The Beverly Hills Fire: A Lingering Anguish

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Mourning: A young boy in an adult raincoat hugged the women next to him at a memorial service for Beverly Hills victims in Evergreen Cemetery, eight days after the tragedy. The club overlooked the cemetary. Zoom
Memories of the fire haunts Marianist Brother Tom Payne -- especially in May. He spent 35 hours at the makeshift morgue at the Fort Thomas Armory.

He is not alone in his memories. The fire haunts others, too -- survivors, rescue workers, caregivers, families of those who perished.

''Beverly Hills is one of those defining events for people in this area,'' said Cathy LaCour, director of social services at St. Luke East Hospital. She has studied coping mechanisms in people who have such experiences.

''You probably know where you were when (President John F.) Kennedy was assassinated. That is a defining event. Beverly Hills is like that for people around here,'' she said.

Coping with the after effects of such a tragedy -- called post traumatic stress -- can become a life-long challenge.

Pete Sabino quote In the Beverly Hills case, coping mechanisms would range from watching for exits to becoming reclusive, Ms. LaCour said. ''The ultimate, of course, would be suicide.''

Post traumatic stress disorder had been extensively studied at the time of the fire because it affected so many Vietnam War veterans, she said. Survivors of Beverly Hills were helped by crisis intervention teams and other treatments to help minimize aftereffects.

''There was a lot of help for the victims but, unfortunately, at that time we did not know a lot about the effects on caregivers and helpers,'' she said. There were firefighters and life squad personnel who could not continue in their jobs.

''Until people experience such an event as Beverly Hills, they tend to feel somewhat invincible,'' Ms. LaCour said. ''They have the luxury of feeling safe. Then, that feeling, that luxury is forever taken away.''

Cathy LaCour quote Pete Sabino, 63, and retired, was a Cincinnati fire captain. He was at the supper club for an evening out with his wife, Dolores, son Pete and his future daughter-in-law Judy. By night's end he had pulled people out of the north exit of the club -- nearest to the Cabaret Room. He does not recall how many he saved. But, he remembers one lady he couldn't.

''It's hard telling people about it. I got an ulcer after the fire,'' he said. ''I think I've suppressed some of it, but I've never forgotten the woman (wedged in a doorway), who I couldn't get out.''

Mr. Sabino said he believes his fire training helped.

''I've seen a lot more gory stuff; Beverly Hills was dealing with a lot of people dead, but it really was not gory,'' he said.

''I remember a car of teens hit the wall at the (Interstate 71) Lytle Tunnel at about 2 a.m. Five kids died, and I was there. I remember thinking about their parents, home in bed, not knowing it had happened yet.

''I remember two girls who hit a steel flat bed truck on Eastern Avenue and their heads were almost cut off -- young girls with their futures ahead of them.''

''I think it helps to remember . . . It helps us cope and we learn (from remembering) . . . But, boy, it's hard.''

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