Friday, March 13, 2020

Story Behind The Picture: Fire Escape Collapse, also known as Fire on Marlborough Street

From: Jill P.
Sent: March 13, 2020
To: undisclosed recipients
Subject: Fw: Fire Escape Collapse, also known as Fire on Marlborough Street

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Fire Escape Collapse, also known as Fire on Marlborough Street, is a monochrome photograph by Stanley Forman which received the Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography in 1976 and the title of World Press Photo of the Year. The photograph shows 19-year-old Diana Bryant and her two-year-old goddaughter Tiare Jones falling from the collapsed fire escape of a burning apartment building on Marlborough Street in Boston on July 22, 1975. The fire escape at the fifth floor collapsed as a turntable ladder on a fire truck was being extended to pick up the two at the height of approximately 50 feet (15 meters).

The photo was taken with a motorized camera and also shows falling potted plants. Other photos of the series show Bryant and Jones waiting for a turntable ladder and the moment of the fire escape's collapse with both victims on it. Originally published in the Boston Herald American, the photo circulated in over a hundred newspapers and led to the adoption of new fire escape legislation in the United States.

The tillerman of the first fire engine to arrive at the scene, Robert O'Neill, asked 19-year-old Bryant to lift her two-year-old goddaughter Jones to him on the roof, but Bryant was unable to do so and O'Neill jumped down to help before the ladder could reach them. O'Neill had one arm around Bryant and one hand on a rung of the ladder when the fire escape collapsed. O'Neil managed to hang by one hand and was rescued, but Bryant and Jones fell approximately 50 feet (15 meters). Bryant sustained multiple head and body injuries and died hours later. Jones survived the fall as she had landed on Bryant's body, softening the impact. A helicopter pilot, Joe Green, who provided traffic reports and landed on a nearby roof, reportedly offered to pick up Bryant and Jones, but got no response from the firefighter.

Police obtained an arrest warrant for the building's owner, Fred Durham, for trash fires behind the building. A police complaint charged Durham with keeping an unlicensed lodging house. Three trash fires behind the building were reported in the weeks preceding the accident.


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