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Yesterday's fire in Hilton's Block so nearly ended in tragedy that it will be long before those who witnessed it can shake off its impression. The college is today divided between a feeling of thankfulness that the desperate jump did not result fatally, and of indignation that such a predicament could have been possible.
Every one who knows the particulars of Henney's danger and escape feels that the whole situation was absolutely inexcusable. The fire spread with remarkable rapidity, it is true. On the other hand it took place in the middle of the day, in a crowded part of the town, and within a few hundred yards of a station of the City Fire Department. When the emergency arose means of escape from the building proved inadequate, and the performance of the fire department was nothing short of disgraceful.
The building is constructed after the ordinary firebox system, five stories high, with one entry and staircase, no fire escape whatever on one side and on the other side a ladder which can be reached from one room on each floor. Of course if the tenant of that room is out, the door is locked. There is also a wooden stairway in the air shaft which requires no comment.
As for the work of the firemen, they didn't do any worth mentioning until the crisis was passed. One ladder-truck was on hand with reasonable promptness, but it was fully ten minutes later before a ladder was raised. In the meanwhile the man had been forced to jump and not firemen but students broke his fall with the life net. In the course of time more apparatus arrived and more men, but even then the lack of training and still more evident lack of capable direction were apparent. There was plenty of shouting by all hands and very little "teamwork."
The responsibility for this state of affairs lies not with the men themselves, but with the system. Cambridge can never have an efficient fire service until the antiquated "volunteer" or "call system" is done away with. The men can not get to a fire quickly. When they do get there, they necessarily lack training and discipline. Captain McNamee of the Brattle St. station says that in the majority of the fires he attends he has to rely on the assistance of outsiders.
One is forced to conclude that disagreeable as yesterday's experience was, the college was fortunate in that nothing worse happened. If it had taken place at night-well, the notion is not pleasant. Two lessons are to be learned. We need better fire escapes, and Cambridge has outgrown her system of village fire companies.
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