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Today in YFD History: February 3, 1963 - Youngstown Club Fire\Union National Bank Building

Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company 1913 Flood Photograph.

On a cold February morning, a robbery/arson would result in a major response from the Youngstown Fire Department and become one of the major fires in the city’s history for years to come.

According to newspaper accounts from that day, A man entered the lobby of the Union National Bank Building around 1:00am. He told the Mr. John Hrivnak, the night elevator operator that he needed to go to the Youngstown Club which was located on the 13th floor of the building to pick up some money that was left for him. The man was told the club was closed and the night elevator operator offered the man use of the elevator’s phone. The man then brandished a gun and forced the night elevator operator to take him up to the 13th floor. The man then blindfolded and tied up Mr Hrivnak and began ransacking the club’s offices.  The night operator was finally able to free himself and make it back to the building’s lobby.  About the same time, a night watchman for the Vindicator newspaper called the operator and reported seeing flames from the 13th floor of the Union National Bank Building.

At 1:14am, fire companies under the command of Battalion Chief John McBride were dispatched. Upon arrival, flames could be seen from the 13th and 14th floors of the 14 floor high rise. Due to volume of fire, 10 degree temperatures and gusty winds, Chief McBride ordered a 2nd alarm at 1:15am and quickly put a General Alarm in for the fire at 1:18am. Eighty two firefighters from 15 stations converged on the downtown highrise. Two of the three responding ladder trucks were able to reach the fire floors, a third ladder on the scene was one floor short to be used to extinguish the flames. Firefighters used 14 pumpers on the fire and approximately 3,000 feet of 2 1/2 inch hose was deployed in a 4 block area. An additional 75 off duty firefighters were recalled. 40 were sent to the fire and the remaining 35 were sent to man five additional pieces of firefighter equipment (3 on the South side and 2 on the North side) in case of another fire in the city.

Firefighters began trying to reach the seat of the fire which by now had spread to the 11th through 13th floors. Standpipes with hose designed for firefighters to use in an emergency were found to be dried out and began bursting on the 12th -14th floors when pumpers supplied water pressure through the system. As a result, 2,500 foot of 1 1/2 inch hose was carried up to the 11th floor via the fire escapes to provide water. At the time of the fire, the Fire Department only had 30 air packs available for the entire department. Firefighters experienced heavy smoke conditions . 8 firefighters were injured with most being treated for smoke inhalation. They included Capt James Prosser, Engineer Michael Barber, Capt John Walsh, Clarence Skidmore, John Berndt, George Bode, Thomas Kavinsky, and John Carbon. Firefighters eventually were able to extinguish the flames and most companies were cleared from the scene by 5:00am. The last fire companies left the scene at 4:40pm Sunday, 15 hours after the incident began.

Arson investigators, fire inspectors, clean up crews and police detectives were busy trying to piece together details of the incident and repair fire and water damage from the 8th floor up. The Union National Bank opened for business as usual Monday morning.

The fire brought about several changes to the city’s fire inspection rules. The need for additional air packs and regular inspection and replacement of standpipe fire hose was also addressed.

It is interesting to note that over 1,000 spectators turned out to watch the incident unfold. WFMJ TV placed a tv camera on their roof and provided a live stream of the fire during the night. Damage to the building and contents was estimated at $1,000,000 and both the building and the Youngstown Club were covered entirely by insurance.

Youngstown Vindicator Front Page 2/4/1963.

Aftermath of the Youngstown Club Fire.

The majority of photos and details for this article were taken from the Youngstown Vindicator Newspaper Article on 2/4/1963.

Additional Reading:

Union Bank Fire Loss Hits ​$1,000,000 -

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