While conducting a class recently at a state fire expo I asked the room of fifty or so firefighters if any of them knew what happened in the fire service on October 17th, 1966 and the lessoned learned. As I looked over their faces I could definitely tell they had no idea, many simply starred at me and waited for me to answer, there was however one attendee who knew the answer and it was because he was writing a paper on building construction.
Wait...... are some of you reading this also wondering what happened, or quickly searching Google for the answer? Ok I will tell you, October 17th 1966 was the tragic "23rd Street Fire" where twelve FDNY members holding the ranks of firefighter, Lieutenant, Battalion, and Deputy Chief perished in a first floor floor collapse over basement fire. The drug store was on 23rd street, an art frame dealer had a business on 22nd street directly behind the drug store and business was good there and the dealer needed additional room so the basement wall in the art frame business on 22nd was moved and this basement was enlarged and in doing so went under the drug store. The fire in the art frame dealership raged unbeknownst to the twelve members operating in the drug store as it was masked by the thick terrazzo flooring, finally causing it to collapse.
It was this fire that spurred the writings and teachings of a FDNY member who was on the scene that cool fall night in 1966; his company, Engine 33 arrived and reported to the chief on 23rd Street side. At the same time another officer Lt. Priore of Engine 18 arrived with his company to the same chief also. This chief who perished in the blaze gave Priore an assignment of stretching a line into the then clear drug store's first floor; he then turned and gave Engine 33's officer an order to cover an exposure. Lt. Priore and four more of his engine company members died that evening in the collapse, the officer and crew of 33 engine all survived, this officer then went on to become a chief and it was ten years later as a Deputy Chief that he stated he went through his own post-traumatic stress debriefing of that evening by studying, writing and instructing firefighters about building, floor and wall collapse.
Engine 33's Lieutenant that evening and future author's name.....Chief Vincent Dunn.
Forty-eight years have passed and many of us have read and re-read his books and manuals for self-study or promotional exams but how many of us knew what, if anything was his motivation in "paying it forward". In today's fast paced, internet world where there are Facebook pages and websites devoted to current important topics such as reading smoke, modern fire behavior, SLICERs, VEIS, etc. etc. We all need to take the time and review what happened on these important dates in our history, study the lessons and SHARE them with today's firefighters. If you are a firefighter and especially an officer you owe it to our current and future firefighters to not only teach them building construction but explain WHY it’s so important. We can't let this generation and future generations miss these events and their lessons learned, I fear that many of us have indeed forgotten, may never even know about or even worse yet ASSUME "everyone in the fire service knows what happened". The fact is many do not, and it’s up to us to read up and share the lessons of these fires from the past that occurred before NIOSH reports and the internet that truly forged and shaped who and what we are today we owe it to leaders and mentors like Vincent Dunn.
So this week; as the anniversary of this tragedy takes place on Friday, take the time and utilize today's technology below to research, review and share with your members so our goal is to never have those blank stares when asked what happened on October 17, 1966.
Chief Dunn's 23rd Street in his own words
With New York Firefighters (WNYF) Magazine 1973 2nd Issue pages 13-15
Fallen Members on October 17th 1966
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