Toledo firefighter killed in 1894 inferno honored by state marker

Toledo firefighter killed in 1894 inferno honored by state marker

TOLEDO, OH (WTOL) - Under the gray opaque skies of an autumn morning, the Maumee riverfront played host to history.

On Friday, Toledo city officials, family members and city firemen paid homage to a Toledo firefighter who died more than a century ago in a massive downtown blaze.

The fireman's name was James Fraser. His story of bravery and courage was remembered as a new state historical marker commemorating the fire and Fraser's death, was placed at Promenade Park, the site of the inferno that erupted on January 3 1894.

It was a time when the Maumee riverfront was a bustling warehouse and grain elevators district. It was where ships, trains and horse drawn wagons made their along the water edge's to move freight and grain.

On this particular cold January night, everything changed when a fire was sparked in the Quale-King Elevator on Water Street. A strong westerly wind helped push the flames into nearby office buildings and stores.

It didn't take long before at least a half dozen buildings were ablaze and flames that could be seen from 30 miles away.

The intensity of the flames did not deter the firemen from Toledo who tried to get into the the burning elevator. Leading the men was Captain James Fraser of the Number 1 station at Bush and Erie.

Once inside, however, the firefighters were greeted by several powerful grain dust explosions on the upper floors. It drove them into hasty retreat and all of the firemen managed to escape the torment of the heat and flame, except one.

Fire Captain James Fraser, an Irish immigrant and Civil War veteran, had a reputation as a fearless fighter. But this would prove to be his last battle.

Fraser never came out of the building that night. Despite a frantic search, Fraser's remains were never found. The only thing investigators recovered were the twisted frame of his spectacles and a brass button from his suspenders.

Sterling Rahe of the Toledo Fire Department said after the blaze was out, fellow firemen, "searched for him for about five days. They were never able to find his remains."

For more than 100 years, that section of the riverfront, near Water and Madson Streets, was Fraser's last resting place. It was his burial site. An unmarked grave that most Toledoans knew nothing about for decades.

It was not until recent years when Fraser's third-Great-Nephew, Doug Tracy, began doing some research on Captain Fraser and uncovered many of the news articles and stories about his brave Great-Uncle Fraser.

Tracy then began working with historians at Toledo's Fire Museum and found a trove of information about the tragedy. He began working with others to commission an official state historical marker to be placed someday at Promednade Park.

At Friday's ceremony, Tracy, who lives in the Columbus-area, told the assembled crowd that the death of Fraser should, "teach a lesson of heroic devotion to duty".

He says that Captain Fraser, who was captain of the Number One firehouse at Bush and Erie Streets, "never said to his men, 'go', but instead said, follow me."

Fraser was highly respected by his fellow firefighters of the era and today. A century later, he is still respected and remembered by the firemen who now drive trucks instead of horses. Despite the differences in technology and time, they can still relate to the same dangers and call to duty that Captain Fraser knew and felt in 1894.

Sterling Rahe says Toledo's firefighters will long remember those that give the ultimate sacrifice to save lives.

The memory will also be kept alive in Promenade Park by the new historical marker that tells the story of the great elevator fire and the tragic death of Captain James Fraser, whose memory is finally taking a rightful place in Toledo's colorful history.

Follow WTOL:  

Download our app here

Copyright 2017 WTOL. All rights reserved.