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SFD History: 1972-1979
Submitted by dennis on Thu, 12/28/2006 - 3:30am
Chief Vickery decided to step down July 3, 1972.
Deputy Chief of Services Jack N. Richards was appointed to fill the position by Mayor Uhlman. With Assistant Chief Frank Hanson retiring at the same time, Chief Richards appointed Deputy Chief John Philbin to that role.
A ship fire of a more serious nature occurred shortly after 11:00 a.m. on July 1, 1973. The ship, the 560‑foot tanker Cygnus, was at anchor in Elliott Bay for cleaning and decontamination of flammable vapors before being laid up in Todd Shipyards for repair. Two days prior the shipyard had checked vapor levels in the tanks and found them too dangerous to work on. It was when crewmen were in the process of cleaning out a tank that a spark triggered an explosion, which ripped open the deck and ignited a fire in the tanks. After a second explosion the fire had spread into the engine room. Fire fighters from companies city‑wide were brought to Station 5 and ferried out to the burning vessel by Police Harbor Patrol and U.S. Coast Guard boats. The fireboats “Duwamish” and “Alki” lay alongside the tanker, pumping water into the ship’s systems and serving as work platforms for taking foam and other equipment aboard. Foam supplies from all over the Puget Sound area were depleted in the operation. The fire was under control shortly after 3:00 p.m., with damage done to six of the twenty‑four tanks. Three crew members were injured, only one of whom required hospitalization because of burns.
The Marine Division of the Seattle Fire Department can trace its beginnings to the Cygnus fire. Funds were obtained from the U.S. Maritime Administration to train and equip a corps of Seattle fire fighters in the specialties of damage control and ship‑board fire fighting. Under the supervision of Captain (now Fire Marshal) Bobby Lee Hansen, numerous fire fighters and officers took the training. A truck and equipment were supplied. Under the Federally‑funded program, the Seattle team would respond to vessel fires anywhere in Washington State’s waterways.
The most punishing fire since “Thanksgiving Day at Todd’s” was the work of an arsonist. The date was June 14, 1974. The target was the six‑story masonry, heavy timber constructed Polson Building, on the southwest corner of Western Avenue and Columbia Street. The building was occupied principally by the Ace Novelty Company and several subsidiaries as a warehouse and sales office. There were a number of smaller firms renting space including a printing company, a fabric company, and several naval architecture design firms. Fire raced through five floors of the south wing and the top three floors of the north wing, causing a million dollars worth of damage. Sixteen fire fighters suffered from injuries, heat exhaustion, and smoke inhalation, eleven of which were hospitalized. The fire, the first alarm for which was pulled at the corner fire box at 1:32 p.m., was not “tapped” until 5:50 p.m. That was followed by many days overhauling the debris.
Just over a month later, on July 25, another set fire raced through two two‑story frame industrial buildings across the street from the new domed‑stadium, “Kingdome,” construction site. Destroyed were Furies & Oziel Furniture Warehouse at 1028 ‑ 1st Avenue South, and Marvin Furniture Manufacturing at 1030 ‑ 1st Avenue South. The 1st alarm was at 1:23 p.m., 2‑11 at 1: 28 p.m., and 3 ‑11 at 1:30 p.m. The fire, in which three fire fighters suffered injuries, was “tapped” at 2:40 p.m.
With the menace of arson running high, the Mayor’s budget for 1975 called for severe cuts in the Arson Unit. Chief Richards expressed his displeasure with those cuts to the news media, leading to a rift between him and the Mayor, which ended with his being fired on December 24, 1974. Mayor Uhlman appointed Deputy Chief Glen A. Shelton as Chief the same day.
The old year ended and the new year began tragically in Seattle. A 2‑11 fire caused by a misplaced cigarette had already killed the occupant of the room of origin at the Crest Hotel, 10 19 Pike Street, in the early morning hours of December 20,1974. At 6:00 p.m. on December 3 1, the manager of the three‑story Grotto Apartments, 16 10 Belmont Avenue, found a sofa smoking from a misplaced cigarette in his own 1st floor apartment. As he tried to push the sofa outside, it wedged in his doorway at the foot of the main stairs, trapping him in his apartment. He was killed when the sofa burst into flame and fire flashed through his apartment and up the open stairway. The building was still within the compliance time for the “Minimum Housing Code” provisions. Fire spread out on the top floor. One occupant of that floor was taken by paramedics to Harborview Hospital where he later died from smoke inhalation. The first of three alarms was struck at 6:02 p.m. Not long after midnight, January 1, 1975, another cigarette‑caused blaze killed the occupant of a small apartment on East Madison Street.
Chief Shelton’s administration was not long. He died from cancer in January, less than a month in office. Assistant Chief James King became the Interim Chief until February 7, 1975, when Mayor Uhlman appointed retired Assistant Chief Frank Hanson, who would command the Fire Department for the next five years.
Seattle’s own version of the “Towering Inferno” struck the 15th floor of the seventeen‑story, eighteen‑year‑old Norton Building, 801 ‑2nd Avenue, at 9:30 p.m., September 24, 1975. A fire caused by a hot plate, inadvertently left on after closing time, destroyed the suite occupied by the law firm of “Montgomery, Purdue, Blankenship, & Austin” which took up the west half of that floor. Fire blew out the law firm’s windows as flames cracked windows in the floors above, threatening to extend upward. Hose lines into the standpipe system were punctured as glass cascaded to the ground, which, because of grade, at 1st Avenue and Columbia Street, were twenty floors and more. The 1st alarm was at 9:30 p.m., 2‑11 at 9:33 p.m., and 3‑11 at 9:58 p.m. Fire was “tapped” at 10:35 p.m. with a damage figure set at well over $ 100,000. Five fire fighters and one of the maintenance employees suffered injuries and smoke inhalation.
In the early hours of December 4, 1975, a fully‑loaded dual‑trailer gasoline tank truck left the Union Oil Company’s bulk plant on Elliott Avenue, and headed south on the lower deck of the Alaskan Way Viaduct, a freeway-type structure paralleling the City’s waterfront. A defective trailer hitch threw the vehicle out of control and the rear trailer, with 4800 gallons of gasoline, crashed against the west guard rail over South Main Street. The impact ruptured the tank and sheared the trailer from the front trailer and truck tractor, which continued out of control across all the south‑bound lanes to the east guard rail over South Jackson Street. There, the front trailer’s rear wheels separated off, broke through the concrete guard rail, and fell to the street below. The tractor and front trailer came to rest in the middle lane just a bit south. The waterfront’s railroad tracks also occupied a street‑level strip alongside Alaskan Way and just below the Viaduct. Highway flares had been set out by a railroad crew for a large switching operation involving many railroad cars. The gasoline, spilling from the rear trailer, was easily ignited by the flares. Fire flashed back up to the ruptured trailer, igniting it. Wind drove a solid sheet of flame across the lanes of the Viaduct into the two vacant floors of the three‑story brick “Our Home Hotel” building at 83‑1/2 South Main Street. Meanwhile, on the railroad tracks, four boxcars became involved in fire. Fire forced the evacuation of “Shelley’s Leg,” a night club/tavern on the ground floor of the “Our Home Hotel” at the southeast comer of Alaskan Way South and South Main Street. A major electric trunk line, feeding the downtown area, ran along the underside of the Viaduct. These cables were damaged, cutting off power to many downtown buildings. Two fire fighters were injured in the quick‑burning blaze. First alarm was at 1:02 a.m., 2‑11 at 1:03 a.m., 3‑11 at 1:04 a.m. Special calls brought another engine company and the foam unit. The fire was “tapped” at 1:49 a.m.
The first women to try for the position of Seattle fire fighter were not successful in the trainee programs. That program was dissolved in 1977 and a pre‑recruit class was established to replace it. Women and minorities participated in the classes for a better chance of success in the regular recruit course. Barbara Beers became the first woman to enter the uniformed ranks of the Seattle Fire Department in October, 1977. Since then, the pre‑recruit program has added over forty women to the Department.
An intoxicated occupant of a 6th floor apartment, in the eighteen‑story masonry “Grosvenor House” condominiums at 500 Wall Street, awoke in the wee hours of February 8, 1978, to find a fire in his kitchen from a pan left burning on the range when he passed out. After an attempt to extinguish it, he left the room and proceeded to the 1st floor where he informed the night clerk. The clerk called the Fire Department and a full 1st alarm assignment was dispatched at 4:36 a.m. Nothing was visible to first arriving units, since his apartment was on the back side of the block‑long building. In the lobby the occupant informed fire fighters that the fire was out. Indeed it was “out” ‑ out the windows and licking up the side of the building and out into the 6th floor hallway. The first personnel to arrive on that floor to investigate what they believed would be an extinguished fire, found themselves trapped in the extremely smoky corridor. 2nd Battalion Chief Don Beauclair, with Lieutenant Bill Dye and Fire Fighter Ralph Vargas, both from Ladder 4, suffered severe smoke inhalation in making their way to safety. In a landmark case, the apartment occupant was convicted of and sentenced for “reckless endangerment.”
Chief Frank Hanson retired for the second time effective December 31, 1979, with a combined total of more than forty years service. Assistant Chief John Mancini retired at the same time. Mayor Charles Royer chose Deputy Chief of Training Robert L. Swartout to fill the Chief’s post. Chief Swartout appointed Deputy Chief T.E. Gideon as his Assistant.