Tuesday, December 13, 2011

50th anniversary of the other Hartford fire

If Americans associate Hartford with any historical event, it’s probably the circus fire of 1944. But last week marked the 50th anniversary of another deadly Hartford fire that had far-ranging effects on the rest of the country. On December 8, 1961, flames raced through a wing on the ninth floor of Hartford Hospital, leaving 16 dead. The anniversary provided the occasion for a ceremony at the hospital and look-backs by the local news media. Hartford Courant Staff Writer William Weir wrote an especially vivid article, with great quotes from hospital staff who were there that day.

Investigators later blamed the fire on a smoldering cigarette that had been tossed into a trash chute, which ran through all 13 floors of the hospital. When someone opened a door somewhere along the chute's pathway, it provided the oxygen for a fireball that blew through the chute's ninth-floor door. Weir explains why the fire changed hospital safety throughout the country:

As a result of the 1961 fire, the National Fire Protection Association made changes in its 1963 Life Safety Code for hospitals, including requiring sprinklers for trash chutes, requiring that all barriers be built for one-hour fire resistance and requiring that all draperies and curtains have fire-resistant coatings.

Television station WTIC-TV, Channel 3, shot some dramatic footage that day, as the fire raged and rescuers worked frantically. Its successor station, Eyewitness News 3 (WFSB), pulled some of it from the vaults. The station also posted this footage, without audio.

NBC Connecticut (WVIT) had nice video from the hospital's remembrance ceremony and interviews with rescuers and hospital staff.