February 14, 2018
On February 14, 2018, FDNY members gathered at the quarters of Ladder Company 20 (L-20) in lower Manhattan for a memorial service to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Wooster Street Collapse – a tragedy that killed two FDNY Firefighters and four Fire Patrol members. The Firefighters and patrol members were struck by debris when the roof and multiple floors of the building collapsed.
"Wooster Street may have changed dramatically in the decades since this tragedy, but the resolve of these companies and all of our members, to always go towards the danger to protect life and property has never wavered," said First Deputy Commissioner Kavanagh. "We will always remember those who made the Supreme Sacrifice and we will always be there for their families."
In a Department which has seen far too many painful days, the fire and collapse just blocks from here on Wooster Street 60 years ago today stands out as one of the worst losses of life ever experienced.On February 14th, 1958, shortly after 6 p.m. employees of the Elkins Paper and Twine building at 137-139 Wooster Street, Manhattan heard the sound of breaking glass – upon investigation, the employees saw reflection of flames in the windows across the street of their building – indicating their building was on fire.
Manhattan Fire Communications received the call at 6:23 p.m. for report of fire and dispatched Engine Companies 13, 30, 33, 44, and Ladder Companies 20, 9, and Rescue Company 1, Battalion 4, and Battalion 2.
Fire Patrol 2 was also dispatched - the New York Fire Patrol was created by the New York Board of Fire Underwriters which mission was to discover fires and prevent losses to insured properties.
Fire was present on the upper floors of the building and a heavy smoke condition engulfed the building. At 6:35 p.m., as the Firefighters of L-20 were venting the roof – a loud rumbling sound became present. Captain Thomas McGrath of L-20 and a Firefighter dove for windows on the side of the 8-story building. They were eventually pulled to safety by fellow Firefighters. Tragically, Firefighter Bernard Blumenthal of L-20 and Firefighter William Schmid of L-1 died in the collapse.
Joseph D. Devine of Fire Patrol 2 was on the 3rd floor deploying tarpaulins when the rumbling sound began. As the noise of the rumbling increased, Fire Patrol member Devine quickly positioned himself next to a side wall when the floors began to collapse. Unfortunately, Fire Patrol member Devine and additional members of the Fire Patrol - Louis Brusati, Michael Tracy, and Sergeant Michael McGee had no escape route. Screams from the trapped men could be heard by people on the street alongside sounds from the collapsing building.
Firefighters started digging feverishly looking for the trapped members. There was a threat of a secondary collapse as the Firefighters worked. Winter storm conditions heavily affected the efforts of the Firefighters as the temperatures were dropping to the single digits alongside a strong wind chill and snow.
Nearly 200 Firefighters with 65 pieces of equipment worked through the night digging through the debris in hopes Firefighters and Fire Patrol members survived the collapse.
At 10:15 p.m., Firefighter Schmid and Firefighter Blumenthal were discovered in the rubble. Firefighter Schmid was taken to Bellevue Hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival, Firefighter Blumenthal was taken to St. Vincent’s Hospital and succumbed to his injuries. It became apparent that the rescue effort for the 4 missing Fire Patrolmen would go on for days.
Early Saturday morning, Acting Chief of Department Arthur Massett and Fire Commissioner Edward Cavanaugh put out a call over the Department Radio for Firefighters to volunteer to come to the scene and help with the search. An impressive response of 500 off-duty Firefighters came to the scene braving the nine inches of snow and the extreme cold looking to help in any way possible. The off-duty Firefighters relieved the exhausted and weather-affected Firefighters that operated at the fire since the alarm was transmitted.
On Saturday afternoon, signal 5-5-5-5 was transmitted to all FDNY firehouses signaling line-of-duty deaths. As a result of this collapse, two Firefighters - Firefighter Bernard Blumenthal of L-20 and Firefighter William Schmid of L-1 and four Fire Patrol members - Sergeant Michael McGee, Louis Brusati, James Devine, and Michael Tracy perished in the collapse.
For photos of the Wooster Street Collapse in 1958, click here.
For photos of the commemoration ceremony, click here.