In March of 1973 I was just short of my 18th birthday and still living in Baltimore. Instead of showing up for my senior year of high school (had the highest number of unexcused absences in the junior year) I was attending the Community College of Baltimore, where I worked at the campus radio station, WBJC-FM. At the same time I was interning at WCBM radio (Bob “Smoke” Shilling, who sometimes checks out STATter911.com, was the news director).
My interest in the fire service was growing. While at CCB I was taking a fire science course along with my radio and TV curriculum. Around that time I somehow talked Baltimore City Fire Department Chief Thomas Burke into letting me spend a few weeks riding with his department. He set me up with Peter O’Connor who was then Battalion Chief 2 and later chief of the department. While up until then I was only interested in the fire service as a buff, the time spent at Engine 6’s quarters convinced me I might want to try doing this stuff.
I read everything I could get my hands on about the fire service and began saving articles about significant incidents. One of those that caught my eye was from a place called Bailey’s Crossroads. I had never heard of it. But what happened there on Friday, March 2, 1973 was making big news. A middle section of a 26-story building under construction as part of the Skyline complex had collapsed. It took the lives of 14 workers and injured more than 30 others. This occurred well before Fairfax County had an urban search and rescue team.
The reporter on the film is the legendary Mike Buchanan, one of the best reporters the TV business has ever seen. Mike was also instrumental in getting me hired at Channel 9.
I now live just down the street from the high-rise canyon that is Skyline. Through the blog I have gotten to know two people who lived in the area at the time. Both are now retired from the Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department and should be familiar names to STATter911.com readers.
At the time, Co. 10 Bailey’s was still in the old firehouse on Rte.7 not far from the site. Two friends of mine (one of them Capt. Jim Small mentioned at the start of the tape) were working that day. They were in the firehouse when somebody came racing up to the bay door telling them that the new building just collapsed. They didn’t believe him and kinda gave it the “yeah, sure” treatment and started laughing it off. Then the tones hit.
I didn’t work in that part of town, so never responded to the call. But I got up there a couple of days later with my 35mm. camera and got some good slides of the thing. They’re still around here somewhere, I think.
Harry Diezel was working at the training center then and he told me about loading up the recruit class on the bus and going down there to search for victims. They used a technique where the whole group would stand along the top of the collapsed debris and everybody would simultaneously stomp on the concrete while yelling. Then at a signal, all would stop and there would be total silence on the entire work site while people would listen for any kind of a response from underneath. Never got any, though.
From FossilMedic Mike Ward:
I would occasionally play cards at a buddy’s house. We were sophomores. His parent’s house was just north of Route 7, in the shadow of the high rise complex. We hung out at the scene while the sun set Friday night.
Three or four ambulances were lined up on Leesburg Pike with their rear doors open. The drama was offset when I realized that they were shut down. With 19 months as a VFD weekend warrior, it was the first major, multi-jurisdictional event I witnessed. Not much was going on so we went back to his house.
Around midnite I went back to the scene. A DCFD jeep with a portable generator had a floodlight focused on the corner of the smaller section of the building. About 2 am I was in the crowded Krispy Kreme, listening to conversations.