Boston, MA Nine Firemen Killed In Hotel Vendome Fire, June 1972

Hotel View Hotel View Vendome Memorial Site Hotel Vendome, late 1920s


By Ralph Jacobs
Sun Staff
Boston -- Five firefighters were killed and four others are missing and feared dead, and eight were injured late yesterday afternoon when a corner of the old Hotel Vendome collapsed during a multi-alarm fire and buried firefighters and an aerial ladder truck in the debris.
The cave-in occurred about 5:15 p.m., some two hours after the first alarm had been sounded. The hotel had been unoccupied for some time and a few workmen were engaged in changing it over to an apartment house when fire was discovered.
The fire appeared to be mainly in the upper floors of the seven-story structure and firemen were gaining the upper hand, it seemed, when a section of the wall collapsed. Firefighters were unable to get out of the way of the debris which piled high on one group.
Firefighters not trapped in the debris toiled desperately to dig their comrades out of the bricks and stones, while ambulances responding on a disaster call took the seven injured to city hospitals.
Volunteers among the spectators joined in the search, and a heavy crane was brought into action in an attempt to clear away the debris under which it is feared the bodies of the missing four firefighters were buried.
The fire department chaplain, Msgr. JAMES KEATING, the AP reported, crawled into a hole in the rubble created by the digging firemen and administered last rites to two of the dead firemen whose bodies could not be immediately freed.
Another dead fireman was identified as JOHN BECKWITH, the father of two children.
At least eight injured firemen were taken to nearvy hospitals for treatment.
One of the, JOHN FEENEY, said he was buried in the 5:30 p.m. collapse and could hear cries of help from colleagues below him.
The collapse came as firemen thought they had brought the fire under control.
It was "absolutely unexpected," said Capt. JOHN COLLINS a fire department spokesman. "They thought the fire was out except for the sweeping up."
Fire officials ordered all workers on the scene to abandon any firefighting efforts and concentrate on digging in the debris. As they did that, the blaze broke through the roof of the seven-story building directly above the point of collapse.
The rubble created by the collapse buried at least one fire truck, officials said. COLLINS said one fireman told him he saw two men buried by the rubble and knew of at least nine others below him who were caught by the collapse.
Firemen immediately began passing stretchers into the area as the search for bodies began.
More than 200 firemen, many of whom were first called when the fire broke out in an elevator shaft sometime around 2 p.m., continued working at the scene as darkness fell.
Boston police ordered all available emergency equipment to the area, and reported at least 20 ambulances sent to the site.
The rubble from the five-story hotel section piled up a full floor high in the alley in back of the building, bordering on Dartmouth Street.
Fire Capt. JOHN COLLINS said one of the electricians, TOM AHERN, discovered the blaze in a third floor elevator shaft about 3 p.m.
Firefighters contained the blaze in the upper stories, chiefly the fifth, sixth and seventh, but COLLINS said there was extensive water and smoke damage. The fire ate through the roof.
There was no immediate estimate of loss.
COLLINS said determination of the cause must await an investigation by fire officials.
The hotel was built 101 years ago at Commonwealth Avenue and Dartmouth Street as a keystone of the then newly developing Back Bay area which was being filled in and laid out for fine residences and hotels.
Listing Of Fire Fighters Killed:
Lieutenant THOMAS J. CARROLL, E-32.
Lieutenant JOHN E. HANBURY, JR., L-13.
Firefighter THOMAS W. BECKWITH, E-32.
Firefighter JOSEPH E. BOUCHER, JR., E-22.
Firefighter CHARLES E. DOLAN, L-13.
Firefighter JOHN E. JAMESON, E-22.
Firefighter RICHARD B. MAGEE, E-33.
Firefighter PAUL J. MURPHY, E-32.
Firefighter JOSEPH P. SANIUK, L-13.

The Lowell Sun Massachusetts 1972-06-18


Vendome Memorial

After year of work by Deputy Fire Chief Paul Christian and District Fire Chief Gerald Molito, the city agreed to install a monument dedicated to the Vendome firefighters on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall, within sight of the rebuilt hotel, which is now a condominium complex. The Vendome Memorial was dedicated on June 17, 1997, twenty-five years to the day after the fire, in a ceremony attended by thousands of firefighters and their families... [The Monument] features a bronze cast of a firefighter helmet and a turnout coat draped over a granite arc decorated with quotes and statements that refer to the fire. Unfortunately, Chief Molito died before the monument was finished.

From Boston's Fire Trail by the Boston Fire Historical Society, Boston Fire Historical Society. Read it online at Google Books