New Haven, CT Jail Fire, Apr 1910

Burned Like Caged Rats

Six Firemen Meet Death In Fire In New Haven Jail.

Militia To Guard Prisoners

Inmates Treat The Fire As A Joke, But Become Unruly-Loss Is More Than $200,000.

[Special Dispatch to the Baltimore Sub.]

New Haven, Conn., April 12.-Caged like rats behind the strong steel bars at the rear windows of the New Haven County Jail this morning six firemen, after fighting like mad to release themselves, fell back into the roaring furnace of flames and met horrible deaths to one of the most disastrous fires the State has ever witnessed.

Besides wiping out six lives, the flames destroyed property valued at more than $200,000, leveled great chair factory connected with the jail, in which the prisoners find employment; burned three houses near by and caused serious injury to other firemen who are now in various hospitals.

The dead firemen are:

The Injured:
John Hussey, hoseman; fearfully burned about the face and hands.
Thomas J. Vaugh, ladderman; broken legs.
Capt. Charles H. O’Neill.
Cornelius Shugree, hoseman.
Albert E. Wilcox, ladderman.

An hour after the flames broke out the New Haven companies of the State militia were ordered out to guard property and take care of the 320 prisoners in the jail, and until nightfall the volunteers did duty. There was no panic among the prisoners, who treated the matter rather as a joke; but they became unruly, and Chief Cowles of the police department, seeing that the department could not properly handle the men and women, secured the militia’s aid.

Several prisoners tried to make their escape soon after the fire broke out and managed to get to the outer yard, but they were quickly caught and handcuffed. Others, the “trusties,” turned to and did what they could to check the flames until the whole squad was rounded up and handcuffed in pairs. The, two or four at a time, the men and women were taken in automobiles, carriages, houses and patrol wagons to the police stations and the armory.

It is thought that crossed wires caused the fire, which started in the chair shop and ate its way to the jail proper. Before it was checked about half of the big building was leveled.

An order went out to head off the flames from the women’s dormitory adjoining the main building. A squad of men, under the direction of Captain Chapman, managed to get within the building. Cornelius Shugree, a hoseman, was the only one of them to come out alive. When he recovered he was asked where his companions were.

“I hung on to the Lieutenant just as long as I could,” he said. “Then he dropped. He’s in there-and so are the others.”

Then Shugree told what happened. Hemmed in by the flames, the steel bars prevented escape through the windows, and four of the men made for the cellar. Flames were already licking their clothing. In the cellar they searched desperately for a door to the outer air. There was none.

“It’s up to the roof, boys,” said on of them, and the four crawled up the stairs again. By this time the entire building was a mass of flames. Shugree reached the roof by shielding his face in his coat, and reached down to Lieutenant Doherty to pull him up on the roof. He for a hold on the Lieutenant’s wrist and pulled, but was too weak to lift the helpless man. Shugree held on as long as he could, and then he says, the Lieutenant dropped back into the flames. Shugree jumped and was picked up by [illegible].

Baltimore, MD 14 Apr 1910