Lineman Saves Child in Orphan Home Fire

     On Thursday, January 14, 1903, a fire broke out in the basement of the St. Louis Orphan Children’s Home at 903 Aubert Avenue in the Fountain Park neighborhood.  The fire sparked around 3:30 pm and quickly filled the home with smoke.  The matron Tena Williamson sounded the alarm.

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Article from the January 15, 1903 St. Louis Republic about the Orphan’s Home Fire

     At the time of the fire, 98 children and twenty adults occupied the building, many on the upper floors.  The St. Louis Orphan Children’s Home was a four-story structure at Aubert Avenue and the Suburban railroad tracks.  Today, the site is a church parking lot.

     When the alarm was given, the teachers began to execute the fire drill they regularly practiced.  The practice paid off and averted a horrific tragedy.  The teachers took the children down the central staircase, which was quickly filling with suffocating smoke.

     The building had two new spiral fire escapes at either end of the building.  In the panic, the teachers forgot about the new fire escapes.  It was the only mistake they made in an almost flawless performance.

     Neighbors and even passengers on the streetcars ran to the area to assist.  W. W. Ring, a lineman was working on the back of the St. Louis Orphan Children’s Home, when he saw the smoke.

     Ring slid down the pole and ran to the second floor nursery.  Ring crawled along the floor but did not find any children.  When Ring exited the building to recover, one of the teachers realized one of the 98 children was missing.  3-year-old Walter Brady could not be located.

     Ring immediately head back into the building to search the nursery again.  St. Louis Police Officer E. W. Volk accompanied him along with a neighbor.  Ring crawled into the third floor nursery with Volk holding him by the ankles.  The neighborhood man held Volk by the ankles.  After a thorough search, the men were convinced Brady was not in the nursery.

     Volk and Ring went back outside to recover from the smoke inhalation.  Once the fresh air revived Ring, he went back to the third floor  After two thorough searches, Ring was sure young Brady wasn’t in the nursery. Ring decided to check the adjoining bathroom.

     Ring found Walter Brady underneath a bathtub in the room unconscious.  In the excitement, Brady ran into the adjoining bathroom and was separated from the other children.

     Brady passed out by a spot in the floor, which used to house a drain pipe.  The draft through the hole kept the smoke out of his spot on the floor.  This draft saved his life as Brady was in the smoked fill building for almost 30 minutes.

     Ring scooped up the three-year old and ran as quickly as he could out of the building.  Walter Brady was almost black from his time in the building.  The school nurse grabbed Brady and ran to Dr. Nifong’s Office at 834 North Kingshighway.  Dr. Nifong was able to resuscitate the child.  Dr. Nifong said Brady would make a full recovery.

     44-year-old William Ring collapsed from his exertions.  Despite breathing in a lot of smoke during this three trips into the building, Ring made a full recovery.  He would pass away in St. Louis at 80 years of age in 1939.

     The children were sent to a nearby children’s home or to live with distant relatives in St. Louis.  The fire caused $3,000 worth of damage and would put the home out of commission for a month or so.  The fire did reveal the better nature of so many St. Louisans including streetcar passengers, who exited the streetcar to provide assistance to the children.

     What struck you about this story?  What did you think of W. W. Ring’s actions?  You can leave a comment or ask a question about this or any post on my Facebook pageTwitter profile and Google+ page.

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