Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Hartford Fire 1944

Vet takes issue with hospital's namesake

Bob Sawallesh figures he has spent thousands of hours over the years helping patients at the James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital.

He has driven them to appointments, interviewed homeless veterans to help them get assistance and worked with the wounded and their families.
But in all that time, the retired Army lieutenant colonel from Valrico never saw a picture of the hospital's namesake prominently displayed.
Curious, Sawallesh began to look into Haley. Always interested in research, he spent hours in front of the computer, in dusty library stacks and going through boxes of documents.
What he found spurred him to ask that the hospital's name be changed.
In 1945, Haley was sent to prison for what prosecutors say was his role in one of the worst fires in the nation's history — a blaze at a Ringling Brothers circus show in Hartford, Conn., that killed 168 and injured nearly 500 others.
"How can you name a hospital that treats severely burned combat veterans after a man who spent time in jail for a fire that killed so many?" asks Sawallesh.

1 comment:

Bob Cline said...

James Haley and other members of the Ringling / Barnum staff were indeed tried and imprisioned. Thy were "Ultimately" responsible for the safety of their patrons.

Did they start the fire or cause the fire? NO! They were the scapegoats of the times. WWII was in full swing. Absolutely no one was permitted to have fire proof matter except the military. If I remember corretly, the tents were water proofed with a paraffin mixture. Understandably, once a candle gets lit it will continue to burn.

No pre-inspection was conducted by the City of Hartsford and the Hartsford Fire Dept. was supposed to be on the grounds, but wasn't. The Circus water trucks were supposed to be near the tent and running. This point hasn't been agreed upon whether they were ready or were not.

I'll have to do some digging myself as the fire is covered in several circus books. There are also a few books still available about the fire itself such as Stewart O'Nan's "The Circus Fire", Don Massey and Rick Davey's "A Matter of Degree: the Hartford Fire & the Mystery of Little Miss 1565" or "Women and Children First" by Donald H. Roy.