Based on events described in Complete Story of the Collinwood School Disaster and How Such Horrors Can Be Prevented – Marshall Everett (1908).
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Source page numbers of Marshall Everett’s book are listed in parentheses at the end of each item as a reference point.
Contradictions to testimony described in the book appear in the timeline in red text.
This timeline is a work in progress, meaning it is being updated as new information is uncovered. The Everett book is being used as a basis for the timeline, since it appears to be the most complete record of the event. Even the book, itself, contains contradictory statements, which could be a product of sensationalist writing, a common practice at the time. However, one can surmise there is a certain level of truth to the statements in the book because of the consistency reported through newspapers and other sources, including public records. Contradictory statements will be included in red or will become a permanent part of the timeline if verified. Items verified through sources other than the Everett book will be noted accordingly.
|What We Know||8:30 – 9:35 a.m.||Mr. Hirter||Miss Irwin||Miss Lynn||Miss Bodey||Miss Weiler|
|Miss Fiske||Miss Rowley||Miss Gollmar||Miss Moran||Miss Rose||Collinwood Fire Department||Cleveland Fire Department|
|The Lakeshore Shop||Others of Note||The Rear Exit|
Figure 1 – Cutaway view of events- Cleveland Press (1908)
Figure 2 – Illustration of rear exit bottleneck where most students were found – Cleveland Press (1908)
Figure 3 and 3a – Floor plan of first and second floors of Lakeview School – “The Complete Story of the Collinwood School Disaster and How Such Horrors Can Be Prevented” (1908)
(Click picture to enlarge)
Figure 4 – Floor plan of basement of Lakeview School – “The Complete Story of the Collinwood School Disaster and How Such Horrors Can Be Prevented” (1908)
(Click picture to enlarge)
The following statements are written in the present-tense, as is the rest of the timeline, to help bring alive the Lakeview School fire:
– The building is fairly new, built in 1901.
– Located on Collamer Street (now E. 152nd St.) in Collinwood, Ohio.
– Its stairs are made out of Georgia pine, which has been made tinder-dry through years of heating and soaked in oil from cleaning. (136)
– There are no gas lines in the building. (33)
– No heating pipes run through the closet located under the front stairs, where the fire supposedly starts. (33)
– This statement appears in Chapter 1 (33) of Everett’s book. However, Mr. Hirter, the janitor, states that a steam pipe that was covered in asbestos ran through the closet area (136).
– There is no electric wiring in the basement closet, the suspected point of origin of the fire. (33)
– 350 pupils attend Lakeview School in 1908, far exceeding the intended number of attendees for its design.
– The fire alarm bell in the building is local, meaning it does not ring outside the building at the local fire department.
– The fire is swift, destroying the entire building in what some estimated is no more than 15 minutes.
– Victims range in age from 6 to 15 years old. (34)
– Although the evacuation started as practiced in previous fire drills, children panic at the sight and smell of smoke and fire. (35)
– The front door exit becomes unavailable almost immediately, as that area is the point of origin of the fire in the basement. (35)
– Immediately following the fire, the Collinwood School Board initiates an investigation and interrogation of eyewitnesses of the event. (120)
– Several school officials give quotes to national press that the fire is incindiary in nature, implicating Fritz Hirter without proof. (120)
– The cause of the fire is determined to be an overheated steam pipe that was too close to a floor joist. The floor joist, being dry, burst into flames, starting the fire. (39)
– Crisp March morning. 30 degrees F, sunny. (36)
– School begins with prayer. (36)
– Fritz Hirter claims to have found three girls hiding in the basement closet, playing hide-and-seek at this time. (See Fritz Hirter section below for detailed information.) (137)
– Bell rings, signifying the changing of classes.
– Fritz Hirter goes to the basement to open the drafts on the coal furnace, as the school is colder than expected. (131)
– The furnace fires are at a lower heat because of the warmer temperatures that morning. (121)
– Hirter states the valve safety on the smaller boiler is set at 15 pounds, and the larger boiler is set at 10 pounds. He says he has never adjusted the safety valves. (137)
– Hirter discovers 3 girls, whose names he remembers as Lizzie, Anna, and Mary, playing hide and seek in the basement, hiding in a closet in the basement, waiting for a fourth girl to find them. (137)
- Hirter later claims he was sweeping the basement when three girls came running through the area. Hirter claims he looked up and saw the smoke. This contradicts his later statement that Emma Neibert alerted him to the smoke. (41, 121, 136)
- Hirter also claims that he found the three girls in the closet around 8:00 or 8:30 that morning.
- See the Fritz Hirter section in the main menu.
– The closet has no wiring, but one of the steam pipes does run through it. Hirter claims in his testimony that the pipe had asbestos covering. He also states that the steam pipe does NOT run through the closet. (136)
– There is also a box of lime (calcium hydroxide), which Hirter uses to whitewash the basement floor, in the closet that is covered with boards. Lime is not combustible and is ruled out as the cause of the fire. (135 – 136)
- Hirter claims he slaked the lime in the fall.
- Slaked lime is created with the following process:
- Limestone is heated to 1200+ degrees
- This creates calcium oxide
- Calcium oxide reacts with water, producing an extremely exothermic reaction
- This exothermic reaction is hot enough to cause combustible material to ignite
- Once mixed with water, the lime becomes calcium hydroxide
- Calcium hydroxide is inert
- Calcium hydroxide, or slaked lime, is used to whitewash floors and can be used in masonry
– Hirter shoos the girls back to class. (137)
– Emma Neibert is going down to the basement to use the restroom when she stops on the staircase and notices smoke. (128)
– Emma Neibert sees Hirter working the boiler and notifies him about the smoke. (128, 131)
- Emma claims she called out to Hirter twice. She claimed he was working on the boiler and did not hear her. So, she called to him again. This time, he heard her and ran to ring the fire bell. (128, 131)
– The fire alarm bell is rung three times by Fritz Hirter in Miss Irwin’s room on the first floor. (120, 132)
– The fire alarm only alerts those inside the building, not the fire department.
– Hirter then rushes to the doors at both ends of the school and opens them. (135)
- Emma Neibert, age 13 and a member of Miss Bodey’s class, claims SHE was the one who opened the outside doors on the front of the building and that BOTH inside doors were open, contradicting Hirter’s statement that he had been the one to open doors at both ends of the school. (128 – 129)
- Emma claims to have opened the outside front (east) door. “Mr. Hirter ran and sounded the bell. I ran out the front of the building and didn’t see him again. I opened one side of the door and hooked it back. Just one side of the door was open. The inside doors were open. I only opened the outside door, which I hooked back. I put the hook on the string on the handle of the door.” (128 – 129)
- Emma also stated she waited there for “five minutes”, which was later proved to be an over exaggeration. Testing proved her perception of that amount of time was ultimately about 20 seconds.(129)
– The front and rear doors have a spring check which causes them to close unless hooked by a rope to keep them from closing. (129)
Mr. Hirter, Janitor
– Mr. Fritz Hirter is an immigrant from Germany who has 16 years prior experience firing boilers.
– Mr. Hirter quickly becomes the focus regarding the start of the fire.
– Hirter states he was notified of the fire* and goes to Miss Ruby Irwin’s classroom, room number 1, in the northeast corner of the first floor to ring the fire bell. (132)
Note: The fire bell is local the building and does not alert the Collinwood Volunteer Fire Department. (41 – 42)
* See “Fritz Hirter” section in the main menu.
Miss Irwin’s Class
– Miss Ruby Irwin is the first grade teacher in the northeast corner of the building on the first floor. (65)
– The students line up at the sound of the bell to evacuate the building. (49)
– They begin their march to the east exit. (49)
– Half the students in the class make it through the exit before being driven back by smoke, flames, and heat. (49)
– Miss Irwin directs the remainder back into the classroom and begins lowering them out the window to waiting rescuers. (49)
Miss Lynn’s Class
– Miss Pearl Lynn, first grade teacher, her room at the southwest corner of the building on the first floor, lines up her students and enters the hall to west exit of the building (122 – 124)
– They begin their march to the east exit. (49)
- “The fire gong sounded at exactly 9:30 o’clock as the classes were changing. The children stood up at once, thinking it was simply for fire drill. I gave the order to march, but when the doors opened into the corridor, smoke rushed in.”
– Most students run for the rear exit, seeing the front exit is blocked by smoke and flame. (53)
– Half the students in the class make it through the exit before being driven back by smoke, flames, and heat from the fire creeping forward from the basement. (49)
– Miss Lynn directs the remainder back into the classroom and begins lowering them out the window to waiting rescuers. (49)
– She then goes to the rear exit
Miss Bodey’s Class
– Miss Laura Bodey’s fifth grade classroom is located on the third floor, an attic auditorium that had been converted into a classroom. (35)
– At the time of the fire, she has only been a teacher in the building for 5 weeks. She has never had a fire drill. (145 – 146).
– The children know more about getting out of the building than she does. (145)
– At the sound of the fire bell, her class lines up as practiced and heads down to the second floor. (35)
– By the time the class files down to the second floor, the flames are already raging, and the halls are filled with smoke. (35)
– The children begin to panic. (35)
– Miss Bodey realizes they will not be able to get out the way they had drilled. (35)
– She leads them to the fire escape on the second floor. (35)
– Some children in her class refuse to follow and try to escape using the rear exit of the building. They die as a result of this decision. (35)
– Most of Miss Bodey’s class survives by using the fire escape, making her class losses on the day one of the smallest. (49)
– Miss Bodey, herself, uses the fire escape to rescue herself from the fire. (50)
– Once on the ground, she finds a boy with severe cuts on his face and hands (presumably the boy Miss Rowley got out of the building). (146)
– She proceeds to the rear door. At this point, she realizes some of her students are trapped in the back stairway and are burning. (146)
Miss Weiler’s Class
– Miss Katherine Weiler’s second grade class is located on the second floor in the southwest corner. (39)
– Her class consists of 39 students. (49)
– They are singing songs when the fire bell rings. (42)
– Their practiced exit is the rear door of the building. (42)
– When the class enters the stairway to exit the building, they are met with a crush of frenzied bodies from the other end of the building on the first floor whose exit has been blocked by fire. (39)
– Miss Weiler wades through the crowd in an attempt to calm the children and to clear whatever is blocking their escape. (39)
– She attempts to turn the students back to the fire escape on the second floor. (42)
– Miss Weiler manages to throw several students from the windows in an attempt to save them. (42)
– As she reenters the hall, she is trampled by the frantic students. (39)
– The stairs then collapse, sending the teacher and students to the first floor and eventually the basement as the fire consumes the building. (42)
– Nearly all of Miss Weiler’s 39 students die in the fire. (42)
Miss Fiske’s Class
– Miss Grace Fiske is the third grade teacher whose room is located in the northwest corner of the first floor. (39 – 40)
– Her class consists of 44 children. (49)
– Like Katherine Weiler, Miss Fiske attempts to calm the chilren but is trampled and crushed to death by their attempts to escape the fire. (40)
Miss Rowley’s Class
– Miss Lulu Rowley is a third grade teacher whose room number 6 is located in the southeast corner of the second floor. (49, 144)
– Her class usually goes down the stairs and out the front door during fire drills. (145).
– The fire is already spreading up the front stairs and between the bannisters, blocking their escape route. (145)
– She sees the jam in the back stairway. (145)
– Miss Irwin is in the hall. They order their children into Miss Fiske’s room. However, not all students follow. (145)
– Together, the two teachers begin throwing children out the first floor window in an effort to save them. (145)
– One boy has serious cuts to his hands and face and cannot see due to blood in his eyes. Miss Rowley picks him up and carries him to safety. (145)
– Once outside, she proceeds to the rear door, but it is no use. The children there are already burning. (145).
– She estimates it was only about 2.5 minutes from the sound of the fire bell until she was out of the building. (145)
Miss Gollmar’s Class
– Miss Mary Gollmar is the fourth grade teacher whose room is located in the northwest corner of the second floor. (49, 143)
– Her students range in age from nine to twelve years old. (143)
- It is suspected that the three girls Mr. Hirter saw are in Miss Gollmar’s class (143 – 144):”I had no Lizzie. There was Anna Widmar and Mary Schednick in my room and Elizabeth Sodoma. All were about eleven years old. I don’t think they played together much. They were not chums especially.”
– At the sound of the fire bell, her students line up as instructed. (50)
– They begin their practiced escape from the building but quickly find their path blocked by other students attempting to escape through the west (rear) exit. (50, 144)
– She states the right-hand outside door was only half-open.
– Miss Gollmar directs as many students back toward the library as she can. (50, 144)
– Panic ensues, and not all children follow her instructions. (144)
– She finds Miss Moran in the library. Together, they help children use the fire escape. (144)
– The children have never before used the fire escape in a drill. (144)
– Miss Gollmar, herself, uses the fire escape to rescue herself from the fire. (50)
– Once on the ground, she proceeds to the rear exit. (144)
– She attempts to open the door, but it is latched at the top on the inside and will not move. (144).
– She tries to pull children from the pile, but they are jammed in too tightly. (144)
– Mr. Hirter arrives and opens the door. (144)
- Question: Does Mr. Hirter realize at that time that the door is latched at the top on the inside?
Miss Moran, Principal / Teacher
– Miss Anna Moran, the principal of Lakeview School, as well as the sixth grade teacher. (49)
– She has been the principal since the school opened in 1902. (140)
– Miss Moran states four rooms were added the previous year, for a total of nine rooms, to accomodate the growing student population. (140)
– She is responsible for instructing teachers how to exit the building, which sides of the stairways to use, and where to go when outside the building. (140)
– According to Miss Moran, the following steps are taken during fire evacuations (141):
- “At the tap of the bell, the children get right up out of their seats, go to the side of the room, and march down and out.”
- “The teachers are to see that they keep moving. They go with the children.”
- “The children do not go to the cloakrooms to get their wraps.”
- “Each grade has a particular stairway entrance.”
- “Mr. Hirter is notified to open the doors. I have told him to get them open as quickly as he can. At drills, we have never been blocked or had to hesitate a moment.”
– The winter has been particularly cold, so only one fire drill has been held between January and March. (140)
– Miss Rose’s class is the only one to not participate in that single drill and does not have experience in exiting the building. (140)
– She is in her office on the second floor when the alarm bell rings. (43)
– Immediately, Miss Moran knows it is a real fire, because she did not call for a drill. (141)
– She enters the hallway to find the children carrying out what they have practiced. (43)
– Flames and smoke are already coming up the first floor front stairs. (141)
– She and the students begin to descend the stairs to their designated exit at the front door when they are pushed back by smoke and flames. (141)
– She tells her class of sixth graders to go back and use the fire escape in the library. (141)
– Some children do not follow her instructions, most likely thinking they were closer to escape by going to the first floor of the school. (141)
– Miss Moran tries to keep children from going down the front stairs, but she is helpless to stop them. (141)
– She proceeds to the library with some of her students. (141)
– She smashes a window with a chair to create an exit to the fire escape for the students. (142)
– This causes the door to the room to shut. (142)
– Miss Moran goes back to the door to look in the hall for any more children. The smoke is so thick that she cannot see any other students. (142)
– Miss Moran uses the fire escape to rescue herself from the fire. (50)
– She proceeds to the back of the building, where the doors are now open and children are being pulled from the building by rescuers. (142)
– Later, she states that all doors swung outward. (142)
– She will also go on to indicate that panic caused the children to break ranks, resulting in a chaotic struggle to escape the building:
- “I lost a great many of my children, nearly all of them. I couldn’t get them to follow me back to the second floor to the fire escape.” (142)
- In her testimony regarding the fire (142 – 143):
- The janitor (Hirter) was always reliable and in the building.
- There had never been any reported problems with the heating apparatus (boilers).
- There was never any smoke in the building.
- The building was properly heated with the exception of one day after vacation, when the third floor was not warm enough.
- The building’s temperature was very comfortable the morning of the fire and was not in any way overheated.
- The boiler was located in the center of the building, approximately 15 – 20 feet west of the area where smoke and flames were first spotted.
- There was a small room under the stairs (the closet) where ink and perhaps some tools were stored, as well as a stepladder. There was never any rubbish in the closet.
- This seems to contradict Mr. Hirter’s statements that only a box of lime was stored in the closet. However, it is difficult to determine if she was speaking of the same area as Mr. Hirter.
- The closet was located north of the stairway:
- “The flames seemed to come from the south side. Under that point might be the edge of this closet. I think the fire crept under the floor to the stairway opening and burst out when the opened doors admitted the draft. I heard an explosion half an hour after we got out of the building. There was not a sound before that.” (Moran) (142 – 143)
- Mr. Hirter takes ashes out of the side door and piles them north of the building.
– Miss Ethel Rose’s kindergarten room is number 2 and is located in the southeast corner of the building. (138)
– Her class is new and is the only class to never have participated in a fire drill. (138)
– She has 34 students, three of whom are absent the morning of the fire, leaving 31 students in her care. (138)
– The average age of her students is between 6 and 7 years old. (140)
– Normally, her class would line up and use the right hand side of the stairs to the front exit. (138)
– At the sound of the fire bell, she lines her class up, leads them into the hall, and tells them to run outside as quickly as possible. (138)
– Miss Rose ensures all her students leave the classroom and head for the door. (138)
– She proceeds down the stairs toward the front exit with her students, physically blocking the stairway to the basement to prevent students from deviating from their escape as smoke and flames begin pouring from the basement. (138)
– Some of her students fall in their panic to exit the building. Miss Rose picks them up and helps them escape. (140)
– She states the inner two doors of the front exit are open, with the left door being fastened back, and that these two doors swung outward. (138)
– Miss Rose states she has no recollection of an older girl standing at the doors (referring to Emma Neibert). (139)
– She states both outer doors are also open. The left door is hooked back with a chain, and the right door stands open. (139)
– Her children escape the fire. (139)
– She sees Miss Irwin trying to get children out the rear exit and goes to assist. (139)
– Miss Rose is pushed back by flame and smoke and is forced to go outside the building to reach the rear exit. (139)
– According to Miss Rose, the outer right hand door of the rear exit is fastened back and open, and the left outer door was also open. (139)
– The inner left door (when exiting) is closed. She attempts to open it with both hands, but the door will not open. (139)
– The flames are now shooting out the doorway, and children are beginning to burn. (139)
– More children are frantically piling up in the vestibule. (139)
– Mr. Hirter and Mr. Dorn arrive. (139)
– Mr. Hirter opens the left door. (139)
– The rescuers continue attempts to pull children from the doorway, but there are too many bodies wedged to pull any free. (139)
– Miss Rose notes that there were no children in the space between the inner and outer doors. (139 – 140)
– The flames become more intense. Someone pulls Miss Rose away from the building. (139)
– Miss Rose states she never heard any explosion. (140)
– She estimates the entire building was engulfed in flames in less than three minutes, leading to the high number of fatalities. (140)
The Collinwood Fire Department
– The Collinwood Volunteer Fire Department is busy doing road work and is not in the station when Oscar Pahner, a student, age 11, runs to notify them of the fire. (41 – 42)
– The school’s fire alarm is local to the building and does not ring at the fire station, thus delaying response time. (
– Its equipment consists of one engine, one hose company, and one small ladder truck. (51)
– There are 20 members of the volunteer department. (51)
– Its two fire engines are outdated and in disrepair, considering the growing population of Collinwood.
– Its ladders can only reach the second floor, leaving the children on the third floor trapped. (40)
– Oscar Pahner, a student, age 11, runs to notify them of the fire, but there is no one in the station. (41 – 42)
– The alarm bell is rung at 09:45. (51)
– It takes the Collinwood Fire Department a full 20 minutes to arrive on scene. (51)
– When they do, they find the water pressure is not enough to charge two hoses. (51)
The Cleveland Fire Department
– The Cleveland Fire Department sends its aerial ladder to help after a distress message is wired to it. (41)
– The message reads, “Send help. Collinwood school is burning.” (46)
– Cleveland Fire Department Engine House 7 receives the distress call. (51)
– Fire Chief Wallace dispatches Engine Company 30 and a truck company to the school under the command of Battalion Chief Fallon. (51 – 52)
– The ladder reaches up to the third floor and saves several children. (41)
– The first and second floors fall into the basement as Cleveland Fire Department is evacuating students from the third floor. (41)
– The third floor then falls, killing the remaining students. (41)
The Lakeshore Shop
Others of Note
Daniel H. Farnham – Daniel is the draftsman with Searles, Hirsh, & Gavin, the architects of the addition to the building. He gives the following statements (148):
- “I am a draughtsman for Searles, Hirsh & Gavin, architects. I had charge of the drawings for the addition to the school building. I am acquainted with the plans for the addition especially. We constructed the west four rooms.” (148)
- “The width of the vestibule is 10 feet 8 inches. The stairs going up are 5 feet 8 inches wide.” (148)
- “The finish of the stairs is yellow pine.” (148)
- “The vestibule is about is about 5 feet deep from the inner to the outer doors.” (148)
- “The doorways were 5 feet wide, outer and inner.” (148)
- “All four doors swung out.” (148)
- “The doors were hung in a wooden partition with glass panels at the sides.” (148)
- “The partitions are less than 2 1/2 feet wide at each side – little more than 2 feet.” (148)
- “Georgia yellow pine is a usual material for a building of that grade. I would not say that it is more than usually inflammable.” (148)
- “There were four rooms in the basement, corresponding with the rooms above, and a long hall.” (148)
- “The heating plant was in the center of the octagonal space.” (148)
- “The closet mentioned was closed with a ceiled partition.” (148)
- “The octoganal space had a plastered ceiling. It was fenced off with a slat fence of pine. A pit 26 or 28 inches deep was inside the fence. You had to step down into it to get tothe boilers.” (148)
- “I have worked more or less on the plans for 10 or 12 schoolhouses. This building would stand no comparison whatever with a fireproof school like the Shaw Building in East Cleveland, but compares with the class of schools built in small towns. It was approved construction for such school buildings.” (148)
Oscar Pahner – Oscar, age 11, suffers serious burns in the fire on his face, hands, and arms. He goes to the rear of the building as he has been taught, but the exit is blocked. He escapes the building by breaking a window on the first floor and runs all the way to the Collinwood Fire Department, only to find the station empty. He then runs back to the fire and attempts to reenter the building to find his sister, Edna, who survives the fire. (41 – 42)
Frank J. Dorn – Frank is a member of the school board and reaches the school shortly after the fire starts. One of his children is trapped in the building. He describes the following facts regarding rear door (146):
- “The inner door on the north side was wired back to the radiator.”
- “The first thing I though of was to tear out the middle partition: that is, besides the inner vestibule doors, four or five feet back from the outer doors.”
- “The partition crosses parallel with the outside walls.”
- “Double doors were hung in it with side panels of glass.”
- “The entrance was about five feet wide.”
- “The partitions were about 18 to 24 inches wide.”
Mr. Dorn sees one of his daughters who informs him “little sister”, another of his daughters, is burning up. He manages to pull six or seven children from the fire. (146) He also helps to pull Miss Lynn from the fire. (147)
- “Just imagine 75 children in front of you, calling you by name and stretching out their hands and begging you to save them! With their hair on fire and their clothes burning!” (147)
- “I helped to pull out Miss Lynn.” (147)
Andrew Dorn – Andrew lives in the neighborhood, and his daughter attends Lakeview School. He immediately goes to the rear door of the school and attempts to break down the door that has trapped the students. Others do the same. The door barely moves and is not enough to free the children trapped behind it. Children are starting to burn when the men finally open the door. Andrew finds his daughter and attempts to pull her from the pile. He dislocates the girls arms and is forced to let go when the heat becomes too much. His daughter disappears into the fire. Dorn runs from the building, screaming. (47)
Wallace Upton – Wallace is with Andrew Dorn, attempting to break down the door to free the trapped children. Wallace also has a child in the school. In his frenzy to rescue victims, he is unaware that he is severely burned on the arms. He rescues 18 children, including his own child, by pulling bodies from the heap at the door. He does not know his child has been saved until later. (48)
John Leffel – John, age 24, lives near Lakeview School and sees the smoke from the fire. He immediately goes to the rear of the building and begins dragging children off the pile that are wedged in the doorway. He is joined by several other men in literally tossing children behind them in an effort to rescue as many as possible before heat, flames, and smoke drive them back from the children. (43 – 44).
A. Hansrath – Mr. Hansrath is a clothier who owns a store near the school. He arrives to help and, along with several other men, catches three children who jump from the second-story windows to escape the fire. (44)
John Warson – Mr. Warson is a Collinwood firefighter and is one of the first to mount a ladder to rescue students. He is overcome by smoke and slips into a coma. (52)
C.L. Wohl – Patrolman Wohl is an officer in the Collinwood police department. He states the following (52):
- “The outer doors at the back of the building were open, both of them, but one half of the souble inner doors was closed. The inner door was opened befoer the children became wedged in, however. The narrow corridor is what caught them. I rushed into the little outer hallway with Mr. Down and attempted to pull some of the children out, but it was of no use. I couldn’t move one of them. Three times I tried to get them, but the heat was too great. I pulled my thick hat down over my ears, turned up my coat collar and went in again. It was terrible. The fire was coming out over the children in a solid wall. As I think of it now, I can’t remember hearing them scream, although I remember the awful pain reflected in their faces. Miss Gollmar, a teacher, tried to rescuse the children, too, but I held her back. If I hadn’t she, too, would have been burned.”
Walter Skelly – Six-year-old Walter Skelly is questioned the day of the fire about what he saw and did. He is in Miss Lynn’s class. While he gives confusing testimony at times, he does confirm that the right door of the rear exit was open and that the left door was not. He then indicates that one of the outer doors was not open and that he could not open it. Walter bumped into another student who, in turn, bumped the door and opened it. He then sees Mr. Hirter open the door. (143)
The next section describes contributing factors and eyewitness accounts of what occurred at the rear exit (west) of the building. The front exit was on fire and could not be utilized. Children were desperate to get out of the building through the other exit they knew but had not practiced in fire drills.
– The fire’s origin was at the front of the building in the basement. It quickly cut off any escape after one class got through the flames and smoke. This left the rear exit as the only other option of escape via known egress from the school. (35)
– A major contributing factor was the mass exodus of children piling into the same area to escape. Children were dropping over the banisters from upper floors to get to the rear exit, compounding the crush at the door. (35)
– According to eyewitnesses and those who escaped, the right door at the rear exit was locked by a catch at the top, leaving only a 2 1/2 foot doorway for the children to walk through. (36)
– One child fell during the evacuation through the narrow space, causing those behind to fall, as well. This led to a cascade of trampling and crushing of the victims at the bottom of the pile. (35 – 37)
– The children were wedged in the doorway so tightly that those attempting to free them could not pull them from the pile. The combined weight of victims behind and above made extraction impossible. (37)
– Several people ran in search of an axe in surrounding houses, but none could be found. (37)
– The Collinwood Volunteer Fire Department forgot to bring axes to the scene. (TBD)
– Would-be rescuers and parents watched helplessly as the children pleaded for help. The children were in reach, but the human wedge behind the doors prohibited that. (37)
– Rescuers remained at the door until the last possible moment before heat and flames drove them back. (37)
– The children began to burn as the fire swept to the rear of the building. (37)