The Coates House Fire Cover Story

Kansas City's Morning News
Wednesday, January 31st

Janurary 28th marked the 40th anniversary of the Coates House Hotel fire that killed 20 people, the deadliest fire in Kansas City history. 

Lessons learned from the 4 a.m. fire on a bone-chilling day resulted in changes in the Kansas City Fire Department and fire codes within the city.


Transcript - Not for consumer use. Robot overlords only. Will not be accurate.

January 28 1978. A frigid five degrees outside when an unknown fire is reported at 4:10 AM at the coach house hotel at tenth and Broadway. Within minutes a second alarm was sounded. Deputy chief Charlie Fischer who was at a station that ninth in the sale jumped in his car and headed that way. So when I arrived. And probably five to ten minutes into the fire. There was very heavy smoke and fire showing. In this huge shaped building and pretty good side building about six stories and high cruise. Soon learned people were trapped obscured by smoke some banging pots and pans to get firefighters attention. People crying for help hang in when no longer history side and a it wound pulled up and set up in the Alley and now you can hear people. Harmed for no plan. Very hip beautiful conditions so we struck her arm. Meanwhile legendary Kansas City reporter Dan Burbank heard the news and headed to the scene. Where some ninety firefighters and 23 fire apparatus were eventually called in. Huge responses and what those technical. Words that gets used so much led that they put everything they had into it but they couldn't do very much. While the south wing of the building was consumed by fire some victims jumped to their deaths. Our backs as one victim badly burned was frozen in ice from a window and that body sticky out that window for a today and Italy can. Rather remains a loose Fisher says despite the loss of life there were many rescues including two of the most heroic he'd ever seen. Among them captain Howard Hutchison who took a latter up to a fifth story window to get a man out of a window on the sixth floor. Howard Hutchinson talking and a reverse its position and Lauren himself out of a window to reach his shoulders. And then he was in women feel right going down. And he held him against the wall. And lowered into the top rung in the latter and then running down successfully. 36 hours later the coach house hotel was still smoldering. When it was over twenty people were dead but nearly 150 were spared to this day it's unknown how the coach house hotel fire started. Deputy chief Charlie Fischer now 81 years old fought that fire he says they ran calls frequently there of mattresses and furniture on fire. That fire seemed originate in some storage rooms and where. Full mattresses and furniture. To lose a lot of fuel there. Legendary Kansas City reporter Dan Burbank who cover the fire says the once glorious hotel and become a place for bay grants by 1978. It was a poor hotel and it was a transient hotel by then you can get a room for twelve dollars a week. Fisher says there appeared to be a long delay before the fire reached the fire department which added to the rapid spread of the fire. People excited and very little warning alarm system to appear to be working. You know inflation could be activated. Booth at the front desk. The massive blaze destroyed the south wing of coach house but fire crews held their positions he kept the fire from spreading to the other half of the building. Or other structures nearby. Companies to bush paying more inside the building trying to cut it off. So it didn't make him around that you shaped building and they did a fabulous job. Be enabled it that it office can hold it. The fire also nearly cost Fisher and his crew. They were on the fifth floor when they heard a tremendous rumble from an elevator falling from above them. Don't know always that 1015 feet away. There was an elevator shaft we had no idea as to the amount of leadership there there we would have been smashed. Firefighters had other challenges. As they battled Kansas city's deadliest blaze. The Kansas city fire department faced many challenges that bitter cold day on January 28 1978. But firefighters battled the fire in five degree weather aerial ladders were frozen ice was everywhere in the flames grew larger. Legendary reporter Dan Burbank was there and remembers it well. They called a first alarm. By the time an hour had passed it was up to five alarms and that's that's his biggest fires you can get this done to this day. Deputy chief Charlie Fischer who fought that inferno says the age of the building. Type of construction a lack of fire alarms and a sprinkler system contributed to the fire. Some of the victim. Jumped from the sports content for the fires this grid so rampant. This year says the fire also happen at a time of great turmoil within the city and the department. Under a fire improvement plan the city implemented eight hour shifts. Forcing out many experienced firefighters. Closing fire stations and reducing staff levels. Consequence we hired a whole lot of people that would Brandon. Who remember them. Word had come to us. Despite those obstacles and some twenty who were killed. Some 150 people made it out of the fire many were rescued. Twenty people died on that frigid January 28 1978. Deputy chief Charlie Fischer who is now 81 years old was on the call that day. We've responded. Hundreds of times to impose tough and who normally a mattress fire. Her piece of furniture. Small room and found them. Nobody can envision. A fire this magnitude in hand. This year has never forgotten heroics of the firefighters. He says it was overshadowed by all the turmoil that surrounded fire department cuts then. Stanton a medal of honor Fisher says two men deserved they got a two paragraph letter to see him. Recognition that take some 150 people escape or were rescued from the fire. Fisher says he still thinks about it every time he drives past the building at tenth and Broadway. I see their building and in the images of that. People have to wonder is in the people waiting for help. And in forty years is along kind but had it just like it's indelibly printed in my mind. Legendary Kansas City reporter Dan Burbank was covering the fire he says it was a very difficult day for firefighters. Hampered by fire smoke and ice as people jump to their deaths. Number one job is to say life. And if they can't do that it's it's really hard on him while there was a terrible loss of life Fisher will never forget that many lives were saved. Even though twenty people died in a 150 were fade. And that the most important thing we've been able to effect that a real difference in our community thing. Hitting those people out of there. Not long after the coats house hotel fire on January 28 1978. The Kansas city fire department began assessing a number of needs that had to be met to prevent another tragedy like that deadly blaze. Charlie Fischer who is now 81 was a deputy chief then he says several changes were made. The much stricter enforcement of fire code. A lot more emphasis. Placed on fire prevention activity. More emphasis placed on firearms system. Public education. Fisher says buildings also would no longer have open stairwells which had been a factor in the spread of the coach how's fire. Ray elder who was a captain with Casey FT has been the department has story in the past twenty years. He says they saw other changes including the end of the eight hour shifts. Eight arsenal work with us we was able to go to a ten and fourteen. Share. That was sir help basically putting everybody. Packing into a first patient and you had won districts that you and working again. Eventually elder says they would move to 24 hour shifts and a greater emphasis was placed on training. Especially since there were hundreds of relatively new firefighters when the fire destroyed nearly half the 92 year old building many wanted to torn down. The once stately hotel host to several presidents became home to transients. Soon after the fire a concerted effort began to save the coach's house hotel. Bill brooding former vice president of historic Kansas City foundation chaired the task force to protect and preserve the building. You had a deteriorating downtown where property interest for interest in clearing out old buildings. Putting in park service parking for big sixteen down ten jobs. And on the other hand is is preservation movement that we just beginning in the country. Trying disabled buildings by the mid 1980s pruning says they would eventually have a buyer it was a long before other buildings in Kansas City were spared the wrecking ball I think it kick started historic his city I think it probably also kick started the preservation movement in Kansas City. Although. About that same time the folly theater was being restored so. Parts will Hyde Park people were moving in the richest. Almost a perfect storm of people begin to focus on our city's heritage pruning says the coach house hotel reservation led to other significant efforts. But for the saving of the coach house probably. The west side his city would look very different. Former Kansas city fire captain great elder as the department's historian in its heyday he says several presidents were guests of the coach house hotel. Coach house itself. This actually was two buildings Warner and was built right after the civil war then there was another add on or modification. In 1887. And that's sell side was part of an 1880 share in the coach Elson one of the finest hotels in Kansas City before the turn of the century. After the fire the historic Kansas City foundation stepped in using all their resources with help from the business community. Bill burning led the task force to say the 92 year old structure at tenth and Broadway. You cannot imagine that corner without the building but I think more importantly. With McCormack baron who bought it and rehab it. We saw fundamental shift in what happened on the west side of downtown we saw all of that. Lower scale red brick development. Townhouses smaller. Properties. The preservation of the warehouses along Broadway looking back brooding realizes how one building can turn Citi around. That by the coach house being preserved in standing. Becoming a viable economic entity again. It reinforced the fact that these old buildings downtown and a service that had real value. The section of the building that survived the fire is now home to the ball they'll apartments offices and apartments in the floors above. Jim coming in news any one KM BZ.