Last revised: October 13, 2013 --

Photo Album

January 6, 1959

Newspaper Articles About AFIT Barracks Fire
NOTE: Many references to photos omitted because of reproduction legibility.)

1. "16 Units in SkyTop, All Owned by SU"

2. "DA Waits Data on Disaster"

3. "City Never Inspected SkyTop"

4. "City Ruled Out For Inspection"

5. "16 Men Hurt; All Are Airmen"

6. "SU Blaze Remains Mystery--"

7. "Survivors' Tales Vary - Can't Pinpoint Fire Origin"

8. "Are S.U. Barracks Still Emergency Housing?"

9. "City, Stymied on Fire Inspection, Seeks Immediate Answer"

10."Air Force Experts Join in SkyTop Fire Inquiry"

11. "The SkyTop Tragedy"

12. "Barracks Furnace Room Walls Combustible, Says Investigator"

13. "Sleepless Airmen Doubt Value of Sprinklers in 'Fire Traps' "

14. "Emergency Housing"

15. "Sprinklers Due In Barracks: AF Satisfied"

16. "Syracuse Mayor and University Chancellor to Confer"

17. "Other 'Dangerous' Dormitories In State, Rockefeller Told"

18. "Dormitory Authority Already Exists"

19. "Not Martyrs But Know Score" - (Letter to the Editor)


(An Event we will never forget!)


Source:   Syracuse Herald-Journal, Syracuse, N. Y.
Date, Edition:  Tuesday Evening, January 6, 1959, pp. 1-2 (FINAL)

 [Article on middle-right side of Page 1:] 

16 Units in Sky Top, All Owned by SU”

     The Sky Top group at Syracuse University, scene of this morning’s disastrous fire, is solely owned by the University.

     The group consists of 16 buildings, eight of which are used in the Russian language program set up for the Air Force Institute of Technology in 1953.

     Eight are used as dormitories and the remainder for classrooms, a recreation hall and other service facilities.

     The buildings are government surplus structures and were erected in 1947 by the John A. Johnson Company of Brooklyn.

     Originally military installations, they were dismantled and re-erected here and were first used as freshmen dormitories.

     They were set up in the years immediately following the war with the Federal Government supplying the structures.  In 1948 Federal legislation permitted transfer of title to the University.

     Following use by the freshmen, the University was requested to develop a Russian-language program by the Air Force Institute of Technology.

     This was done under the direction of Dr. Frederic J. Kramer, who heads up the program.

     Payment for the program and housing of the Air Force students is handled under one general contract, with the University supplying quarters, classrooms and instructors.

     Each of the Sky Top buildings are individually heated by an oil-fed steam boiler. The oil tanks are underground while the heating pipes encircle the interior, about half way up the structure.

     The students have no control over the temperature, this being attended to by University personnel.

     The heating units are inspected weekly and the University has a person available 24 hours a day to service the equipment.

     Sky Top is but a small sector of the University’s temporary areas.

     Allis Court has 25 two-apartment units and is the first of three units for married couples.  They are one-story structures, individually heated by gas-fired space heaters.  There are no children in Allis Court.

     Slocum Heights consists of 42 buildings of which 16 are two-story structures.  There are 215 families residing here, the majority with children.

     University Heights, all one-story buildings, contains 277 apartments of which two are used for administrative purposes.  A few of the married students residing here have children.


[Short article at top-right side of Page 2]

“DA Waits Data on Disaster”

     District Attorney Arthur W. Wilson said today he is awaiting a police report on the Sky Top fire “before I take any action.”

     Wilson, top law enforcement official in the county, could launch an investigation if there were a suspicion that the cause of the fire were due to a criminal act. 

     U. S. Attorney Theodore Bowes, in Albany, said he assumes the Intelligence Division of the Air Force will investigate the fire and that if it is determined a federal crime has been committed his office will investigate further.


[Article at bottom-right of Page 2:] 

“City Never Inspected Sky Top”

     The city Bureau of Buildings has never inspected the “temporary housing” buildings in Syracuse University’s Sky Top area where seven airmen lost their lives in a barracks fire this morning.

     George E. Hebert, director of the Bureau, reported the city has had “absolutely nothing” to do with the buildings which were constructed as a wartime development.

     Hebert said the structures were erected without permit and the city has considered them a “reserve” of Syracuse University and the federal government.

     He said the city’s inspection service usually follows the issuance of permits.  Since there were no permits the city has never made inspections.

     Hebert said the city could not have issued permits for the barracks type structures since the municipal housing code does not permit that kind of use.

     “If we are supposed to inspect these structures it would mean they’d all be closed,” Hebert said.  He said this would be like “shutting down an Army camp.”

     Hebert said as far as he could ascertain the city had no jurisdiction over the project which was constructed as an educational facility to handle military personnel.



Source:  The Post-Standard, Syracuse, N. Y.     Date, Edition:  Wednesday, January 7, 1959, p. 1 (Metropolitan Final)

[Article on top-left side of Page 1:] 

“City Ruled Out For Inspection

     A barracks that became a pyre yesterday for seven Air Force students at Syracuse University’s Skytop was “off limits” as far as any inspection was concerned by the city’s Bureau of Buildings and Rehabilitation.

     George C. Hebert, superintendent of the bureau, said that because the barracks was a military reservation his department had nothing to do with inspecting it.

     He recalled how the building where the tragic fire occurred, along with several others in the group of which it was a part, was built originally for military purposes and was later used for emergency housing of military personnel.

     As nearly as could be established at City Hall by a check of records, the buildings at Skytop were released in 194x to the University for [2-3 words are illegible].


[Article on top-right side of Page 1:] 

“16 Men Hurt; All Are Airmen”

By Leroy Natanson

     Air Force and city officials turned yesterday afternoon to the grim job of determining the cause of the blaze at Skytop, Syracuse University, in which seven airmen perished and 16 others were injured early in the morning.

     Five of the seven men died in their beds.  One died as he apparently staggered outside, a [fireman?] said.  The seventh died in his room near the rear exit.

     An Air Force [team?] of a [dentist?] and a [physician?] made official identifications of six of the dead.  It was not possible for them to identify the seventh.  A specially trained identification team from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, O. flew in yesterday afternoon to start work on the remains of the seventh airman.

     The Air Force withheld the names of the dead for several hours pending notification of next of kin.


“SU Blaze Remains Mystery—”

     The barracks is a one-story steel frame structure, enclosed with a thin aluminum sheet, under which is insulation and then fibre board.  The 150-foot long, 40-foot wide building has 23 rooms designed to house two men each.

     There are 15 such structures at Skytop, of which 8 are used as barracks for Air Force personnel.  The others are used for classrooms and service and administrative facilities.

     All the land and buildings, situated near the married students housing southeast of the main campus, are owned by Syracuse University.

     The university recently built a permanent dining hall.  A permanent barracks for 54 men was scheduled to be opened Feb. 15.

     The men at the school here specialize in Slavic languages with the emphasis on Russian.  The program was started in 1948 at Syracuse University.  The Air Force has had its own area at Skytop since 1955.  The barracks were formerly occupied by veterans, then non-veterans and finally only freshmen male students.

     Each building is individually heated by steam from an oil-fed furnace.  The furnace is situated in a concrete shell, and the oil tank is buried underground.

     Fire officials, including Marshal John M. Dacey, Assistant Marshal Fred Patuna and Police Sgt. Joseph Jewell first turned their attention to the area around the furnace.  They could not state that the furnace, or that area, is where the fire originated.

     Wiring, cigarettes in bed and other possible causes received attention.  Even arson was considered.


     Both Hebert and Asst. Corporation Counsel John W. Barnell who investigated Skytop’s status a few years back, claimed the conditions were known and that these were not ignored.

     Barnell referred to a report he compiled bearing on the legal phases.

     Herbert said no plans were ever filed with his bureau when the barracks were built.  He commented that a legal question has arisen now where he is to know if buildings are operated as a military establishment or as emergency housing.

     He implied that if he could get an answer they were not he would order them down.

     He said the only thing the city could have done in the case of the barracks that burned would have been to condemn it and close it.  But again he reiterated he considered it a part of a “military reservation” and not subject to inspection by his bureau.

     Its use was legal according to its type of construction but, he added, if it was built now it would have to be of somewhat more resistive construction.

     Fire Marshal John M. Dacey reported he has conducted inspections of married student housing in the Skytop area other than the military barracks when residents have complained.

     He pointed out that permits for heating units in these units never were issued by the city because it had no jurisdiction under the emergency housing law.

     Dacey said that since 1955 when the Air Force took over Skytop for what he termed continuing military use, the military organization conducts inspections.

     He said the city does not inspect military installations.

     [several words are not available here] . . . as a temporary housing development for 700 freshmen at Syracuse University.

     The extra housing was needed because of the influx of veterans of World War II to college.  Sixteen individual barrack similar to that which was destroyed were constructed.

     The development area closed in 1953 as the students were moved into dormitories nearer campus, but it was reopened again in 1955 as a military barracks for the Air Force Institute of Technology language program.

     A Syracuse University spokesman said yesterday the school owns the land and buildings and is responsible for maintenance of the structures.  When the project was reopened in 1955, the buildings were remodeled.

     The Air Force uses the area under contract with the University.

     Nearby, on the same tract, are more than 300 similar barracks-type structures constructed of wood, housing married students.

     All were built after World War II as temporary housing to handle the large influx of college students.  The university’s long-range planning calls for demolition of the development and construction of modern apartments for married students and their families.


[Article at center-right side of Page 2?:]

Survivors’ Tales Vary

“Can’t Pinpoint Fire Origin

     It was impossible to determine just where the fire started in the one-story metal barracks at Skytop, Syracuse University, when seven airmen perished yesterday.

     This is the opinion of fire experts who interviewed the survivors.  Reporters also interviewed the 20 men who escaped without injury just before they boarded a bus for Griffiss Air Base in Rome where they were to receive new uniforms.

     When a reporter asked where the fire started, each man had a somewhat different version.

     One man, whose room was in the center, near the oil furnace, said the fire seemed to be at the front end.  Another man said he thought the flames were at the other end.

     Several men said they thought the flames were in the center of the structure.  The men also made it clear that they had little time to investigate closely.

     They said, to a man, that the flames in the hall created such intense heat that it was impossible to get into the hall.

     The first man to jump out of a window said he ran along the outside yelling, “fire, fire.”  He did not turn in the alarm to the fire department.  That was done by an airman in the next barracks.

     The fire was discovered by the first man at 5:30 a.m., according to his watch.

     He said that before he could do much, the entire building was enveloped in flames.



Source:   Syracuse Herald-Journal, Syracuse, N. Y.
Date, Edition:  Wednesday Evening, January 7, 1959, p. 1 (FINAL, NIGHT EDITION)

[Headline, Page 1:]

“Are S.U. Barracks Still Emergency Housing?”

[Caption under photo -n/a- at top-left side of Page 1:]  With fire door open 
[Caption under second photo -n/a- at top-left side of Page 1:] 
With fire door closed

INSIDE S.U. BARRACKS.  Two photos -n/a- made from same spot show hallway of barracks similar to one in which seven Air Force men died in yesterday’s fire.  Note fire extinguisher on wall.  Other pictures -n/a- on Page 2.

     In September, 1956, for instance, the university announced plans for a $6 million housing project to provide 400 units for married students in a 40-acre area bounded by E. Colvin street on the south, Buckingham road and Meadowbrook drive on the west., Broad street on the north and Westmoreland avenue on the east.

     The project was abandoned, when the City Planning Commission turned down an application for special use in Residential A-1 zone after strong opposition from residents in the area.

     The university next went to the so-called Le Moyne College tract at E. Brighton avenue and Lafayette road but so far has not been able to overcome obstacles there to construction of permanent units.

     In this connection, Dean Kenneth G. Bartlett, vice president of the university, said the enormous increase in married students attending the university after the war moved the university to provide permanent facilities for housing but “we were turned down.”

     He said the barracks in the Sky Top area are certainly “military housing” since they are in military control.

     He said his personal opinion concerning the married student units along E. Colvin street is that they “continue to be emergency housing.”

     He said he will attempt to obtain a specific statement from the university relating to the question asked by Hebert.  That is, “Does the emergency still exist under the law?”



[Article at top of Page 1:] 

“City, Stymied on Fire Inspection, Seeks Immediate Answer”


     Are the temporary housing structures along E. Colvin street, used by Syracuse University since World War II, still considered “emergency housing?”

     That’s the question facing City Hall officials today as one of the major aftermaths of the disastrous fire in barracks at Sky Top which claimed the lives of seven airmen.

     George E. Hebert, director of the Bureau of Buildings, the agency responsible for enforcing the city’s Building Code, said he will seek a positive answer to the question immediately.

     Hebert said his office had not made inspections of the more than 500 units in the temporary housing area on the premise that the university operated the facilities as “emergency housing” or for “military” purposes.

     And Fire Marshal John Dacey said his office had not made regular inspections of the housing units on the same premise.  Dacey said on occasion his inspectors went into the area but only on complaint of residents.

     Hebert said his office became concerned about the continued use of the temporary housing units in 1956 and Assistant Corporation Counsel John Barnell made an extensive investigation of the city’s position in the matter.

     It was learned at that time that the state Legislature enacted a law applying to emergency housing for veterans “and others.”

     The law, Hebert said, specifically prohibited him from moving against the university.  It read in part:

     “No municipality shall for a period of five years from the effective date of this act impose any condition or require any permit or other authority for operation, management, use or occupancy of such property for the purposes of this act unless such property is no longer required as emergency housing.”

     Later amendments extended the life of the act to Dec. 31, 1953, Barnell said.  Barnell reported that in his opinion the law was terminated and Syracuse University must comply with the state Multiple Residence Law and the city Building Code.  This was in October, 1956.

     Hebert said, however, that Syracuse University, verbally, had contended it was still operating the temporary housing as “emergency housing” and he continued to keep “hands off.”

     But, he said, in the light of yesterday’s fire, he will seek a legal ruling as to whether the university “is still operating under military or emergency housing authority.”

     If this is not the case, he said, he will “move to inspect and probably have to order demolition.”  He said this action would be necessary because the construction does not meet city codes, including those applying to fire resistive materials.

     “We have not ignored this situation,” Hebert explained.  “We have been looking for legal authority to order the buildings [two/three words illegible] were told by the university there was still and emergency.”

     Hebert emphasized, however, that the university had been attempting to eliminate the “shacks” along E. Colvin street by building permanent housing for students.

     In September, 1956, for instance, the university announced plans for a $6 million housing project to provide 400 units for married students in a 40-acre area bounded by E. Colvin street on the south, Buckingham road and Meadowbrook drive on the west., Broad street on the north and Westmoreland avenue on the east.

     The project was abandoned, when the City Planning Commission turned down an application for special use in Residential A-1 zone after strong opposition from residents in the area.

     The university next went to the so-called Le Moyne College tract at E. Brighton avenue and Lafayette road but so far has not been able to overcome obstacles there to construction of permanent units.

     In this connection, Dean Kenneth G. Bartlett, vice president of the university, said the enormous increase in married students attending the university after the war moved the university to provide permanent facilities for housing but “we were turned down.”

     He said the barracks in the Sky Top area are certainly “military housing” since they are in military control.

     He said his personal opinion concerning the married student units along E. Colvin street is that they “continue to be emergency housing.”

     He said he will attempt to obtain a specific statement from the university relating to the question asked by Hebert.  That is, “Does the emergency still exist under the law?”

     Bartlett said there is an impression that the university erected the temporary housing units without permission.  He said it was true that no city permits were issued, but he emphasized the development was accomplished under the law.

     The state, he explained, asked Syracuse University and other educational institutions to provide facilities for the unprecedented increase in the number of married couples seeking higher education and the university cooperated.

[Caption under photo -n/a- at top-middle of Page 2:]
  Height and size of window in a room similar to one occupied by fire victims is shown being examined by Dr. William Ehling of Syracuse University.  At right is an oil fired burner like the one in the burned barracks.


[Article at center-left side of Page 1:] 

“Air Force Experts Join In Sky Top Fire Inquiry”

     With an oil-fired heating plant the focal point, Air Force experts will join with city fire officials this afternoon to pinpoint cause of yesterday’s Syracuse University blaze at Sky Top that took the lives of seven Russian language students.

     A specialist is also due here to establish identification of the seventh airman who lost his life.  Six of the victims have been positively identified.

     Col. John Tyler, director of Civil Institutions Programs for the Air Force Institute of Technology who flew here yesterday from headquarters at Wright-Patterson Field, said the expert in determining causes of fire would come from either the Syracuse or Griffiss Air Force bases.

     Capt. A. J. Del Signore, commanding the detachment on the Hill, said the identification specialist, Maj. A. J. Howell, will come here from Griffiss Field.

     S/Sgt. Thomas P. Merfeld, 28, of LaCrosse, Wisc., has been listed only as “missing.”

     Assistant Fire Marshal Fred Patuna and Police Sgt. Joseph Jewell spent the morning at the scene to try to determine what turned the building quartering 43 Air Force students, into a mass of flames.

     They are practically convinced the fire started in the area of the oil-fired furnace used to heat the all-metal barracks building.

     There is under construction in the area by Syracuse University one concrete, brick and steel barracks to accommodate 58 men.  A mess hall, of similar construction, is nearing completion.  This is part of an expansion program by the university for the special Air Force program.

     Discussing the program, Col. Tyler said:

      “The program here is proceeding according to Air Force needs.  There is no item about which I can criticize the university about the manner in which present buildings have been maintained.

     “At no time has Syracuse University failed to comply with improvement requests.  There is a continual progress in improvements.  The program will probably be expedited.”

     The furnace, which heated a steam boiler, was located in a cement block storage enclosure in the center of the 150 by 40-foot steel and aluminum building in the university’s Sky Top area south of E. Colvin street.


[Caption under photo -n/a- at center of Page 2:]
  As dusk fell over scene of tragic barracks fire at Sky Top, Air Force officers inspected twisted struts and supports of building where seven died.  Capt. A. J. Del Signore, left, head of Syracuse detachment, gives details to Maj. Donald W. Johnson, center, and Col. John Tyler, who flew in yesterday from Wright-Patterson AFB, headquarters of airmen studying at Syracuse University.


[Lead editorial at top-left side of Page 22:] 

“The Sky Top Tragedy

     There is never a satisfactory explanation of a tragedy like the holocaust at Sky Top barracks.

     We can make all the excuses possible in an effort to soften the blow for all concerned, but they constitute no real answer for the parents whose sons perished in the fire.

     These boys were freshly arrived from Wright Patterson Air Force Base at Dayton, Ohio.

     They did not even know each other’s names.

     They were housed in a 12-year-old barracks—43 to a building—which is a series of individual rooms.  Two men are housed in each room.

     In the center of the barracks is an oil fed steam heater which serves as the sole heating plant.  The oil tank is underground.

     Exits are at the end of the building.

     In case of fire the main avenue of escape proved to be through the single window in each room.

     The seven dead were trapped in their rooms before they could break out of the windows.

     Many of the injured are badly burned or were cut by broken glass in the escape efforts.

     The university states a maintenance man is on duty 24 hours daily and inspects the Sky Top barracks every two hours.

     There are 16 barracks of the type which burned in the Sky Top group.  All are occupied by the service students enrolled in the Russian language group.

     Altogether there are 540 family units of pre-fab construction on the Syracuse University campus, including Allis Court, Slocum Heights and University Heights.

     Many of them are occupied by married students with children.

     The barracks that burned was of metal, which collapsed at white heat, but was contained from spreading even in a 40-mile gale.

     Most of the units of pre-fab construction on the campus are of wood.

     What would happen in Allis Court, Slocum Heights and University Heights in sub-zero weather with a gale blowing is dreadful to contemplate.

     George E. Hebert, director of the Bureau of Buildings in Syracuse, says temporary housing at Sky Top has never been inspected by his men because it was built without a city permit.  He considers it a university and government reserve.

     The Area is inspected by Factory Insurance Association, which checks university buildings every 90 days.  This is in addition to daily maintenance inspection.

     But whether these old and allegedly temporary buildings come up to Syracuse fire and safety regulations is still a question.

     Too much care cannot be used in watching old buildings used for school or university purposes.

     When the Chicago school fire appalled the country, it was stated here that the most rigorous inspection should be undertaken here.  Officials can pooh-pooh danger, it was stated, but if something happens it is our fault.

     Something very tragic has happened.

     There will be all sorts of investigations and changes in regulations.

     But they will not bring those fine young boys back.

     The most comfort we can extract from it is that if danger is removed for hundreds of fellow service men they will have died exactly as in battle—to save others.



Source:   Syracuse Herald-Journal, Syracuse, N. Y.
Date, Edition:  Thursday Evening, January 8, 1959, p. 1 (FINAL, NIGHT EDITION)

[Article at center-left side of Page 1:] 

Cause of Blaze Still Sought

“Barracks Furnace Room Walls Combustible, Says Investigator”

     Cause of the fire that killed seven airmen in a Syracuse University Sky Top barracks Tuesday is unknown, according to the police arson investigator.

     At the same time, an investigator employed by fire insurance underwriters revealed that materials used in the walls and ceiling of the barracks furnace room were highly combustible.

     “One spark could have set the whole place off,” he said.

     The three walls in the interior of the furnace room were built of alternating layers of plaster board, inflammable insulation and composition wallboard.

     The ceiling of the room is believed to have been built in a similar manner beneath the metal roof of the barracks.

     At least two other dormitories in the area in which the inferno occurred have similar construction, the investigator said.

     Police Sgt. Joseph Jewell, in a report independent of the fire marshal’s office, says the fire definitely started in the center of the building.

     In that area there was located a trash room, latrine, and boiler room.

     The boiler room, which contained an oil-fired furnace, was partitioned on three sides from the rest of the building.

     Its entrance was from the outside of the barracks.  The other rooms were entered from the hallway in the center of the dormitory, Jewell said.

     The suspected area is still under investigation.  But because of a sheeth of ice on the boiler and other items, closer examination will have to wait, Jewell added.

     Fire Marshal John M. Dacey and his assistant, Fred Patuna, are still working on the matter and will submit their reports within a short time, they said.

     Fire Department, university and Air Force officials were slated today to discuss two plans aimed at preventing a repetition of the fire.

     Dacey said this morning that installation of complete sprinkler systems in the 15 remaining barracks will be considered.

     A thorough check of all possible fire hazards will be continued, he added.

     Being scrutinized are furnaces, boilers, fuse boxes and wiring, Dacey said.

     The other plan, hastened by Tuesday’s tragedy, is to expedite construction of brick and concrete fireproof quarters for the detachment studying on the Hill as part of the civil institutions programs of the Air Force Institute of Technology.

     One of the buildings, a mess hall, is now complete.  The first dormitory, to house 58 men, will be completed within two weeks, according to a university official.

     As soon as the barracks is finished, 58 airmen will move into it, he said.

     Construction of the other five barracks will be hastened.

     Meanwhile, under orders of the Air Force detachment commander, Capt. A. J. Del Signore, a fire patrol has been organized for each dormitory.

     Two airmen each in two-hour shifts will be on guard nightly as a precaution to check for fire dangers.

     The body of the seventh victim of the fire was identified late yesterday as S/Sgt. Thomas P. Merfeld, 28, of LaCrosse, Wis.

     He had been listed as missing until Air Force experts made positive identification.

     Investigation of the fire continued without a final determination of the cause.

    Officials are particularly concerned with the area in which is located the oil-fired furnace and steam boiler used to heat the 43-man barracks.

     That area, entrance to which is [several words are illegible] building, is located in the center of the structure.

     It is suspected that the inferno started near that area and flashed down the corridor that split the building.

     High winds at the time of the tragedy, 5:30 a.m., are blamed for the manner in which the blaze got out of control so quickly and trapped the airmen, many of them as they slept.

     “It is not possible as yet to pin down the source of the fire,” University Chancellor William P. Tolley said yesterday.

     “The public should know that every member of the staff has been asked to cooperate fully with the agencies seeking the cause of the fire.  That policy will be continued until the cause has been determined,” he added.

     “We are grateful for the many messages of sympathy and concern and the cooperation and help we have had from so many community agencies,” Tolley said.

     “We are particularly appreciative of the many donors to the Blood Bank, the fine assistance of the Red Cross, the volunteer services of the University School of Nursing students, the prompt and efficient action of the Air Force, and the helpful service of the chaplains, the hospitals, the Student Health Service, the fire marshals and many others.

     “We have had an encouraging report on the boys who were injured.  All appear to be making a good recovery.”

     Of the 16 airmen injured, four remain in good condition in local hospitals.

     Six fire companies were called to the main campus yesterday afternoon after a fire was reported in a classroom on the third floor of L. C. Smith Hall.

     The blaze was blamed on a carelessly discarded cigarette and was put out by a pair of students using a hand extinguisher.

     Firemen cut through the floor to the beams and reported damage to them and to the flooring.

     Chief John C. Featherstone noted that the floor of the mathematics classroom was littered with cigarette butts.


[Article at center of Page 2:] 

“Sleepless Airmen Doubt Value of Sprinklers in ‘Fire Traps’”


     Young men afraid to sleep at night, and patrols walking the narrow corridors of prefabricated buildings from dark to dawn were aftermaths today of the flash fire which claimed the lives of seven airmen at a Sky Top barracks.

     Nervous, unsure, frightened, the airmen living in the one-story barracks at the Syracuse University’s Air Force quarters did not place confidence in a plan to install sprinkler systems for protection against fire.

     “I didn’t think that with the construction of these barracks, a sprinkler system would do any good,” a young airman from Ohio said.  “Once a fire starts here, nothing can stop it.”

     Names of airmen questioned today by the Herald-Journal were withheld upon request of Air Force officers who explained the nature of the airmen’s studies in foreign languages required security measures.

     Fire Department officials, Syracuse University and the Air Force were considering today the installation of complete sprinkler systems in the 15 remaining barracks.

     But, to the airmen, mostly in their earlier twenties, the barracks were “fire traps” such as the blackened, twisted skeleton of the one consumed in a raging inferno in the bitter cold and howling winds of last Tuesday morning.

     “Some of the men who escaped from that building,” an airman from New York City said, pointing to the burned barracks, “now are living in the barracks with us.  They moved from one fire trap to another.  They can’t sleep at night.”

     Below Sky Top are scattered the prefabricated buildings housing married students and their families.  The fire is the topic of conversation here.

     Most wives of students, who talked with the Herald-Journal today, believed the fire “was a frightening thing” but that their homes were safer than the Air Force barracks.

     “We have more exits,” one housewife said.  “And the heating system is safer.  I have lived here five years (her husband is attending medical school) and I would rather be here than in some apartments in the city in case of fire.  At least, we are on the ground floor.”

     Airmen felt that the placing of fire patrols in the barr4acks at night helped relieve the anxiety in their minds.  Since the day of the fire, patrols of men from each barracks watch the corridors in two-hour shifts.

     Another airman believed the present fire extinguishers loaded with “soda acid” should be refilled with carbon-dioxide as sprinkling the soda on flames was like “sprinkling carbonated water . . . not much help.”

     An airman from the Middle West ran his fingernail along the wallboard of his room, leaving a deep dent in it.

     “These walls are like paper mache,” he said, “sprinkler system wouldn’t help.  It would never save these buildings.  It might hold the fire back long enough for the men to get out.  That’s all.”

     An airman from Maine shook his head at the thought of sprinklers.

     “They wouldn’t stop a fire.  The buildings are too old and dilapidated.  Within 20 minutes, the flames at that barracks (pointing to the ruins of the burned building) were 20 feet  in the air.  No sprinkler system made could stop such a fire.”

     A companion added:

     “The barracks are dried out.  Once a fire gets started, it would eat away quickly at places not covered by sprinklers.”

     A North Carolina airman, who does not live at the barracks, shrugged his shoulders.

     “I wouldn’t want to sleep here,” he said.

     Gazing around the snowy Sky Top, an airman from downstate New York said:

     “We don’t want to place the blame on any one but we only hope this situation is rectified before it happens again.  We don’t want this to die down, be soft-pedaled and forgotten.”

     To most airmen, the fire still lives constantly in their memory.  It is with them every time they pass the ruins, and as one young airman in his late teens said:

     “It is kinda’ scary.  You don’t want to go to sleep at night.”

[Caption under photo -n/a- at bottom-middle of Page 2:] 
Fred Patuna, assistant fire marshal, at left, and Joseph Jewel, police arson investigator, check the oil-fed furnace in the Sky Top barracks which was destroyed by a fire Tuesday that claimed the lives of seven airmen.  The furnace has been the focal point of the investigation to determine the cause of the blaze.  Other possibilities include smoking in bed and arson, according to the two inspectors.

[Lead editorial at top-left side of Page 28:] 

“Emergency Housing?”

     It is possible that out of the tragic Sky Top fire a new approach to housing for married students will come to pass.

     The question is now being asked if the wooden housing in three locations at Syracuse University is still to be classed as “emergency.”

     If it is the city building authority, under state law, has not been responsible for fire inspection.  The five-year provision in that law has just expired and it is held that the university does come under city codes in these areas.

     We feel that there never should be a section of any city, or buildings in it, that are exempt from inspection to examine if standards are maintained.

     Even if a law does exist to the contrary a building bureau should make public a condition that can result in disaster.

     No group or organization should have a legal privilege of endangering life, be it a university or a branch of the armed services.

     It should be remembered, however, that Syracuse University proposed a $6,000,000 permanent housing project for the area in question and that it was dropped because of the opposition of citizens.

     It is an amazing thing how the very word “housing” causes resentment in Syracuse.

     Many universities have built, with federal aid, handsome districts of student and faculty housing.

     It can be said that many of these housing projects are much more attractive than the surrounding area—where the complaints come from.

     Housing does not have to look like an institution with units of the same design.

     And we submit residents who object to married college students as neighbors are a type we could not possibly understand.

     So before we question university authorities too closely on any decision to class present facilities as “emergency housing” we had better ask what we would have them do.

     Should they refuse to accept these students on the grounds there is not housing available?

     Young people seeking a college education would take a chance on inferior housing any time if the alternative is failing to achieve their aim.



Source:   Syracuse Herald-Journal, Syracuse, N. Y.
Date, Edition:  Friday Evening, January 9, 1959, p. 1 (FINAL, NIGHT EDITION)

 [Article at top-left side of Page 1:] 

Sprinklers Due In Barracks; AF Satisfied”

     Syracuse University moved quickly today to prevent a repetition of the fire that killed seven airmen in a Sky Top barracks Tuesday.

     At the same time, the Air Force said the disaster will have no bearing on its contract with the university.

     Col. John Tyler, director of the civil institutions programs for the Air Force Institute of Technology, in charge of the Slavic language training on the Hill, said in a telephone interview from his headquarters at Wright-Patterson Field, Dayton, Ohio:

     “The university is providing more than adequately the type of training the service requires and we contemplate no change in our arrangements.”

Recommended by Dacey

The university has accepted the recommendation of Fire Marshal John M. Dacey that sprinkler systems be installed in the 15 remaining barracks in the Air Force housing area, according to William Ehling, S. U. director of information.

     “Cost factors in connection with the installation are being studied and the university will expedite action in accordance with the fire marshal’s suggestion,” Ehling said.

     “Everything that can be done will be.  Possible problems of installation will be solved quickly.

     “We are exercising all other precautions by eliminating any other possible hazards.  Smoke stacks and other danger areas will be double-checked and corrected,” he added.

Winds Tilted Stack

     Dacey set responsibility for Tuesday morning’s fire on the smoke stack or exhaust pipe from the oil-fired furnace in the barracks.

     High winds evidently pushed the hot pipe into combustible insulation and touched off the inferno, Dacey said.

     That opinion will be included in the report of his investigation of the disaster when it is made officially to Fire Chief Harry Coon, he said.

     Col. Tyler said:

     “We are pretty sure that is the way the fire happened.  Also, we are convinced that the university will do everything it can to correct any existing hazards.”  He added:

Suggests Check

     “It is expected Air Force investigation of the fire will show a similar cause.  The report has not been filed yet, however.”

     Col. Tyler said he had talked with Capt. A. J. Del Signore, AF detachment commander on the Hill, and had suggested that other stacks be checked.

     “I noted that the pipes from furnaces in other buildings seemed to be loose and I suggested feasibility of removing the restraining wires and making the pipes more rigid,” he said.

     “I also suggested that thermostatic controls on the furnaces be checked more closely to assure a maximum of safety,” Col. Tyler added.

Will Report

     He said there is no regulation that requires him to report the fire to higher authority.  However, he will make a voluntary report at his own discretion through channels to Walter E. Todd, commander of University Command, Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala.

     Dacey said evidence found in the charred boiler room in the center of the barracks ruins indicated the stack had shifted about two inches and had ignited the paper-backed, asphalt-covered insulation.

     Once ignited, the flames, fanned by draft from the strong wind that morning, probably spread through an 18-inch space between the insulation-backed aluminum roof and the fiber board ceiling, Dacey added.

     “The university has conducted a comprehensive study of every aspect pertaining to Tuesday morning’s tragic fire and all phases of the fire protection program for the Skytop housing area,” Ehling said.  He added:

In Consultation

     “University officials have been in constant consultation with insurance investigators, Air Force officials and members of the city fire marshal’s office since Tuesday morning.

     “We are seeking to assemble as quickly as possible all facts about the fire and to study all suggestions and recommendations fr5om experts so that we will be able to move immediately to take steps beyond those already taken to maximize fire safety in the housing area.

     “We have tried to give every assistance to Fire Marshal John M. Dacey and we most certainly welcome his suggestions on installation of a sprinkler system.

     “We intend to continue a long-standing policy of cooperating fully with all city officials concerned with housing and fire protection.”


[Article at top-right side of Page 2:] 

 “SU Temporary Housing to Be Topic
Mayor and Tolley to Confer”

      Mayor Henninger and other city officials will meet next week with Chancellor William P. Tolley to discuss mutual problems involving the university’s temporary housing facilities along E. Colvin street.

     The mayor reported he talked this morning by telephone with Tolley and arranged the meeting.  He said Tolley was compiling reports on all phases of the university’s position and will have them available.

     The conference comes as an aftermath to a tragic fire in an Air Force barracks in the university’s Sky Top area which claimed the lives of seven airmen Tuesday.

     The mayor indicated he will take no drastic action against the university in relation to the “emergency housing” facilities used by married students which might needlessly interfere with the educational program.

     He said he and the chancellor will attempt to outline a policy of “mutual protection” to eliminate any possible misunderstands that might exist regarding the city’s housing and fire inspection programs.

     “We will attempt to arrive at a policy satisfactory to both the city and the university,” Henninger said.

     He said he will invite members of the corporation counsel’s office and the Bureau of Buildings to sit in on the session to aid in the definition of the city’s position

     The mayor indicated he will seek a complete re-evaluation of the city’s position as it relates to the handling of the more than 500 temporary dwellings used by the university.

     There is some difference of opinion among city officials as to whether postwar federal and state laws permitting the university to operate “temporary” housing are still in effect.

     Assistant Corporation Counsel John Barnell conducted a study of the situation in 1956 and concluded that emergency legislation had terminated and recommended that the Bureau of Buildings move into the E. Colvin street area and enforce the building code.

     Should this happen, the city would be bound to order the temporary structures demolished or closed.

     However, George E. Hebert, director of the Bureau, interprets an ordinance passed by the Common Council in August, 1948, as giving the university permission to continue the “emergency” and, therefore, preventing him from taking enforcement action.



Source:   Syracuse Herald-Journal, Syracuse, N. Y.
Date, Edition:  Saturday Evening, January 10, 1959, p. 3 (FINAL, NIGHT EDITION)

 [Article at top-center of Page 3:] 

“Other ‘Dangerous’ Dormitories In State, Rockefeller Told”

     Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller has been informed that more “dangerous” dormitories such as the one which burned at Syracuse University this week exist at state colleges and universities.

     Assemblyman John T. Satriale (D-Bronx), in a letter to Rockefeller, said there was an immediate need for fireproof dormitories in educational institutions in the state.

     Satriale, ranking minority member of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee, told the governor:

     “The same dangerous condition exists” in some dormitories in state colleges and universities as in the one at Syracuse University where seven Air Force students died in the fire last Tuesday.

     Because of Syracuse’s fire, plans for completing brick and concrete fireproof dormitories at the university are being rushed.

     One fireproof mess hall already has been completed, and the first dormitory, to house 58 men, is expected to be finished in two weeks.  Five other fireproof dormitories are planned.

     Satriale said the Syracuse dormitory, which burned, was a flimsy, barracks-like structure built during World War II.

     The assemblyman, in his letter to the governor, did not specify the institutions needing fireproof dormitories.

     He said he had inspected dormitories at various colleges and universities in the state before writing the letter.


Source:   Syracuse Herald-Journal, Syracuse, N. Y.
Date, Edition:  Monday Evening, January 12, 1959, p. 18 (FINAL)

 [Lead editorial at top-left of Page 18:] 

“Dormitory Authority Already Exists”

     Part of the Sky Top fire tragedy aftermath has been a warning by Assemblyman John Satriale of the Bronx.  The same conditions which resulted in the death of seven Air Force students prevail at other stat educational institutions, he said in a letter to Governor Rockefeller.  He said the fire indicated a need for an immediate program of construction of fireproof dormitories.

     The implication is that dormitory construction has received no state attention.  To keep the record straight we note that a State Dormitory Authority was created in 1944.  Its purpose:  To construct and operate dormitories.

     Permanent dormitories have been completed for state teachers colleges at Brockport, Cortland, Fredonia, Geneseo, New Paltz, Oneonta, Oswego, Plattsburgh, Potsdam, Albany, and Buffalo.  Dormitories also have been constructed at the Long Island Agricultural and Technical Institute, Farmingdale, the State Agricultural and Technical Institute at Morrisville, and the State Institute of Agriculture and Home Economics at Cobleskill.

     Now being completed and furnished are 11 dormitory projects at the state teachers colleges and at Alfred and Farmingdale agricultural and Technical Institute.  They will house 3,246 students.  The approximate cost, including equipment and furnishings, is $15,560,000.

     If, as Assemblyman Satriale says, there are fire hazards at these dormitories, or in the temporary structures erected earlier, the need for action is obvious.  The machinery for such attention is already in existence.

     The assemblyman is right on one point.  This administration should make certain the machinery is operating.


[Letters to the Editor at center of Page 18]

“Our Readers’ Viewpoints”

“‘Not Martyrs But Know Score’”

To the Herald-Journal:

    Bravo!  And thank you for your January 8 editorial.  Yes, we will live in “inferior” housing, most often and disdainfully referred to by native Syracusans as “the shacks” or “the barracks”.

    We will take with a grain of salt their “tch tch” and their misguided sympathy for us “poor kids living in the shacks.”  And yes, we are here with a goal in mind:  To prepare for our futures in what is supposed to be an “education-minded country.”

    And we are here because we want to be.  We were not sentenced.

    The family man studying at the university is there with the same purpose and perhaps a bit more need than his single colleagues.  We are not martyrs.  We do not wear sacks, nor crowns of thorns.  Please dear Syracusans, do not look upon us as such.

    My husband and I have just moved from what is a perfect example of student housing in a community where it was accepted and looked upon with pride.  No one in that community sat back and said it was “too bad” or “unsafe” when the G. I. buildings began to age.

    They cooperated with the school when it went about improving the housing in a “residential area.”  The result was a modern, neat, safe housing development whose lawns and buildings were a credit to the community and were kept green, flowering, and clean with pride.

    If the neighbors around the East Colvin street area wince every time they look out their rear windows they have only themselves to blame.  They would like demolition, I am told, with no plans as to where to rebuild.

    Do they have any suggestions as to where 510 families could relocate and still be able to live decently, safely, and maintain the expense of an education?  Tents can be pretty cold in the winter.

    Or do they intend to wait until some deep winter night when they will stand in their back yards in nightgowns and pajamas, watching in horror an inferno blazing before them and say:  “How terrible.  The school should never have allowed it, as horrible and unfeasible as it is.”

    The school?  The school has done all it can to make the units safe and clean, and to relocate.  Let it rest on their consciences.

    I know there is a problem of rezoning.  But one can go six blocks in any given direction from the housing district and find not only multiple dwellings, but industrial sites as well.  Except for these people, then, there is an answer.

    The university, to my knowledge, has done its half.  Let these neighbors stare down their noses at our housing, but let them also turn their heads and direct their gaze directly across the street to the gaping barren lot full of underbrush and broken beer bottles, and picture in their minds the modern, neat, safe housing that could be there.

    It is, then, their decision.  Shall they transplant the thorny, withering old rose bush and watch it flower?  Or shall they leave it as it is and let it become a briar patch?

                                                                                    MRS. NANCY RINKER

Source of Articles Above:


   1             Syracuse Herald-Journal, Syracuse, N. Y. (Jan 6, 1959)                     

   2             The Post-Standard, Syracuse, N. Y. (Jan 7, 1959)                               

   3             Syracuse Herald-Journal, Syracuse, N. Y. (Jan 7, 1959)                     

   4             Syracuse Herald-Journal, Syracuse, N. Y. (Jan 8, 1959)                   

   5             Syracuse Herald-Journal, Syracuse, N. Y. (Jan 9, 1959)                  

   6             Syracuse Herald-Journal, Syracuse, N. Y. (Jan 10, 1959)                 

   7              Syracuse Herald-Journal, Syracuse, N. Y. (Jan 12, 1959)              


Last revised: October 13, 2013


Copyright © 2011 by RWF2000 Internet Consulting