Fire Commissioner Gordon ‘Chick’ Hall reports that an electrical fire in the 4th Floor Records Room at Old City Hall early Saturday morning destroyed some of the city’s most irreplaceable historical treasures.
The blaze was discovered by third-shift security guard Mona Chellis at approximately 2:45 am. Chellis believes the fire started some time around 2:30 am, but reports that she mistook the wisps of smoke flowing under the door for cigarette smoke from her fellow guard Gene Kruicewicz, who often used the secluded 4th floor room to take smoke-breaks (though the building has been smoke-free since September 2002). As she continued her rounds, however, Chellis heard Kruicewicz noisily trying to dislodge a Kit Kat from the vending machine in the employee break room. She quickly returned to the Records Room to discover a significant portion of the contents of a west wall shelving unit in flames.
Chellis retrieved an extinguisher from a nearby stairwell, but found it non-functional. She then raced to the third floor, retrieved a working extinguisher, and was able to put out the fire some time before 3 am, at which time she radioed Kruicewicz to call the fire department. Units from the Grant Avenue fire station arrived at Old City Hall at 3:03 am to find the situation under control, with no structural damage to the building. One floor-to-ceiling shelving unit had been damaged beyond repair, and 90% of its contents were reduced to ashes. Many other documents on high shelves throughout the room suffered minor smoke damage in the incident.
Old City Hall, ca. 1898.
Unfortunately, among those items lost was the original bill of sale for the land on which the city was founded (1829) and original copies of the first city charter (1831). Also, many vintage photographs and daguerreotypes from the 19th century were destroyed, including several mid-construction photographs of Old City Hall (ranging from 1879 to 1888). Tragically, all these items were scheduled for digitization some time before the end of the current fiscal year.
For her quick thinking in the crisis, security agent Mona Chellis will be decorated by Mayor Joseph Wilders in a small ceremony on the steps of Old City Hall on Friday, February 29 at Noon. Security agent Gene Kruicewicz has been re-assigned to the day shift. Mayor Wilders also announced that Deputy Fire Commissioner Thomas “Sarge” Santorino has been suspended indefinitely pending further investigation – Santorino was the ranking official in charge of inspecting fire extinguishers in municipal buildings – and that Fire Commissioner Hall has taken administrative leave until it can be determined why fireproof storage units were never purchased with the funds so designated in the city budget in 2005.
Captain Franklin “Freddie” Munoz, the third-ranking member of the department, will act as interim commissioner in their absences. Residents may remember Captain Munoz as the fire department official who conceived of the plan to increase department revenue by selling advertising space on city fire trucks in 1991 (as previuosly referenced here- final item).
– David Andrews