Mass. city honors 4 fallen firefighters on 125th anniversary of deadly blaze

Officials have designated Feb. 13 as Lynn Firefighters Day in memory of the devastating fire and building collapse


Gayla Cawley
Daily Item, Lynn, Mass.

LYNN, Mass. — It’s been 125 years since a deadly fire and building collapse on Munroe Street killed four firefighters, but their sacrifice has not been forgotten. 

The Lynn Fire Department marked the anniversary of the Feb. 13, 1895 Hutchinson Hardware Store Fire Thursday, with a ceremony honoring the four firefighters killed in the line of duty: Capt. Henry L. Skinner and Firefighters Thomas E. Murray, John F. Donlan and Abraham C. Moody Jr.

Feb. 13 was established as Lynn Firefighters Day in 1997 to mark the anniversary of the fire. 

The last Lynn firefighter to die in action was Herve Y. LeBlanc, who perished while battling a house fire in Swampscott on Dec. 14, 1986. 

“Each time, it’s a wreath-laying ceremony that we do to commemorate the event and recognize those firefighters who sacrificed so much to protect the community,” said Lynn Fire Chief Stephen Archer. “It really is a humbling reminder to me of how much these firefighters give of themselves each and every day to serve the city of Lynn.” 

A wreath was affixed to a light pole at 53-55 Munroe St., where the fatal fire occurred, and a ceremonial last alarm was rung, which signifies the last fire alarm box that the firefighters who were killed responded to, said Archer, who was a firefighter when the department marked the 100th anniversary of the tragedy. 

It was shortly before 8 p.m. on a Wednesday when two boys passing by the hardware store alerted crews to the blaze. It wasn’t long before the fire ripped through the building, extending through the roof after about 40 minutes, according to Lynn Fire Lt. Ed Whittier, the department’s historian. 

The fire quickly became a spectacle with many residents flocking to the scene to watch the building burn. Some witnesses claimed they heard an explosion 45 minutes after the fire broke out, an ominous sound that marked the building’s collapse. The front of the wood-framed building fell onto both Munroe Street and the adjacent Market Street, burying firefighters underneath the debris, Whittier said.

The collapse caused the fire to extend to other nearby buildings in what was known as Hutchinson’s Block. 

However it was the loss of life that the fire department continues to honor. 

Three of the firefighters — Skinner, 35, a member of Chemical 1; Donlan, 35, a hoseman on Engine 3; and Murray, 23, another hoseman on Engine 3 — died at the scene. Moody, 33, an Engine 3 hoseman, died three days later at Lynn Hospital from internal injuries caused by the building collapse, Whittier said.  

“It was an extreme loss of life,” said Whittier. “We feel a kinship with these guys. We understand what they went through. We wanted to mark the occasion because of the heroic efforts of what was going on at the time.” 

Skinner’s death came seven years after his father, Daniel Skinner, an engineer with Chemical 1, was killed in the line of duty. Daniel Skinner, 55, died from pneumonia he contracted from a fire he had battled four days earlier, Whittier said. 

The fire raged all night and was finally extinguished the next day. The department determined the blaze was caused by “sweeping,” with dust particles inside of barrels causing some kind of spontaneous combustion. The flammable materials inside the hardware store may have exacerbated matters, Whittier said.

Thirteen others were injured, according to then-Fire Chief Charles H. Downing, who spoke of the tragedy in his 1895 year-end report. 

“All were young men, prompt and faithful in the discharge of their duties, beloved and honored by their associates in the department,” Downing said at the time. “They were good citizens and respected by all who knew them, kind husbands and fathers, and their loss was certainly mourned by their afflicted family and friends.” 

The site’s current building is now known as Munroe Street Lofts, a mixed-use building that houses both residential and retail space, according to Whittier. 

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©2020 Daily Item, Lynn, Mass.

 

This morning members gathered at the site of the former Hutchinson Hardware store on Munroe St. A wreath was placed and...

Posted by City of Lynn Fire Department on Thursday, February 13, 2020

 

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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