June 6, 1897. At about 12 o'clock this night three alarms 'of fire were turned in from box 157 for a fire in a three-story brick building at Nos. 839-49 Folsom street, occupied as a cracker bakery by Shroth & Westerfield. The tragic incident attending this fire, which resulted in the killing of three members of this Department, will long be remembered.
The origin of this fire is something of a mystery. Morris Know, a tailor living at No. 857 Folsom street, was the first person to discover it; he saw flames coming from the second story windows of the building on the west side. He notified policemen Ryan and Tracy, who at once turned in an alarm from the box on the corner of Folsom and Fourth streets. When the department arrived on the scene the whole building was enveloped in flames and a second and third alarm was turned in. It was realized, however, that nothing could save the contents of the factory from total destruction. The streams from several engines were kept playing on*he sides and roofs of all frame buildings reached by the heat from the big fire. The balance of the available water supply was devoted to flooding the several floors of the big building. The water tower was placed in service, but unfortunately some of its structural parts gave out and it was necessary to confine its effectiveness to the battery thereon. This proved of material assistance, but was not nearly as valuable as would have been the heavy stream that could be thrown in the upper stories of the building by the tower.
John Moholy, Captain of Chemical Engine No. 6, carried his hose up the stairs of an adjoining building. He made his way through the unoccupied second story to the rear. Suddenly the wall of the brick building rocked, and part fell, crushing the rear of a paint shop adjoining. "My God, Moholy' s in there," shrieked some one. Lieutenant Lee, of the Fire Patrol, Frank Keller, hoseman of Engine 6, and Timothy Hallinan, Driver of Truck 1, who were standing close by, rushed bravely to the rescue. They made their way through the wreck and reached the rear of the building, where Moholy was lying with a broken leg. They dragged him from the wreckage, which had buried him to the waist, but the wrenching of Moholy' s broken leg caused him such pain that he cried in agony. "Boys, get a board or a door to carry me on," groaned Moholy, whose suffering was so intense that he could hardly bear to be touched. Lee rushed out for a plank. Keller busied himself in placing Moholy' s leg in a more comfortable position. Hallinan went to assist Lee in carrying the plank, which he had picked up in the yard where District Engineer McCluskey was standing, and pulled it through an opening to where Moholy was laying. "Look out," roared McCluskey, rushing back. Lee looked up and saw the toppling wall and got away in safety. There was a great roar, a crash, and the three stout-hearted firemen were buried from view. Lee and half-dozen others started to rush in, but McCluskey ordered them all back, saying: "They're dead, and you'll all be killed with them if you go in there." In time the flames were extinguished, the debris cleared away and the men reached. Thy were found all together. Hallinan's arms were over Moholy's shoulders, and Keller's hands grasping at his feet. They had made one last effort to lift Moholy and get him out.
Chemical 6 was one of the first engines to reach the burning building. Captain Moholy, who was in charge of the crew, realized at once that it would be useless for him to attempt to stay the progress of the flames in the big building, and accordingly turned his attention to the frame structures adjoining it, his purpose being to prevent, if possible, the spread of the flames to the long row of frame structures between the factory and Fourth street. Then came the fall of the first part of the wall, the pinning of Moholy, the brave attempt at rescue, and the second and fatal crash.
Too much cannot be said in praise of these three heroes who so unfortunately met their death. This Department has lost three of the bravest and most faithful men in the service, and their death is keenly felt and sincerely mourned.
The damage at this fire amounted to about $50,000, covered by insurance.
D. T. Sullivan
Chief of the Fire Department
Source: 1897 Municipal Reports, page 493
Frank Keller, hoseman of Engine 6; Timothy Hallinan, driver of Truck 1, and John Moholy, Engineer of Chemical 6, were killed on the 6th of June, 1897, while engaged in the discharge of their duties at a fire on Folsom street, between Fourth and Fifth streets.
Source: 1897 Municipal Reports, page 491
Extracted from original sources with grammar and spelling as published.