Hotel Vendome fire
The Hotel Vendome fire was the worst firefighting tragedy in Boston history. Nine firefighters were killed when part of the building collapsed, June 17, 1972. The Hotel Vendome was on the southwest corner of the intersection of Commonwealth Avenue and Dartmouth Street, in the Back Bay area of Boston.
The Vendome was a luxury hotel built in 1871 in Boston's Back Bay, just north of Copley Square. A massive expansion was undertaken in 1881 according to plans by architect J. F. Ober and completed in 1882.
During the 1960s, the Vendome suffered four small fires. In 1971, the year of the original building's centennial, the Vendome was sold. The new owners opened a restaurant called Cafe Vendome on the first floor, and began renovating the remaining hotel into condominiums and a shopping mall.
Fire and collapse
The building was largely empty the afternoon of Saturday June 17, 1972, except for a few people performing renovations. One of the workers discovered that a fire had begun in an enclosed space between the third and fourth floors, and at 2:35 PM rang Box 1571. A working fire was called in at 2:44 PM, and subsequent alarms were rung at 2:46 PM, 3:02 PM, and 3:06 PM. A total of 16 engine companies, five ladder companies, two aerial towers, and a heavy rescue company responded.
The fire was largely under control by 4:30 PM. Several crews, including Boston Fire Department Ladder 13 and Engines 22 and 32, remained on scene performing overhaul and cleanup. At 5:28 PM, abruptly and without warning, all five floors of a 40-by-45 foot section at the southeast corner of the building collapsed, burying ladder truck 15 and 17 firefighters beneath a two-story pile of debris.
Occurring one day prior to the Father's Day, eight firemen were injured, and nine lost their lives in the worst firefighting disaster in Boston history in terms of loss of life. The men who were killed were:
- Firefighter Thomas W. Beckwith
- Firefighter Joseph F. Boucher
- Lieutenant Thomas J. Carroll
- Firefighter Charles E. Dolan
- Lieutenant John E. Hanbury, Jr.
- Firefighter John E. Jameson
- Firefighter Richard B. Magee
- Firefighter Paul J. Murphy
- Firefighter Joseph P. Saniuk
District Fire Chief John P. Vahey wrote a comprehensive report on the Vendome fire. Although the cause of the original fire was not known, the subsequent collapse was attributed to the failure of an overloaded seven-inch steel column whose support had been weakened when a new duct had been cut beneath it, exacerbated by the extra weight of water used to fight the fire on the upper floors.
On June 17, 1997—the 25th anniversary of the Vendome fire—a monument was dedicated on the Commonwealth Avenue mall, a few yards from the site of the fire. The monument features a fireman's helmet and coat cast in bronze draped over a low arc of dark granite. An inscription bears the timeline of the fire and the names of the men who died. One faces the site of the fire when reading the names.
After the fire, the Vendome was successfully renovated, hosting 110 residential condominium units and 27 commercial units, including a restaurant.
- Kuntz, Andrew (2005). "Ryan's Mammoth Collection Part II". www.ibiblio.org/fiddlers/Ryan'sII.htm.
- Vahey, John P. (1973). "Without Warning- A Report on the Vendome Hotel Fire" (PDF). bostonfirehistory.org.
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- Moore, Barbara W. and Weesner, Gail, Back Bay: A Living Portrait, 1995, ISBN 0-9632077-3-3
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- Boston Fire Department web page about the Hotel Vendome fire