1907 - WHITE PLAINS MOURNS VAMPS KILLED AT FIRE. Three Dead, One Dying as a Result of Sunday Night's Blaze. WARNED, BUT WORKED ON.
Volunteers Ignored Danger of Falling Wall and Crash Caught Them - Crowd Saw Accident.
White Plains was in mourning yesterday for three volunteer firemen who were killed as a result of a fire which destroyed a business block Sunday night. A fourth is dying. They were caught under a falling cornice after checking the fire.
As told in yesterday's TIMES, the fire started in the rear of the store floor of the Mead Building, on Railroad Avenue, the main street of the town. The Mead Building was a new three-story brick structure. The ground floor was occupied by the main offices of the Westchester Lighting Company and a clothing store. The floor above was used for offices, and the top floor by the Masonic lodge, which had just fitted up rooms at an expense of $15,000.
In answer to the alarm from the bell tower the volunteer firemen, with their apparatus in tow, swung around into Railroad Avenue. Hope Hose, Independence Fire Company, and the Union Hook and Ladder were the organizations that responded. But Fire Chief Fullk saw that the fire had already outgrown the fighting capacity of this little handful of "vamps." A second alarm was turned in calling out the East Side Hose, whose quarters are over a mile distant. A third alarm called out every fireman, every policeman, Deputy Sheriff, and every official who could be o[sic] any assistance.
Later, the firemen from West Harrison, over three miles away, arrived. Over the frozen roads, up and down hill, they had dragged their hosecart. Leg weary and wind spent, they turned to fighting the fire as cheerfully as though they had just come from around the corner.
Half an hour later the men got the fire under control.
A number of the firemen did not like the appearance of the front wall. The men on the ladders were warned of the danger, but they shouted back that they would wait for orders from the Chief.
A few minutes later there was a tremendous crash. Tons of brick and metal work dropped from the cloud of smoke that hooded the upper part of the building and swept firemen, ladders, and hose into a tangled mass of debris on the sidewalk.
Meanwhile the volunteers had gone to the rescue of their brother firemen. Two men were taken from the mass of brick dead, one of them with his head crushed beyond recognition. Two more were picked up unconscious, but at the time were supposed to be dead. A dozen others were more or less seriously injured.
The names of the dead and the wounded were immediately called out and then passed from one to another in the crowd. The minutes were strained and anxious until the last man had been identified.
The dead are John Chester Cromwell, bank cashier, married, 30 years old; Caleb Underhill, liveryman, 35 years old, wife and two children, and Charles E. Cooley, real estate broker, 35 years old, single.
The injured are: Emil Berges, 40 years old; Gus Schleich, a member of Hope Engine Company, reported fatally hurt; Charles Sutton, Hope Engine Company, two legs broken and seriously injured internally; Stephen Lyon, Hook and Ladder Company, badly crushed; Mr. Bates, lawyer and member of the Harrison Fire Company, injured internally; Jacob Holpp, the foreman of the Independent Hose Company, crushed beneath wall; William Armbruster, a member of Independent Hose Company, hip broken and internally injured, and William Walton of Independent Hose Company, internally injured.
Cooley remained unidentified for over half an hour. His head had been crushed in, and he was recognized only by his Elk pin.
Young Cromwell did not die until about ten minutes after reaching the hospital. His mother and father and bride of three months ago had been notified by telephone, and they met him at the hospital. He was still conscious and was able to bid them good-bye.
The fire slowly burned itself out. About four o'clock yesterday the firemen stacked their ladders, reeled up their hose, and took up the sad march home. The men from West Harrison stayed until the last and trudged the three miles home through a heavy snowstorm.
It was said at the hospital last evening that Berges had a very slight chance of recovering, Schleich is said to be safe.
County Judge William P. Platt adjourned his court until Thursday out of respect to the village dead. A number of public dinners have been publicly postponed.
The New York Times
New York, New York
February 5, 1907
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