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Minneapolis, MN Hospital Fire, Dec 1956



Minneapolis, Dec. 24 (AP) -- Six persons were dead and doctors fought to save seven other patients who were in critical condition today after a hospital fire sparked by a shorted Christmas tree light chain.
Heavy smoke billowing up from the lobby, when the fire started, caused the deaths yesterday.
The fire, set off by defective wiring in a Christmas tree light chain, roared up through a funnel-like stairway off the lobby of Doctors Hospital. The 44-year-old, 125-bed capacity medical center was about half full, with 60 patients.
The victims, all of whom suffocated, were identified as:
CLARENCE O. GREEN, 53, all of Minneapolis.
A baby boy in an incubator was rescued from the blaze only to die a few hours later from a congenital heart condition.
A stream of ambulances, public and private, from city and suburbs, jammed into the thickly populated district of Loring Park to bear victims of the early morning fire to other hospitals.
Firemen talked numerous patients from leaping from windows in the five-story structure.
Some patients were guided down ladders, others -- mainly the elderly and seriously ill -- were swathed in bedsheets and carried to safety.
"Some of the patients were knotting bedsheets and dropping them out of windows," said MISS AAGOT RAMBERG, an X-ray technician who lived across the street.
The patients were distributed among other institutions, the great majority to Minneapolis General hospital, where 44 were being cared for today.
Three of the fatalities occurred at the scene. The others died of smoke inhalation on arrival at General.
GREEN, a major in the Salvation Army, was one of those who suffocated in his bed. He was held captive there by raised traction splints fitted for his broken legs.
A near victim was DR. WALLACE NELSON, who had stayed overnight for an early operation. He responded to treatment and was removed from the critical list.
Fire department and hospital officials place the damage at $100,000.
The fire, which broke out about 3 a.m., was first noticed by MISS FRANCES MENEFEE, about 65, the night switchboard operator. She said she heard "a sharp crackling sound like a light bulb popping" then the flames burst out and the lights and switchboard went dead.
MISS MENEFEE summoned aid by using an outside phone in one wing of the hospital, formerly known as Eitel hospital.
Nurses got most of the doors on the second floor closed, saving many patients from suffocating. The deaths occurred on the third floor of the brick structure.
On the top floor a dramatic fight was waged by two nurses, MRS. CECILIA JANICK and MRS. BARBARA BRASSIF, for the lives of a half dozen babies.
Water-soaked diapers were put over the infants faces to keep them from inhaling the deadly smoke. Occasionally the women stuck their own heads out the window to gasp some fresh air.
"Real, genuine heroes," Police Chief R. I. Walling described the pair.
The hospital showed few scars from the outside as a freezing drizzle and snow fell. Inside, however, the lobby was a charred jungle of ruin, the twisting stairway and upper halls seared as though by a torch.

The News Palladium Benton Harbor Michigan 1956-12-24


I was one of the half dozen babies

I was one of the babies in the nursery on the night of the fire. I have some newspaper clippings (kept by my grandfather). I'd be interested in knowing if any of the other babies are still around.

article | by Dr. Radut