Saddest Day

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Preparing for a deadly career is a serious challenge and I took an artistic approach to teaching myself how to stay alive in 1992. I went back to school and used the Newark Fire Department as my muse. It started out a Documentary "The Life of a Newark Firefighter". I would frequent the Newark Library’s NJ room and make copies old news papers from microfilm and do research on NFD LODD’s.  The Star Ledger Printed this article about the tragedy…

NEWARK’S SADDEST DAY… MAY 7TH 1972

3 Newark firemen died late last night after they had been pulled, mortally injured, from the collapse of a burning two-story building assertedly torched by teenagers. Three other firemen were injured and one managed to crawl to safety.

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Captain Dominick LaTorre

Engine 12

badge #246, served in the U.S. Navy. He was appointed on 1/1/1952, On 9/2/1967,  promoted to Captain of Engine 12. He was 44 years old at the time of his death. Captain LaTorre was promoted posthumously to Battalion Chief.

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Fireman Russell Schoemer

Truck 5

Badge #315, served in the U.S. Army. He was appointed on 11/6/1967.  He was 31 years old at the time of his death.

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Captain Anthony V. Lardiere

Truck 4

badge #402, served in the U.S. Army during World War II. He was appointed on 7/1/1948 promoted to Captain 4/9/1963 and was assigned to Truck 4. He was 54 years old at the time of his death.

STATION 2317

The dead were three;

Capt. Anthony V. Lardiere of a Truck Company No. 4; Capt. Dominick N. LaTorre</strong> , of Engine Co. 12 and FireFighter Russell Schoemer of a Truck Company No. 5. Lardiere and Schoemer died at Martland Hospital. LaTorre at St. James just before midnight.
Moments earlier, Fire Chief John Grehl emerged to announce it to the soot covered firefighters and some off-duty fireman crowding the halls, from the highest elected on down the ranks were informed that their brothers had died.

The seven were trapped when the building, with an empty Tavern on the ground floor, collapsed in a fiery roar after a third alarm had sounded at 9:46 p.m. Most of the injured were rushed to Martland Hospital. only LaTorre to St. James. The men were buried for up to two hours before their mates had dug them out with picks, shovels and their bare hands.

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John Caufield Called it the saddest day in the history of the Newark fire Department. It had the highest one day toll in the cities history. Firemen who witnessed it said the walls gave way “without warning”.

According to the other firefighters, seven firemen- 6 who were hospitalized, three died, had gone into the building with a heavy-duty hose. It came down just like that a rain-soaked firemen recall. The 7th fireman Robert Wiggins, was not down and just stood up dumbfounded he said Wiggins his face and raincoat covered with dirt and rubble, started working to pull his fellow firefighters from the pile of timber which cover them.

On the verge of tears at one point Wiggins turn to another fireman and asked “How could it happen? How could it happen?

Off-Duty fireman, policemen and rescue squad members rushed to the fire scene, where the visibility was often limited by the smoke from the fire which continued to burn and the driving rain.

Fire officials and spokesmen from Martland Hospital. could not recall the order in which the firemen were removed and taken to the hospital. But the first trapped fireman was dragged to safety shortly before 10:40 p.m.

He was placed on a stretcher carried gingerly to a waiting ambulance and then taken to Martland Hospital..

Each succeeding rescue followed the same procedure. The last man Capt. Domenic LaTorre of Engine Company 12 was removed from the rubble and taken to St. James Hospital at about 11:20 p.m.

Caulfield , drenched with the cold rain left for the hospital. He was taken to Martland Hospital.. “it looks bad.” he said ” Real Bad, It looks like we lost three.”
They shouldn’t have gone in Caulfield said in route to his car. But that’s the way they fight fires. He paused to look at the abandoned car from which flames continued to flicker and said without bitterness. “This block has been burning down from one end to the other.” The area he said was a trouble spot. Fire hydrants had been vandalized. Firemen were constantly being harassed and fires were set. A growing epidemic.

Newark police later announced the arrest of 213 year-old youths on arson charges at the scene of the burning frame structure at Orchard and Pennington Streets.

According to detectives , they arrested both youths at the scene of the fire at 11:00 p.m. John Aquino, Fire Department community relations officer, said the interigation took place after he acted as an interpreter for Spanish-speaking and English-speaking youths.

“The deaths were frustrating and sad and could have been avoided if the city had proper priorities in spending its money.” The headlines Hammered on May 10th 1972.

“Junky Havens” were blamed in the tragedy. A West to ward councilman strongly reacted following the deaths of the firemen.
He said the city must set priorities on its projects and a major project must be to rid our city of these deathtraps and “Junky Havens”.

The councilman said that we can not ignore this priority which is costing human lives. He called on the administration to concentrate on one project and get it done rather than working on piecemeal of a hundred projects and never getting anything finished. The city had been wasting money on a number of projects throughout the city while rat infested abandend buildings stand tall in Newark.

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