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Thursday, January 26, 2017

TOWER HALL - 1977



In the early and bitter cold hours of Feb. 1, 1977, a three-alarm blaze trapped students and firefighters inside the 10-story Tower Hall dormitory on the campus of Wittenberg University.

Firefighters raised an 85-foot aerial ladder from Truck 7 to save two students, Ed Wittenberg, 20, and David Clement, 20, from Room 601 on the sixth floor, according to The Springfield Daily News and a Wittenberg University press release.

Firefighters escorted two other students from the 7th floor and removed two firefighters from an elevator as flames leapt from the rear of the co-ed dorm on Woodlawn Avenue.


Medic 1 transported students and firefighters to Mercy Medical Center with smoke inhalation.


The first alarm was struck at 1:40 a.m., with Engine 1 from fire headquarters first due. Engine 7, Truck 7, Chief 3 and Medic 1 were also on the initial assignment. Other units typically "on the running card" for alarms at Wittenberg in that era were Engine 8, Engine 5 and Truck 8. (The nearest street alarm - Box 6124 - was located at the corner of Woodlawn and Cassily.)

 There had been confusion as to the location of the fire when firefighters arrived.


Signs in the stairwell identifying the floor numbers had been moved.

There was also a problem with the standpipe system.


An investigation determined a candle in a student's room - Room 612 - started the blaze, which was fueled by a vinyl record collection.

The sixth floor was rendered inhabitable, with considerable smoke and water damage extending from the fourth to seventh floors.

Evacuees were house in other dormitories, sororities, fraternities and private homes.

Most
of the city's fire apparatus responded to the fire as did the volunteers of Box 27 Associates.  (Your editor, a Wittenberg freshman and regular visitor to fire headquarters, was pressed into service to assist Medic 1.)

In total, four firefighters were injured:

William Edgington, 50, platoon commander
Jerry Mansfield, 27
Bill Kemper, 33
Cecil "Pete" Siratt, 49

Later in 1977, one of the deadliest dormitory fires in U.S history killed 10 women at Providence College in Rhode Island on Dec. 23, 1977. That fire started in a closet. Two hair dryers had been left on to dry wet mittens.

The Wittenberg campus was the scene of other fires:

  • On May 15, 1928, fire swept the Woodlawn Hall womens' dormitory, killing Hilda Sipes, 20, of Shelby, Ohio, according to a dispatch from the Associated Press.
  • On Dec. 28, 1900, fire destroyed Hamma Divinity Hall. Firefighters rescued three students even as their hose lines were hindered by low water pressure.