Hartford, CT Hospital Fire, Dec 1961
15 Die As Fire Hits Hospital At Hartford
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP)- Fire burst out of a ninth floor trash chute at Hartford Hospital Friday, flashed down a corridor with blowtorch fury and killed 15 persons.
More than 100 other persons were trapped in hospital rooms as the fire transformed once gleaming corridors into a mass of charred debris.
Six patients, five visitors and four hospital staff members were among the dead. Two of the visitors had been to see their ill husbands. There were 793 patients in the hospital at the time.
An almost immediate investigation and hearing put witness after witness - some of them still disheveled and soot-marked - before fire officials in an effort to pinpoint the cause.
The cause was not clear. Perhaps a lighted cigarette, said one hospital official. Perhaps some kind of escaped gas, said another.
One doctor said flames raced along the ceiling. Another said a billow of flame dropped down from the ceiling "like a blow torch."
Thick smoke and a muffled explosion accompanied the blast of flame that spouted from the trash chute at the ninth floor.
Patients screamed for help from their windows. Rescuers fought through smoke and fire as they carried helpless patients to safety down stairs or by the few elevators still working.
Nurses remained with their patients to prevent panic despite choking smoke and approaching flames. They ran through corridors, slamming doors shut as a safety measure until they were forced to seek refuge in rooms.
Rescuers evacuated all patients from the eighth floor up in the $10-million, 13-story hospital that was built 13 years ago and was regarded as almost fireproof.
Firemen tried to reach trapped patients on the ninth floor with extension ladders. But most of the ladders went only as high as the eighth floor.
Some patients were carried to safety while plasma bottles still were attached to their arms.
One of the hospital staff members, 33-year-old DR. NORMAN HEDENSTAD, of Worcester, perished in the flames as he tried to close a door at the end of a corridor to prevent the spread of the fire.
ANDREW AGOGLIATI, 53, of Framingham, Mass, one of four patients in a ninth floor room, heard a shout: "Get the patients out!"
He got out of bed "Although I'm not supposed to" and saw flames and smoke. Visitors in the room used blankets and sheets to seal cracks around the door to keep smoke out.
"We all opened the windows and the smoke went out," he said. "So we just stayed there and tried not to panic"
LOIS DALY was one of the nurses who closed doors and windows in patients' rooms. She eventually was forced into a room with 10 others, including nurses, patients, visitors and employees.
"By the time we closed the door," she said, "the room was filled with smoke. We had to open windows in order to get some air because it was just black in there. We put wet towels over our nose and mouth so we could filter the smoke and breathe. For a brief moment I though this was curtains."
The hospital's executive director, T. STEWART HAMILTON, said that "only time will reveal the many deeds of courageous actions on the part of patients and personnel."
The fire brought personal tragedy to Deputy State Fire Marshal CARROLL E. SHAW as he directed the removal of bodies during the fire. The first body to be identified was that of his niece, 14-year-old DIANE PAPE.
The hospital's executive engineer, STEWART A.. SPRAGUE, raised the possibility that a combustible gas may have escaped and then ignited.
He said his theory was purely speculation, however, and that he did not know of any such gas kept on the ninth floor. But his theory, he said, would explain why the flames spread so quickly along the ceilings.
The only established fact, said Hartford Fire Chief THOMAS LEE, was that the blaze started in the trash chute between the first and third floors.
Asked whether a cigarette might have started the fire, LEE said, "We think in terms of something like that."
LEE said his department received the first alarm at 2:39 p. m. Witnesses at the hearing told of fire in the chute as early as 1:30.
"The fire was certainly fought by hospital personnel before an alarm was turned in," LEE said. "The question is how long?"
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