White Plains, NY Stouffer's Hotel Fire, Dec 1980
VICTIMS DIDN'T HAVE A CHANCE.
White Plains (AP) -- Business executives gathered for meetings at a hotel here "didn't have a chance" when an electrical fire raced through conference rooms with heat so intense it melted walls, fire officials said.
The blaze yesterday at the suburban Stouffer's Inn killed 26 people and injured at least 40.
"The fire was so strong, so fast, that it was like a bomb exploding," said FRANZ EICHENAURER, an executive chef for General Foods.
"It appears it flashed up suddenly and these people didn't have a chance," said Purchase Fire Chief ROBERT MAKOWSKI.
One Woman Dies.
GARY PAPARO, the Westchester County medical examiner, said today the 26 victims worked for Arrow Electronics Inc. and Nestle Co. Inc. One was a woman and the other 25 were men.
The medical examiner estimated it will be two to four days before names are released.
PAPARO also said all died within two or three minutes of the start of the fire and were killed by smoke inhalation with carbon monoxide in the smoke.
"The bodies were cherry-red and showed inhalation of soot deep into the airways of their lungs" characteristics of death by smoke poisoning, PAPARO said.
"Fourteen of the bodies were charred badly, the others partly so."
PAPARO said four bodies have been identified "visually," two by family members, a third by an associate, and a fourth by what he caled "very characristic" tattoo marks.
The families of the victims were gathered at the Westchester County medical examiner's office early today, working with authorities who were trying to identify the remains of victims through fingerprints or dental records.
A police spokesman said he had received calls indicating people "from California to Canada" were at the hotel.
Second Hotel Fire.
It was the second major hotel fire in the United States in two weeks. On Nov. 21, a blaze at the MGM Grand hotel in Las Vegas, Nev., killed 84 people and injured more than 700 others.
MAKOWSKI said he determined the Stouffer's fire was electrical because the partitions in the walls melted. "It was a very hot, hot fire."
There were no sprinklers in the area where the fire spread.
"It is tragic that the safety codes did not require sprinklers in such areas because they are not regarded as guest living areas," said CARL VERGARI, Westchester County district attorney.
Sprinklers were not required in most area of the MGM Grand and were not installed there either.
Executives of Arrow, Nestle, General Foods Corp., Internationsl Business Machines Corp., Pepsico Inc. and other companies were at meetings on the same floor of the three-story brick building where the fire broke out.
The 3-year-old inn, which cost $20 million and has 366 guest rooms, is located 30 miles north of mid-Manhattan along a hillside strip dubbed the "Platinum Mile" because of its concentration of modern corporate headquarters.
The inn was bustling with activity when the fire exploded at 10:20 a.m. in a second-story conference room where officials of Arrow Electronics of Greenwich, Conn., were holding a budget meeting.
"We could hear noises in the hallway," said THOMAS GOODRUM of Danbury, Conn., a General Foods employee who was in a meeting next door.
"I heard someone say, 'Oh, my God.' Smoke started coming over the top of our door.... We couldn't open the windows," he said.
A man picked up a chair and heaved it at a window, but it bounced off, GOODRUM said. Then two men picked up a table and smashed the window and the people in the room jumped 35 feet to a rocky slope below.
"I jumped blind," said NANCY YATES, who was in the General Foods room. "I couldn't see the ground when I jumped."
Bodies In Closet.
Seven bodies later were found in a closet of the Arrow Electronics room. The victims apparently mistook the closet door for an exit. Three others were found behind a Christmas tree near an emergency door whose dead-bolt lock apparently would not open.
Most of the deaths apparently were from smoke inhalation and the 40 injuries apparently were suffered in leaps from second-story windows.
JOHN C. WADDELL, Arrow executive vice president and its ranking corporate officer after the fire, identified three of the dead as company President BIDDLE DUKE GLENN, 44; Executive Vice President ROGER E. GREEN, 42; and NORMAN KELLY, another executive. Ten other company executives were missing.
Three others listed as unaccounted for by the Westchester-Rockland Newspapers were GERARD BLACHETTE, 34, of Ronkonkoma, an Arrow executive; JOHN A. PIRO, 41, of Tarrytown, and ANTHONY CASSERTA, 38, of Creskill, N. J., both Nestle's executives.
A spokesman for General Foods said it had 11 people at a meeting at the Inn when the fire broke out and all were accounted for -- four treated at hospitals and released yesterday and seven admitted for various injuries.
Computer equipment that was in the room was not activated at the time of the blaze and VERGARI said there was "no foundation" to reports that an explosion of that equipment may have caused the fire.
Syracuse Herald-Journal New York 1980-12-05