New Orleans, LA Building On Fire Collapses, Dec 1971


New Orleans (AP) -- An old brick wall and a wrought iron balcony with more than a dozen firemen on it collapsed during a Christmas morning fire.
Three firemen were killed, including on who was on his last day at work before retiring.
Thirteen firemen were reported injured, most of them with broken bones.
Four adjacent and abandoned two-story buildings in the city's central district were gutted by flames.
"The unexpected happened," Fire Chief Louis San Salvador said about the collapsed wall.
A district fire chief said the combination of a back draft of air from the rear with an explosion of accumulated gas caused the wall to fall forward.
Two of the dead were identified as ANTON PUDERER, about 24, and GEORGE FORSTALL, 53. A fire official said it was FORSTALL'S last day before retirement.
The third victim was identified as WILLIAM AYMAMI, 25, an off-duty fireman who had come to assist.
A witness said many bystanders rushed through the smoke to dig out the injured.
One rescuer, Edward Myers, 25, said he pulled five men out.
"I wasn't worried about the danger," Myers said. "I was with the army in Vietnam and had to rescue many dead and injured buddies. It's nothing new to me."
Myers said he heard a crack moments before the porch fell.
"The fire was on the roof. When the bricks came down, everyone on the ground ran. I heard a lot of screaming and hollering," Myers said.
Another witness said:
"Just all of a sudden all this stuff was coming at me, so I ran backwards, and got out of the way."
"For a while there you couldn't see anything for the smoke and dust. There was all this screaming -- the injured firemen were screaming and the bystanders were yelling, 'They're all dead!' and 'Get them out!'"
An injured fireman, JOHN NOONAN, 45, said he was on the ground under the balcony when it fell.
"I saw it coming down and rolled under a fire truck," NOONAN said. He suffered a cut on the head.
A resident of the area said all seven buildings in the block had been abandoned at least three years ago. Three stores remained standing after the fire.
Mayor Moon Landrieu, who came to the fire after aides told him of the dead firemen, said the row of stores was "a fire hazard" before the fire.

Cedar Rapids Gazette Iowa 1971-12-26