Incident Date: February 16, 1955
Department: Baltimore City Fire Department (Maryland)
Number of Line-of-Duty Deaths: 6
At 9:02 pm on February 16, 1955, Box alarm was transmitted for a fire at Baltimore and Frederick Streets alerting Engine 32, Truck 1, Hose 1, and Deputy Chief 2 to respond. Within minutes of the first alarm, a second alarm was struck at 9:06 pm doubling the response with three more engines, a rescue company, two more trucks, an additional hose company, and a battalion chief. The location of the fire was at the Tru-Fit Clothing Company at 507-09 East Baltimore Street.
Heavy smoke poured from the front of the building and there was smoke side Charlie with limited rear access due to the location of adjacent commercial buildings. A third alarm was struck at 9:13 pm. The fire seemed to be in the basement of the structure and firefighters were working hard to access the seat of the fire. Four additional engines and two more trucks responded with the fourth alarm at 9:33 pm.
The area was then served by Baltimore’s high-pressure system, so hose companies were assigned to Box 12. These units lined the front of the structure so that their monitors could easily be placed in service, if needed, on the fire building and the adjacent structures. None of the monitors were used on the fire.
Two more alarms were struck bringing eight additional engines to the scene. Smoke conditions outside the structure were improving, but crews were in for a long night of overhaul. Around 11:00 pm, a building collapse occurred, sending firefighters rushing from the building shouting for ropes and ladders. Many firefighters were trapped in the collapse. Chief of Department Michael Lotz had survived the collapse, but firefighters knew they knew that many were injured and killed in the collapse. Additional alarms were struck off the house alarm at the nearby Gay Street firehouse to bring additional firefighters to the scene. Firefighters spent the night working to free their friends from the rubble.
Later, the department made a formal announcement that six men had died in the collapse including: Fourth Battalion Chief Francis P. O’Brien, Firefighters William W. Barnes (E-17 detailed to E-2); Joseph F. Hanley, E-13 (aide to Chief O’Brien); Anthony N. Reinsfelder, T-16, Rudolph A. Machovec, and Richard F. Melzer, E-15. Eighteen firefighters were injured in addition to Chief Lotz.
(Information from The Baltimore Fire Department’s Worst Night by V.B. Morris)
Killed in the Collapse
- BCFD Division Chief Donald W. Heinbuch Article
- Baltimore Sun Headline With Photos: 6 Firemen Killed Here; 20 Hurt; 4 Bodies Still Buried
- Baltimore City Fire Department: Tru-Fit Clothing Store Fire Anniversary Booklet
- 50th Anniversary: Tru-Fit Clothing Company Fire
- Photo Gallery: Tru-Fit Clothing Co. fire remembered
More About Memorial Monday
Memorial Monday is established to remember the sacrifice of firefighters who died in the line of duty before the National Memorial was created in 1981. On the last Monday of every month, a firefighter, or groups of firefighters, will be remembered through information located about the firefighter and their sacrifice.