Cleveland Clinic fire of 1929

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Cleveland Clinic fire of 1929
Date May 15, 1929 (1929-05-15)
Time 11:30 AM
Location Cleveland Clinic
Coordinates Coordinates: 41°30′08″N 81°37′03″W / 41.50236°N 81.61755°W / 41.50236; -81.61755
Deaths 123
Injuries 92
Property damage US$50,000 (US$683,850 in 2013 dollars)
Awards US$45,000

The Cleveland Clinic fire was a major structure fire at Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio on May 15, 1929. It started in the basement of the hospital and it was caused by nitrocellulose x-ray film that ignited when an exposed light bulb was too close to the film.,[1] causing poisonings and two separate explosions. The fire claimed 123 lives,[2] including that of one of the founders, Dr. John Phillips.[3] The first explosion came at a few seconds past 11:30AM; a clock on the third floor balcony stopped at that time. Despite the heavy loss of life, firemen estimated the property damage at only $50,000 ($683,850 in 2013 dollars).[4] Policeman Ernest Staab was killed by the gas while rescuing 21 victims.[2]


The Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit Ohio corporation, one of the four best medical centers in the country,[5] and was created in 1921 by four physicians for the purpose of providing patient care, research, and medical education in an ideal medical setting.


Late in the morning of May 15, 1929, an exposed light bulb too close to some nitrocellulose x-ray film ignited the film. The burning nitrocellulose film quickly produced a significant amount of poisonous gases, causing victims to suffocate and, witnesses state, the faces of the victims turned yellowish brown within minutes.[2] Further complicating fire-fighting, nitrocellulose will burn even while immersed in water, and fighting the film-fueled fire would simply have caused more poisonous smoke to accumulate, raising the death toll.[6]

After the hollow center of the building was filled with poisonous gas, a second explosion shattered the skylight and sent the vapors reaching into every corner of the clinic. As many of the staff and patients had no escape from the gas other than windows, and fewer still had little way of reaching these, many of the building occupants succumbed to the poisons.[2]



While the clinic wasn't at fault for the fire, according to investigators, the disaster was responsible for influencing significant changes to fire-fighting techniques. The city of Cleveland, for instance, decided to issue gas masks to its fire departments and proposed a city ambulance service.[1]

One national response to the disaster was for medical facilities to establish standards for the storage of nitrocellulose film, among other hazardous materials.[1]


  1. ^ a b c "Cleveland Clinic Fire". Retrieved 2009-06-16. 
  2. ^ a b c d "Cleveland, OH Clinic Explosion and Fire, May 1929". Retrieved 2009-06-16. 
  3. ^ "Encyclopedia of Cleveland History: CLEVELAND CLINIC DISASTER". Retrieved 2011-05-07. 
  4. ^ BLS Inflation Calculator
  5. ^ Avery, Comarow. "Best Hospitals 2010-11: The Honor Roll". Best Hospitals 2010-11: The Honor Roll. U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved 7 March 2011. 
  6. ^ Health and Safety Executive leaflet/cellulose.pdf