Saturday, January 17, 2015

Collinwood School Fire

The shrill bell of a fire alarm and a practice evacuation can be an annoyance during the work or school day for many. However, these precautions save lives, and came about in large part due to the tragedy that was the Collinwood School Fire. 

March 4th, 1908, Ash Wednesday, started out like a normal school day for the teachers and students at Lakeview Elementary in Collinwood, which is now a part of Cleveland. Ruddy, smiling children were at their desks, ready to learn, not knowing what would happen next. Around 9:00 am, the building was engulfed in flames when an overheated steam pipe caught a wooden joist on fire (Or when an overheated boiler in the furnace room ignited loose timber... I have read different accounts of what sparked the blaze). Half of the children and teachers escaped, and the other half were trapped inside. Those who were trapped were unable to get out due to a fast spreading fire, large, wooden stairwells fueling the fire, and frightened children who blocked exits that were too small to begin with. Within a half an hour, fire had swept through the school and killed 172 students, teachers, and rescuers. By the time Collinwood's fire department arrived, the building was nothing but charred bricks. 

As the ruined building cooled, tender care was taken to remove the bodies of victims to makeshift morgues for identification. 19 of the teachers and children could not be identified, and their remains were buried under a memorial to all who perished at Lakeview Cemetery in Cleveland:

Depending on your perspective, the angel is either comforting the children as the fire approaches, or caring for the souls of the children who perished. 

After the disaster, fire codes in schools became top priority across the country. Warning systems, evacuation plans, clear exits, steel fire escapes and frames for buildings, etc., all became required in schools and other buildings. 

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