40 Years Later: Remembering the Deadly Fire at Danbury Federal Prison
It happened on July 7, 1977, in what the New York Times called at the time, "A nightmare of confusion and panic." It is now known as the infamous fire at the Danbury Federal Correctional Institution, and it happened 40 years ago to the day.
Five inmates were killed and 71 others injured, when a fire broke out in the washroom of cell block G.
According to nytimesarchive.com, many authorities at the time believed that the blaze was set deliberatley. Frederick Tomaino, Danbury's Fire Marshal in 1977 was quoted as saying:
...Someone could have ignited the clothes hanging in the washroom.
He ruled out an electrical fire, but added that toxic fumes were emitted when the fiberglass paneling in the washroom burned.
Witnesses say that with the smoke and toxic fumes, panic stricken inmates tried all means to escape, including breaking the glass of grill covered windows with their fists.
Danbury Fire Capt. Antonio Lagarto, who headed the first responders to arrive at the prison that night told the New York Times:
I saw smoke coming out, and I saw all the heads at the windows, and my mind was saying, ‘This can't be happening this isn't real.'
The fire was contained shortly before 2:00 am, and brought completely under control about an hour later. Fire Companies from many of the surrounding towns also responded to the blaze.
Criticism from inmates erupted afterwards, many citing that one of the emergency doors was locked by one of the guards after the fire broke out, not allowing any escape route. According to the New York Times report, both the acting prison warden at the time, Anthony Young, and the director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Norman Carlson, said they had no information about a door being locked after the fire broke out.
Aside from the five prisoners who lost their lives, most of the inmates and firefighters who were hospitalized were suffering from the effects of smoke and toxins, some had first, second, and third degree burns, as well as cuts, bruises and bone fractures. All were brought to and treated at Danbury Hospital.
As a direct result of this tragic fire, many safety regulations and emergency procedures have been established and refined throughout the decades in hopes that correctional facilities across the country can do their best to avoid what went down that night in Danbury.
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