Thursday, May 15, 2003

Ohio Moments


Fire, fumes claimed 123 lives in Cleveland

On May 15, 1929, a fire and toxic fumes at the Cleveland Clinic killed 123 people, including Dr. John Phillips, one its founders.

About 250 patients, visitors and staff were in the building when X-ray film stored in the basement combusted about 11 a.m. A repairman was working on a steam line that was leaking near the approximately 70,000 films stored in manila envelopes on wooden shelves.

There were at least two explosions. Then a dense, yellowish-brown cloud - toxic nitrogen and carbon monoxide fumes - ascended a nearby elevator shaft, filling the building. The fumes killed patients on treatment tables, and doctors and nurses collapsed with charts and instruments in their hands. Witnesses outside watched people knock feebly on upstairs windows, then disappear as they collapsed before firefighters could get ladders up to rescue them.

The disaster led to revised safety codes worldwide for storing X-ray film and the use of film that would not explode.

Rebecca Goodman

E-mail rgoodman@enquirer.com or call (513) 768-8361.




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