Columbus, OH Boarding House Fire, Apr 1947

Two Children Perish In Fire at Columbus

Foster Home Investigated After Blaze

7 Children and Proprietors Also Suffer Burns

Columbus-(AP)-A five-room foster home crowded with nine children was swept by flames today and two of the youngsters perished.

Seven other children suffered burns and the proprietors, who boarded them for a weekly fee, were injured severely.

The state welfare department, launching an investigation, said the home had been licensed to care for only two and was warned Feb. 26 that it violated the law by housing more.

Firemen and policemen could not locate the parents of the children immediately.

John R. Ferguson, head of the children’s services unit of the state welfare department, said this type of foster home usually cared for children from broken homes or from working parents unable to find adequate living accommodations.

The children ranged in age from 10 months to 12 years. The welfare department said it had ordered the ages be restricted to 1 to 9 years.

The dead were identified as PRINCESS ROGERS, 9, and BARBARA ANN SCHIRTZINGER, 10 months.

Injured were Mrs. Vivian Thompson, 30, and her husband, Harold, 36, who operated the boarding home. Mrs. Thompson was reported in serious condition, while Mr. Thompson suffered only first degree burns.

In Mt. Carmel hospital:

Kathleen Rogers, 12; Betty Thomson, 10; Estella Louise Thompson, 4; Nancy Lee Carnes.

In Children’s hospital:

Robert Harold Thompson, one year, and Wanda Rogers, 4.

The other child reported burned was identified at Linda Lee Daley.

All of the children burned, hospitals reported, are expected to recover. Mrs. Thomson suffered third-degree burns.

Thomson, an apprentice boilermaker, said the fire started while he was kindling the heating stove in the front room of the five-room half of a double house.

As he shook the grates in the stove, he said, flames leaped out the door and ignited a rag he was holding. He started for the front door, and the burning rag ignited paper drapes which were consumed in one big “poof.”

He ran upstairs, where his wife and the children were sleeping, shouting “Get up, get up, the house is on fire,” then broke out a bathroom window and jumped 15 feet to the ground, injuring one of his ankles.

Mrs. Thomson related that she and one of the children were asleep in one of the two upstairs bedrooms when her husband awakened her. The other youngsters were in the other bedroom.

She grabbed the youngster sleeping with her and went into the other bedroom and punched the other children to awaken them.

The she dashed into the bathroom and began dropping the children out of the bathroom window to her husband below. She said she remembered saving five of the children in this matter.

The other two children were rescued by Patrolman Raymond McClain, who ran upstairs and grabbed the youngsters as they were nearly overcome by smoke.

An investigation of conditions at the home will be made by the state welfare department, Miss Mary S. King, child welfare supervisor, said.

Miss King said the home was certified for not more than two children and that the operators were advised by letter on Feb. 266 that they were violating the law if more children were housed there.

Ralph C. Bennett, head of the family and children’s bureau, said the home was operated as an independent. An independent home, he explained, is one certified only by the state welfare department where parents may enter into contract with the operators to board children.

The Zanesville Signal, Zanesville, OH Apr 4 1947


Two Children Die, Seven Hurt In Fire

City, State Investigate Blaze At West Side Boarding Home

Five Others Saved As Flames Flare; Operators Burned

By Vaughn Hill

Two children died in a flash fire starting from a heating stove explosion in a five-room West Side boarding home early Friday, seven others were severely burned and the two operators injured in a heroic rescue of five of the youngsters.

Two investigations-one by the state and the other by the city-were immediately ordered.

Dead in the fire, which broke out shortly after 6 a.m. at 126 N. Central Av. were identified as:

PRINCESS RODGERS, 9, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Rodgers, 90 W. Northwood Av.

BARBARA ANN SCHIRTZINGER, 10 months, who was reported to have lived at the home since birth.

Mrs. Vivian Thompson, 30, and her husband Harold, 36, who operated the boarding home, were injured. Mrs. Thompson was reported in serious condition in St. Francis Hospital, while her husband suffered only first-degree burns. He also suffered an injured leg.

The children injured and burned were identified as:

In Mt. Carmel Hospital:

Betty Thompson, 10, and Estella Louise Thompson, 4, daughters of the operators of the home, and Wanda Jane Rodgers, sister of one of the victims. All were reported in critical condition.

In Children’s Hospital:

Robert Harold Thompson, one year, son of the operator; Kathleen Rodgers, 12, another sister of one of the victims; Nancy Lee Carnes, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. James Carnes, 71 E. Rich St., and Linda Lee Dailey, Northern Hotel. All four were reported in fair condition.

Another child being cared for at the home was reported to have left Thursday evening to spend Easter with her parents. Her name was not available.

The state investigation was ordered by Miss Mary S. King, child welfare supervisor of the State Welfare Department, who said the home had been certified July 20, 1946, to board not more than two children between the ages of one and 9.

“The operators were violating the law,:” she charged in ordering the probe.

Miss King also revealed that last Feb. 26, she turned down a request by Mrs. Thompson to board more than two children Miss King’s letter read in part:

“Mrs. Dunham (Iva F. Dunham, member of the staff of children’s service) has discussed with me the matter of your boarding more children than the number for which you are certified, namely: two, either sex, one to 9 years of age.

“As you must know this is a violation of the law. I believe you consider that your home should be certified for a larger number. In view of the conditions as I understand them this does not seem possible, since certain standards must be met.

“If it is at all possible for you to come to this office, I should like to discuss the matter with you.”

John H. Stith, chief city building inspector, ordered an investigation to determine why Mr. and Mrs. Thomson had not applied for or been issued a rooming house license.

He pointed out that under the law, rooming house operators keeping three or more persons for compensation are required to licensed by the city.

Miss King pointed out that while the Welfare Department’s certification for the boarding of two children only was issued to Mrs. Thompson, both she and her husband were considered operators of the home.

Mrs. Thompson suffered third-degree burns on the chest, right arm and face.

Thompson, a boilermaker’s helper employed on an installation project at the Big Walnut power plant, said the fire started while he was kindling the heating stove in the dining room of the south half of the N. Central Av. Double.

When he started to shake the grates in the stove, he said, flames leaped out the door, igniting a rag he was holding in his hand.

Fully dressed he dashed for the front door and the burning rag set fire to drapes which were consumed with one big “poof.”

He ran upstairs, he recalled from his hospital bed, where he lay swathed in bandages, where his wife and children were sleeping, shouting “Get up, get up, the house is on fire.”
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The two other children were rescued by Patrolman Raymond McClain, who broke into the rear door after responding with the fire department to the alarm. Accompanying him was Patrolman Kenneth Watts.

McClain said he ran upstairs and grabbed two of the children, nearly overcome by the smoke, and he and Watts took them, along with another child to Mt. Carmel.

McClain’s hair was burned by the intense heat, but he did not require medical treatment.

Dr. John B. gravis, County Coroner, said the Rodgers girl died if suffocation and smoke. The Schirtzinger baby, he reported was burned to death was dead upon arrival at Mt. Carmel.

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Firemen reported the front upstairs bedroom in which all but one of the children were sleeping had one bunk bed, and twin bed and two cribs.

Thompson said he lived at the N. Central Av. address for about seven years, and that he and his wife had operated the boarding home “for only a short time.”

Bay Pennell, head of the city housing office, said that he had reports in recent weeks of overcrowded conditions in boarding homes, cause, he asserted, by lack of adequate housing in the city.

He declared that there are at least 50 families in the city living in one room.

Firemen and police said they had not determined the loss to the double.

Neighbors were high in their praise of Mrs. Thompson’s treatment of her charges.

“She really managed and looked after the children better than some parents would of their own children,” several neighbors agreed.

“She was always making pretty things for the children to wear, not only her own but for the children she was caring for” another neighbor added.

In an upstairs closet, untouched by smoke and flames stood mute evidence that the neighbors had been correct in their estimation of Mrs. Thomson. There hung row after row…about 25 in all….new dresses of various sizes for the children.

Among the dresses were several new Easter frocks intended to be worn Sunday.

The Columbus Evening Dispatch, Columbus, OH 4 Apr 1947


City Patrolman Is Fire Hero; Rescues Two

By Hack Shough
City Patrolman Raymond McClain, 138 N, Chase Av. who with his partner, Patrolman Kenneth Watts, 140 D. Roys Av. arrived first at the scene of the N. Central Av blaze, was credited with rescuing two of the children.

“We were just short distance away at about 6:15 a.m. when we received the fire call and sped to the scene,” McClain said.

“As we drove up to the house we saw the father (Harold Thompson) standing in a dazed condition in front of the home crying out that children were still inside.”

McClain said he ran to the rear of the house and found a ladder which he placed against the building. He climbed to a second story window and proceeded through the smoke-filled upstairs.

“The smoke was terrific and I made my way down the long hallway to the middle room but no one was there. I found two of the children huddled in the front room and grabbed them up.”

McClain made his way out of the house and passed the two children over to Watts.

He started in the house again but by this time firemen had trained hose on the house and a heavy jet of water struck the officer and forced him back.

Himself dazed and smoke blackened McClain remained at the scene with Watts until he was ordered home by a sergeant on duty at the fire.

He was reluctant to talk of his heroic action in the rescue.

“I just wanted to stay around and see if I could help any more” he said, when he was ordered to leave.

“I’ve got two children, Gene who is 10 and Sandy, 9, at home.

“Anything happens to kids kind of hits me below the belt.”

The Columbus Evening Dispatch, Columbus, OH 4 Apr 1947