The Hartford Hospital Fire: Inferno on the 9th Floor

Release Date: 02/17/2012

 The Hartford Hospital Fire: Inferno on the 9th Floor

 

The 1961 Fire was One of the Worst Hospital Fires in American History and Changed Hospital Building Codes Nationwide

 

Premieres Thursday, January 26 at 8:30 p.m. on Connecticut Public Television (CPTV); Encore broadcast on Sunday, January 29 at 6 p.m.

 

On December 8, 1961, a devastating fire engulfed the ninth floor of Hartford Hospital in Hartford, Connecticut. Started by discarded cigarette ash dropped down a trash chute, the fire took the lives of sixteen individuals – including patients, visitors, nurses, employees and one physician – and changed fire codes and building regulations for hospitals nationwide.

The Hartford Hospital Fire: Inferno on the 9th Floor, premiering Thursday, January 26 at 8:30 p.m. on Connecticut Public Television (CPTV) with an encore broadcast on Sunday, January 29 at 6 p.m., is a new documentary that tells the harrowing story of that day through the eyes of the people who survived it. Through interviews and archival photos and footage, the documentary – created to commemorate the event’s 50th anniversary – reveals step-by-step the collision of unfortunate events that led to one of the worst hospital fires in American history.

 

Written and produced by Rebecca Stewart of Hartford Hospital, the half-hour program explains how cigarette ash dropped down a trash chute exploded into a fiery missile that ignited the entire floor. A rolling black cloud of smoke engulfed the hallways within seconds, and people ran for their lives or tried their best to barricade themselves behind doors.

 

Bob Maher, a male aide at Hartford Hospital in 1961, tells the heartbreaking story of how he could hear a woman screaming for help on the other side of a fire door. When he opened it to help her, the raging flames licked up his face burning his hair and eyebrows. With the fire so severe, all he could do was quickly close the door again and try to lead her to the door with his voice. She never made it to safety.   

 

Firefighters arrived on the scene in minutes, but a serious problem soon arose. Their ladders couldn’t reach the ninth floor. They extended the ladders as high as possible – almost completely vertical – but they still remained a few feet short. Firefighter Richard “Dick” Trejarian, in full turnout gear, climbed to the very top of the ladder – nearly 100 feet into their air – and poised himself below an open broken window.

 

Former firefighter Frank Droney described what happened next. “Dick Trejarian actually jumped from the top of the ladder to the window.” Trejarian’s feet dangled free before he could pull himself up through the window. Droney continued, “Then he pulled [another firefighter] in. They secured all the doors and ensured that people stayed in their rooms; told them what to do [and how to use] wet towels along the bottom of the doors. If it wasn’t for Dick, there would have been a lot more people dead.”

 

If anything positive came from the devastation and lost lives of the Hartford Hospital fire, important fire safety lessons were learned that day that helped influence building codes in hospitals around the country. Smoking in hospitals and the use of trash chutes were immediately banned after the fire. Doors in hospitals are now required to use safer positive latches instead of rolling latches which allowed the pressure from fires to push doors open. Building materials such as wallpaper and ceiling tiles must now be made of fire-retardant materials. Sprinkler systems, fire escapes and fire drills are also all mandatory today.

The Hartford Hospital Fire: Inferno on the 9th Floor is a production of the Hartford Hospital News Service.

Producer/Writer: Rebecca Stewart

Director of Photography:  Nick Dethlefsen

 

 

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