GRAND HOTEL FIRE
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Seven Dead, Nine Injured
One of our worst fires from the standpoint of death and injury was the Grand hotel fire of December 9, 1945. A fire, which started under the stairway in the lobby of the four-story building at Fourth and Market Streets, completely gutted the building, resulting in death for seven persons and injury to nine others.
The fire broke out about 9 p.m. although it is believed to have been smouldering for some time. This belief was expressed by the startling rapidity with which the flames spread and engulfed the entire structure. The scene was one of tragedy from the earliest moments of the fire. The first victim was Ritchie Law of Elizabeth who jumped from an upper story window into the street. He was a recently discharged service man who had been visiting a friend in the hotel. Even as he leaped, screams filled the air as others sought to flee the rapidly spreading flames. some were trapped and perished in the flames, including a man, his wife and children, and another ex-service man whose body was found a few days later in an upper-story room, the body untouched by flames and his death at tribute to either suffocation or head injuries from falling timber.
The rapidity with which the flames spread is indicated by the fact that when firemen from the Central Station in the city building-only two blocks away-arrived, flames already were shooting from windows. Arriving first at the scene were Lester Ashby and William Biddle, who drove the pumper truck. This left the aerial truck behind with no one to man it, and realizing this, Sgt. Wenzil Hamrick of the Parkersburg Police Department, ran to the fire station and started the motor in the vehicle. However, this left no one to operate the rear steering wheel, but Lt Grimm of the fire department, who was off duty at the time, got on the rear of the truck after it had been driven from the building and in this manner the vehicle was taken to the scene. Sgt. Hamrick, who was unfamiliar with the truck, drove it down Market Street and arrived in time to rescue a trapped guest from an upper story window.
Acting Chief Archie Cook had only a handful of men available to fight the blaze, and only the assistance of the Vienna, South Parkersburg, Belpre and Marietta Departments finally brought the fire under control, but not until after it had exacted its toll in life and property. The department at the time included only 19 firemen, while the National Board of Fire Underwriters had recommended that 11 men be assigned to the downtown station alone, to operate the aerial truck and the 1,200-gallon pumper.
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