On Saturday, January 12, 1963, at 8:27pm, the Fire Alarm Room received signals from Box 146 at 23rd & Berks St. The area had been experiencing many false alarms from its fire boxes, it was decided to dispatch the box as a “Special Assignment” sending only Engine 27, Ladder 14 and Battalion 3. Upon arriving, Battalion 3 James Skala, was directed to the basement of the 4-story St. Elizabeth’s Catholic School on the northeast corner of 23rd & Montgomery Ave. He found fire in the ceiling likely spreading upwards, and requested the full box be transmitted at 8:29pm. Battalion 6, who had responded on the full box, was on the 3rd floor and saw smoke coming from the walls, he ordered the 2nd alarm. The companies attempted an interior attack. But not being successful, Chief Hink who had arrived and taken command ordered all men out and changed to an exterior attack pulling 4 more alarms.

About an hour after the initial alarm, the blaze seemed to be lessening, when suddenly an explosion collapsed the 23rd St. wall crushing Ladder 14’s and Ladder 18’s apparatus parked on the west side of the street. It also started fires in 5 row houses across the street. The 7th alarm was requested including a special call for 4 more ladder companies at 9:24pm.

Tragically, 2 firefighters, John McKernan of Ladder 14 and Charles Senior of Engine 20 were killed in the collapse. A captain and 7 firefighters were also injured.

The photo shows the fire after the collapse and was taken from 23rd Street south of Montgomery looking north. Rescue 1 in the lower left corner.

It is noteworthy that the fire occurred 12 days after the 12-alarm Fretz Building fire at 10th & Diamond.