevent that fire from spreading. This did cause a few problems as Officers tried to keep track of their men. Lt. Bill Martin of Engine 9 says that one minute his crew was throwing water, and the next minute, "they were gone". As several people have stated, the fire in the Washington Hotel was an Extra Alarm fire by its self.

Remember that the Department was operating largely without the benefit of portable radios, and that orders from Command were mostly "face-to-face". Company Officers were making quick and gutsy decisions as to where to place their crews and hoselines.

Out in the street, Aerial Companies were being directed to run their ladders up past the recommended 80 percent for water tower operations to as "high as possible". The battle continued to be above the heads of those on the street.

An Eye In The Sky, And More Help

As the fire continued to spread, an Emergency Command Post was opened on the 25th floor of the City County Building. Chief John Mitny, District 2, was sent to that location to represent the Department. It was from here that he first reported that the top of the Washington Hotel was "looking pretty bad". This was only the first of two "high-level" assignments for Mitny that day.

At the fire, the requests for lines continued as the Department attempted to gain the upper hand. Engine 14 was sent to assist District 4 on Maryland Street. Chief William Patterson, Deputy Chief of Service now assumed the task of getting water to the upper floors of the Washington Hotel. After several unsuccessful attempts to contact the Dispatcher, he used a Fire/Police Call Box to request an Engine to lay lines down the alley behind the building. Engine 18's 1500 GPM Maxim was sent to meet him.

This battle, and the others, were now being fought by both on and off-duty firefighters. Responding to the extensive media coverage of this fire, over 80 firefighters reported to the scene on their own. At the same time, firefighters and apparatus from the surrounding Townships were being requested to "fill-in" at our stations. By far Wayne Township provide the most equipment with Engines at the 6's, 13's, 18's and 29's. Washington, Castleton, and Perry Townships provided Snorkel's at the 31's, 27's and 13's. These apparatus were manned by over 100 Volunteer firefighters. Chief Lamb later said, "We greatly appreciate their efforts in assisting us".

The eight story parking garage at Meridian and Pearl Streets was now becoming an important location. Already, 25 cars were either damaged or destroyed, and the decision was made to try and move the rest of the cars out of the garage. District 1, Chief Don Strietelmier was dispatched to supervise this operation, and at the same time, establish some hand lines into the back of the Thomas building. The crew of Engine 4 used their Hose Tender to lay a line up into the garage, and later used the monitor nozzle on the Hose Tender as a master stream. 

In the meantime, Aerial 14 had maneuvered their 75 foot ladder down an alley at the rear of the Grant building, and were awaiting water. They were not alone in this position, as a large crane that was to be used in the demolition of the Grant building sat right behind the building. There was also a large crowd of spectators that were hampering the effort of the firefighters laying hoselines. Kenny Wright of Engine 14 remembers that when the tires on the crane exploded from the heat, the crowd "cleared out real quick". Engine 3, who had just marked in service from a garage fire, also provided water to this area.

Chief Lamb, in an effort to keep track of the incident, "drafted" Captain Keith Smith (now Chief of Department) of Engine 15 to serve as his Aide, and ordered the portable radios from the Arson Squad delivered to the fire.

Some Highrise Help

Former Deputy Sheriff Jim Lanigan and his fellow steelworkers were working on an addition to the Indiana Bell building when the fire broke out. Lanigan had long had in an interest in the fire service, and would in latter years be an important part of the Urban Task Force. On this day, however, he took one look at the smoke and fire, and knew he could help. Gathering ropes and other equipment, the steelworkers "left" the job and headed to the fire. Their timing was excellent.

The 17 story Merchant Bank building at Washington and Meridian was only separated from the Thomas building by the five story Kirk building, and fire communicating to the many windows facing the fire was real concern. The Merchants building had a fire escape with a standpipe that ran up the entire building on the backside. It was here that the decision was made to place hose lines.

Led by Jim Lanigan, the steelworkers scaled the fire escape and began lowering ropes to raise hose to the upper levels. Not only did the Merchant's building escape with a little water damage, the fire escape became the "high ground" in the battle to extinguish the fire in the Thomas building. 

Engine 17 was located at Meridian and Pearl, and had the primary task of supplying water to the Merchant's standpipe. As more and more lines were attached to the standpipe, the calls for "more pressure" were made to the 17's. Chauffeur Bill Joshlin later reported that his hose lines looked like "sections of ridge pipe". Engine 21 was later dispatched to assist in supplying the standpipe.

In the alley next to the 17's, Aerial 34 had backed in under a walkway from the Merchant's building to the parking garage. Taking lines from the 17's Engine, they were able to work their ladder pipe into the southwest corner of the Thomas building. On the other side of the fire, Snorkel 31 had set up at Pennsylvania and Pearl, joining Aerial 5 in an attack from the east, and extinguishing the fire on the roofs of the buildings in that area. The Snorkel's trip from the north side to the fire was not without incident. As they headed south on Meridian Street, the 1 1/2 hose in the Snorkel bucket bounced out and was dragged to the fire.

The Tide Turns

Firefighters had begun to knock down the large volume of fire in the Grant building. By this time, most of the building had collapsed, making it very difficult for the firefighters to move around on Washington Street. In the rear, Aerial 14 observed that the demolition crane had all but been destroyed by the estimated 2600 degree heat. It was not a good day for Zebrowski Demolition Company as early speculation to the cause of the fire centered on a cutting torch used by their employees.

Across the street at the Washington Hotel, firefighters were also gaining the upper hand. Although not many people knew it at the time, the fire in the Hotel was extensive, causing over $400,000.00 damage. Fire fighters fought floor by floor, many times without much water, to put out the fire. WIBC Radio, then as now, was the premiere news radio station in the City. Their live broadcast of the fire reported how first there would be fire in a window, then smoke, and the next thing that was seen was a firefighter looking out the window to see where to go next.

Chief Mitny had relocated from the City County Building to the Helicopter Pad where he was picked up and given a look at the scene from above. From his position, he helped direct the ladder pipes to more effective locations, including Aerial 27 at Washington and Pennsylvania.

The other Aerials continued to pour water at the main body of the fire. Trucks 1, 17, and 7 were joined by Snorkel and Squirt 13 on Washington Street, Truck 34 was working on the west side, while Aerial 14 covered the south, or rear of the fire. Snorkel 31 and Aerial 5 were still working the east side of the fire.

There were not many monitor nozzles being carried on apparatus at this time. So the Repair Shop rounded up what they could find and delivered them to the scene. They were placed in various locations, including the roof of Kirk building. Hand lines were constantly being moved, added to, and moved into monitor nozzles.

The Shop also had the task of providing fuel to the apparatus. Running at full capacity, many of the Engines were now "looking for the gas truck". The Fuel Truck, driven by Leo Shanahan, received some much needed help as Shop personal loaded 55 gallon drums of fuel into a pickup truck, and began hand pumping fuel to apparatus.

Under Control

Shortly after 1500 hours, it appears that the fire is under control, at least to the point where it won't spread any farther. But there's still much work to be done. Overhaul had begun in the exposure buildings, and master stream devices continued to pour water into both the Grant and Thomas buildings.

Where the Grant building had been empty, the Thomas building on the other hand was 13 floors of offices and businesses. The Chiefs are beginning to plan how to enter the Thomas building to fully extinguish the fire and complete overhaul. Everyone knew that it was far from over. At about this time, the ladder pipes of Aerials 14 and 34 were moved to the top of the Merchants Parking Garage, where they were used to supply Hose Tender 4's monitor.

As things began to calm down, the Department took a look at what it had done. Thousands of people had been evacuated from the area with no reports of injury. Despite intense heat and a shower of bricks, there were only seven minor injuries to firefighters.

Companies began to regroup and take a well-earned rest, knowing there was still much work to be done. Out in the stations, the younger firefighters were wondering if and when they would be sent, while the older guys knew it was just a matter of time. They began to gather warm clothing and catch a "quick nap", preparing for the long night ahead.

Many restaurants joined the Salvation Army in providing food and drink. The temperature had been in the high 40's when the fire began, but already it was beginning to drop, and would reach the low 20's before the night was over. Firefighters who were soaked to the skin were thankful to the business owners who opened their doors and provided both warmth and some dry clothing.

At about 1700 hours, crews begin to enter the Thomas building. Ladder pipes are lowered into windows and now served as standpipes. Large lines are broken down to 1 1/2 inch attack lines, and the task of Overhaul begins. Floor by floor, room by room, firefighters extinguish spot fires, check for extension, and move on. Everyone knows its going to be a long night.

Out on the street, hand lines are being put into monitor nozzles, and along with a couple of Aerials, water is poured into what is left of the Grant building. This would continue until late the next day.

Fortunately, it's been a relatively quite day for the rest of the City. What fire and EMS runs that are received are handled by a combination of IFD and Township apparatus. It made for interesting dispatches as several different departments would be sent on a run. The Township Departments would continue to occupy some of our stations until after midnight.

The Second Shift Is On The Way

At approximately 2000 hours, Chief Lamb notified the Alarm Office to start preparing to send relief companies to the scene. Preparations were being made to begin releasing first-due companies, but the work would continue throughout the night. And in order to avoid confusion and continue to provide protection to the rest of the City, he wanted it done in an orderly fashion.

At 2215, the first detail consisting of Engines 10, 25, and 30, along with Trucks 19 and 32 were on the way Downtown. They were joined by District 6 a short time later. At the same time, companies that had been working for over nine hours began the task of picking up and returning to quarters. Some simply grabbed as much hose and equipment as they could and returned home. Engine 27 was relived by Engine 2, and Lt. Harold Plummer loaded his crew onto the 2's Engine, and spent the night out at Station 2, while their pumper continued to work at the fire. Engine 7 did much the same as they returned to their quarters at 2300 while their Engine pumped on.

As the night worn on, additional apparatus was sent to the scene. Engines 2, 16, 20, and 34 along with Trucks 10 and 25 took the place of the weary first-in companies. Before it was over, 25 of the 33 Engines and 13 of the 17 Trucks worked at the fire. Engine 5 was on the scene for over 28 hours, and pumped from at least three different hydrants.

It would take weeks to return hose and equipment to its assigned location. Several of the Engines, including the 5's and 7's, were used by other companies until the next afternoon.

The Morning After

Busy Washington Street remained closed the next morning as the Snorkel returned to join several monitor nozzles in dumping water into the ruins. The Glazer nozzle that had rode for many years on the side of Truck 25 was used all night. Engine 30 spent 15 hours at the scene, their first work at a Downtown fire since 1954.

The Department's 20 newest members, Recruit Class 44, were now brought to the scene to assist picking up the thousands of feet of hose. They had spent much of the day before watching the huge clouds of smoke from the Training Academy Tower.

The scope of the damage was staggering. A large 5 story building had all but disappeared, and the 13 story Thomas building was completely gutted. Indeed, it was soon demolished, after it was found to structurally unsound.

It seemed that everywhere you looked, there was damage from fire, water, smoke and heat. At the First Federal Building, over 86 windows were cracked or broken from the heat.

After a helicopter trip over the area, Police Chief Winston Churchhill stated that, "It looked just like World War II in Germany". Mayor Richard Lugar asked the Governor to declare the entire scene a disaster area, in order to provide help to the numerous businesses affected.

The newspapers and television stations provided extensive coverage of the fire and its aftermath, and praised the efforts of everyone in bringing the fire under control.

Many bushiness remained closed, and repairs began to damaged buildings. Police units with K9's had spent the night patrolling the around the fire to prevent looting. And by noon, the first of many lawsuits had been filed. Kniz Insurance who been located in the Thomas Building filed a suit claiming that Zebrowski Demolition was negligent in causing the fire.

From the beginning, speculation was that the demolition was responsible for the fire. There were reports of a man using a cutting torch prior to the fire breaking out. However, the spokesperson for Zebrowski reported that the last workers had left the building at 0500 and were not due back to work until 1700. The media soon joined the search for this "Mystery Torch Man". Everyone agreed that the propane tanks being used in the demolition helped fuel the rapid fire spread.

After an exhaustive investigation by Federal, State and Local officials in which the Grant building was removed brick by brick, and over 300 interviews conducted, Chief Lamb announced in early 1974 that the cause of the fire was accidental.

A Final Look Back

So what is it that seems to make this fire special a quarter of a century after it took place? Let's try a different approach.

Head Downtown to the first block of East Washington Street. The parking lot on the south side of the street is where the Grant and Thomas Building are fully involved and starting to collapse in the street. Building Security Officers and civilians are rushing through the Thomas and Kirk buildings warning people to run for their lives. On the roof of the Kirk Furniture building, a firefighter and police officer are rescuing a man while fire threatens the 17 story Merchants building at the corner of Meridian and Washington.

Then turn to the north and look to the top of the Washington Hotel, where fire is raging out of control on the top floors. Aerials are swung from one side of the street to the other, while firefighters are ducking falling bricks and moving hose lines. Most of the other buildings on that side of the street are being damaged by heat, smoke and water.

As you walk towards Pennsylvania and Washington, over 80 windows in the building on the northeast corner are melting from the heat. Across the street, Aerial 27 is pouring water on roof the four story building on the southwest corner that is involved in fire. Directly behind this building as you head south on Pennsylvania, the Century building is burning on the top two floors. Firefighters are attacking the fire from both inside and out.

Moving west along Maryland Street, look down the alley at mid-block, where Aerial 14 has backed in and is throwing water. Automobiles are burning on either side of the alley. The backs of the Grant and Thomas buildings are visible from here and you can see both are now fully involved.

When you start north on Meridian Street, you can see the hoselines being hoisted up the fire escape on the back of the building. As you pass the hydrant at the alley, Engine 17 is pumping at full capacity and Aerial 34 is tucked in the alley trying to stop the fire from spreading west.

Back on Washington Street, there are pumpers working at every hydrant, and hoses running in every direction as hundreds of firefighters, police officers, and volunteers fight to save the center of the City. And remember that this is all happening at once.

Chief Lamb probably said it best.

"Here we had a fire in the middle of the City, at the height of shopping… and had no serious injuries. That record should stand for itself".

Grant Fire Timeline

First Call Received 1248:31
Still Alarm 1249:11 Engines 7, 13 Aerial 7 and Car 2
Box 45 1250:18 Engines 6, 17 Snorkel 13 District 3
Squad 7 Squirt Chemical 13
Engine 13, Working Fire 1250:34
2nd Alarm 1253:17 Engines 1, 4, 5, 11 Aerial 17

District 4 Hose Tenders 4, 11

Extra Aerial 1255:41 Aerial 5
3rd Alarm 1301:00 Engines 9, 19, 27
Extra Alarm 1305 Engines 12, 15, 29 Aerial 27
Extra Aerials 1307 Aerials 1, 14
Extra Aerials 1308 Aerials 34 Snorkel 31
Extra District Chief 1314 District 2, to the City County Building

Command Post

Extra Engine 1321 Engine 14
Extra Engine 1224 Engine 18
Extra Engine 1331 Engine 3 Had been out on a garage fire
Extra District Chief 1332 District 1
Extra Hose Tender 1401 Hose Tender 21, from Station 7
Extra Engine 1434 Engine 21, from Station 7
Relief Detail Begins 1015 Additional Engines and Trucks



18 Engine Companies 1 Division Chief
7 Aerial Companies 4 District Chiefs
2 Snorkels 3 Hose Tenders
1 Squrt 1 Light Wagon



7 Engine Companies
4 Truck Companies
1 District Chief



Chief of the Department Photographer
3 Deputy Chiefs Chaplain
Fire Prevention Chief Department Doctor
Repair Shop Chief Gas Truck
Fire Prevention Captain Shop Truck
Arson Chief Arson Squad



2850 Feet of 1 1/2 inch hose 15, 550 Feet of 2 1/2 inch hose
650 Feet of 3 inch hose 1071 Feet of ladders
17 Fire Hydrants used 3,814,000 Gallons of Water
2454 Gallons of gasoline 149 Gallons of diesel fuel
340 Hours of Pumping Time  
316 Hours of Firefighter Man Hours from Off-Duty Firemen 1333 Hours of Firefighter Man Hours
Over the next 4 weeks, Fire Prevention and Arson spent 1180 Hours on the scene 202 Hours of Administrative Man Hours