Remembering the “23rd Street Fire” October 17, 1966-2019; 53th Anniversary and Remembrances
On October 17th, 1966, Manhattan Dispatch recorded an alarm from a resident at 7 East 22nd Street for smoke on the 4th floor of a brownstone. Box 0598 was transmitted at 2136 hours. Engine 14, 3 & 16, Ladders 3 & 12, Battalion 6 & Division 3 turn out. Upon arrival, they were confronted with a cellar fire at 7 East 22 Street. Heavy volume of smoke & heat were pushing from the art dealers cellar & 1st floor. DC Reilly transmitted the All Hands at 21:58 hrs, Rescue 1, Battalion 7 & Field Comm are on the way.
At 22:09 hrs, Chief Reilly transmits the 2nd Alarm, fire has extended to exposure 2, a 3 story brick L shaped at 940 Broadway and exposure 3, a 5 story brick commercial loft building at 6 East 23 Street.
Engine 18 & Ladder 7, under the direction of Chief Reilly & Higgins were all unaware of the intense fire conditions that were directly below them. Suddenly, without warning, a 20—5 foot section of the rear of the drug store on 23rd Street collapsed, hurling 10 FDNY members to their death in the inferno below. Two other firemen trapped on the 1st floor by a burst of flame caused by the collapse also were burned to death.
Other than the chauffeur, the only other member of Engine 18 to survive that night was FF John Donovan, who was detailed to check parking violations at fire hydrants in the district. When he discovered E-18 was operating at a 2nd alarm, he grabbed his turnout gear & went. He arrived at Wonder Drug right after the collapse occurred. He raced in with Engine 5 & helped push the line into the store. FF Donovan moved up on the line to the nozzle & operated the stream when suddenly he stepped into the void caused by the collapse.
As he fell, he was able to clutch the nozzle with 3 fingers of his right hand. He hung suspended over the raging inferno below as his rubber coat started to ignite from the intense heat. All of a sudden, a hand dragged on his collar & another grabbed his left arm & then his shoulders &, badly burned, FF Donovan was removed to the sidewalk. These hands belonged to Lt. Rubolph Alberda & FF Vincent Lambert both of L-24.
All attempts were made immediately after the collapse to rescue those trapped in the cellar, but the flames had spread to all floors of 6 E 23 Street, 7 E 22 Street and 940 Broadway. The rapidly spreading fire cause all of the building’s roofs to collapse. Dept. members were ordered out of the buildings and just as they backed out, floor after floor of all 3 buildings crashed down. At 22:37 hrs, (the time of the collapse), a 3rd alarm was transmitted. 22:47 hrs, a 4th alarm and 23:28 hrs, a 5th alarm. It was not declared under control until all of the entombed men had been recovered.
Fire Patrol member Edward Pospicil greatly aided in the search for the members. He observed the members operating before the collapse and was able to draw a map of the location where he last saw them operating. On the basis of the diagram, a wall was breached opposite from where the men were believed to be and the bodies were found very close to the spot indicated on the map.
Throughout the morning of October 18th and into the afternoon, charred remains of these men were taken from the drug store and placed in waiting ambulances to be driven under police escort to Bellevue Hospital Morgue.
Please remember the sacrifice these members made on this date 1966-2019:
DC Thomas Reilly, Division 3, 53 years of age.
BC Walter Higgins, Bn-7, 46 years of age.
Lt John Finley, L-7, 54 years of age
Lt Joseph Priore, Bn-4, 42 years of age.
FF John Berry, L-7, 31 years of age.
FF James Galanaugh, E-18, 27 years of age.
FF Rudolph Kaminsky, L-7, 33 years of age.
FF Joseph Kelly, E-18, 35 years of age.
FF Carl Lee, L-7, 29 years of age.
FF William McCarron, Div.3 aide, 44 years of age.
FF Bernard Tepper, E-18, 41 years of age
Prob FF Daniel Rey, E-18, 26 years of age.
Also remember the 12 widows, 32 children and the rest of their families on this date. Original post from NYFD Fire Wire.
For more insights from our 2011 post go to: CommandSafety.com
Building Construction Insights
- Location of Fire Origin: Cellar of 7 East 22 St.
- Location of Collapse: First floor of Exposure 3 building: 6 East 23 St. The Wonder Drug Store.
Fire Building Construction:
- 7 East 22 St: a brownstone, 20 x 60 brick and joist, four story residence.
- The cellar, where the fire started, and first floor were occupied by an art dealer.
- The cellar extended under the first floor of Wonder Drug for approximately 35 feet.
Collapse Building Construction:
- 6 East 23 St: a five story, 45 x 100 commercial building, brick & joist construction.
- The rear, 16 x 35 foot, section of the first floor collapsed into the cellar occupied by 7 East 22 St.
- The rear and side walls butted up to a 3-story white brick commercial building to the West at 3940-948 Broadway and to a 5-story brown brick building to the North at 6 East 23rd Street
Twelve members of every rank, from a probationary firefighter to a deputy chief, made the Supreme Sacrifice when the ground floor of the Wonder Drug store collapsed. The fire originated in a basement storage area, which was concealed by a four-inch thick cinderblock wall, illegally constructed by the building’s previous owner.
- DC Thomas A Reilly, Division .3
- BC Walter J Higgins, Battalion. 7
- Lt John J Finley, Ladder 7
- Lt Joseph Priore, Engine 18
- Fr John G Berry, Ladder 7
- Fr James V Galanaugh, Engine 18
- Fr Rudolph F Kaminsky, Ladder 7
- Fr Joseph Kelly, Engine 18
- Fr Carl Lee Ladder, 7
- Fr William F McCarron, Division 3
- Fr Daniel L Rey, Engine 18
- Fr Bernard A Tepper, Engine 18
- NYFD.com Insights and Photos HERE
- FDNY Remembers the 23rd Street Fire on its 45th Anniversary, HERE
FDNY Remembering the 23rd Street Fire October 17, 1966, Facebook Page, HERE
Personal Account: http://nyfd.com/history/23rd_street/box598.pdf
New York Times (2006): Oct. 17, 1966, When 12 Firemen Died HERE