Brooklyn, NY St. Anthony's Parochial School Fire, Oct 1921

1,400 In Swift Exit From School Fire

St. Anthony’s Pupils, Directed by Sisters, Reach Safety Before Firemen Arrive.

Fire was discovered in the basement of the five-story school building of St. Anthony’s parochial school in Macdougal Street yesterday morning shortly after the 1,400 pupils had assembled for the day’s session. A sister in charge of the kindergarten on the first floor rang the school fire drill bell and in less than five minutes before either the police or the firemen arrived every one of the 1,400 pupils, with their teachers, were safely out of the building. Mother Louise, principal of the school, directed the exit of the children and at the top and bottom of each flight of stairs a sister stood keeping the lines straight and quieting the little ones frightened by the smoke-filled hallways.

The sisters were assisted by the boys and girls of the upper grades who waited with their teachers until all the younger children were out. “I never saw 13-year-old boys show such presence of mind and coolness,” one of the sisters said after it was over. “They knew just what to do and acted the part of men. Without them and in spite of the fire drills we have always felt that the younger children might have become panic-stricken.”

Sparks from a bonfire in an adjoining backyard are thought to have ignited packing boxes in the basement of the school. These boxes, the teachers say, were empty and were used to pack books in.

When the neighborhood learned there was a fire in the school the street was once filled up with frantic women crying for their children and trying to get into the school house. The police reserves from Mercer Street station were hurried to the scene and quickly restored order. Within one hour the session began again with practically every child in place.

The New York Times, New York, NY 25 Oct 1921