Cleveland Clinic fire of 1929

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Cleveland Clinic fire of 1929
Original Clinic Building c1921.jpg
DateMay 15, 1929 (1929-05-15)
Time11:30 AM
Location Cleveland Clinic
Coordinates Coordinates: 41°30′11″N81°37′19″W / 41.503146°N 81.621946°W / 41.503146; -81.621946
Non-fatal injuries92
Property damageUS$50,000 (US$683,850 in 2013 dollars)

The Cleveland Clinic fire was a major structure fire at Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio on May 15, 1929. It started in the basement of the hospital and it was caused by nitrocellulose x-ray film that ignited when an exposed light bulb was too close to the film. [1] The fire generated poisonous gas and two separate explosions. The fire claimed 123 lives, including that of one of the clinic's founders, Dr. John Phillips. [2] [3] Policeman Ernest Staab was killed by the gas while rescuing 21 victims. [2]

Structure fire fire involving the structural components of a building

A structure fire is a fire involving the structural components of various types of residential, commercial or industrial buildings, such as barn fires. Residential buildings range from single-family detached homes and townhouses to apartments and tower blocks, or various commercial buildings ranging from offices to shopping malls. This is in contrast to "room and contents" fires, chimney fires, vehicle fires, wildfires or other outdoor fires.

Cleveland Clinic Hospital in Ohio, United States

The Cleveland Clinic is an American academic medical center based in Cleveland, Ohio. Owned and operated by the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, an Ohio nonprofit corporation established in 1921, it runs a 170-acre campus in Cleveland, as well as 10 regional hospitals and 19 family health centers in north-east Ohio, and hospitals in Florida and Nevada. Tomislav Mihaljevic is the president and CEO.

Nitrocellulose polymer

Nitrocellulose is a highly flammable compound formed by nitrating cellulose through exposure to nitric acid or another powerful nitrating agent. When used as a propellant or low-order explosive, it was originally known as guncotton.



The x-ray file room after the fire Xray file room after disaster 1929 A6159.jpg
The x-ray file room after the fire

The Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit Ohio corporation, founded in 1921 by four physicians. Late in the morning of May 15, 1929, an exposed light bulb too close to some nitrocellulose x-ray film ignited the film. The burning nitrocellulose film quickly produced a significant amount of poisonous gas, causing victims to suffocate, the faces of the victims turning yellowish brown within minutes. [2] Further complicating fire-fighting, nitrocellulose continues to burn even while immersed in water, and fighting the film-fueled fire simply caused more poisonous smoke to accumulate, raising the death toll. [4]

A first explosion came at a few seconds past 11:30 am; a clock on the third floor balcony stopped at that time. After the hollow center of the building was filled with poisonous gas, a second explosion shattered the skylight and sent the vapors into every corner of the clinic. Many of the building occupants succumbed to the poisons. [2]


Despite the heavy loss of life, firemen estimated the property damage at only $50,000 ($683,850 in 2013 dollars). [5]

According to investigators, the clinic was not at fault for the fire. Nonetheless, the disaster was responsible for influencing significant changes to fire-fighting techniques. The city of Cleveland issued gas masks to its fire departments and proposed a city ambulance service. [1] Nationally, the disaster prompted medical facilities to establish standards for the storage of nitrocellulose film and other hazardous materials. [1]

Some historians have argued that the Cleveland Clinic fire was also a catalyst for the development of non-flammable, non-toxic chlorofluorocarbon refrigerants. Nevertheless, most of the deaths were from breathing highly toxic carbon monoxide and nitric oxide rather than methyl chloride itself, and even at the time of the disaster chemical companies were aware of the hazards of existing refrigerants. [6]

Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are fully halogenated paraffin hydrocarbons that contain only carbon (C), chlorine (Cl), and fluorine (F), produced as volatile derivative of methane, ethane, and propane. They are also commonly known by the DuPont brand name Freon. The most common representative is dichlorodifluoromethane. Many CFCs have been widely used as refrigerants, propellants, and solvents. Because CFCs contribute to ozone depletion in the upper atmosphere, the manufacture of such compounds has been phased out under the Montreal Protocol, and they are being replaced with other products such as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and R-134a.

Carbon monoxide chemical compound

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless flammable gas that is slightly less dense than air. It is toxic to animals that use hemoglobin as an oxygen carrier when encountered in concentrations above about 35 ppm, although it is also produced in normal animal metabolism in low quantities, and is thought to have some normal biological functions. In the atmosphere, it is spatially variable and short lived, having a role in the formation of ground-level ozone.

Nitric oxide chemical compound

Nitric oxide is a colorless gas with the formula NO. It is one of the principal oxides of nitrogen. Nitric oxide is a free radical, i.e., it has an unpaired electron, which is sometimes denoted by a dot in its chemical formula, i.e., ·NO. Nitric oxide is also a heteronuclear diatomic molecule, a historic class that drew researches which spawned early modern theories of chemical bonding.

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An inert gas is a gas which does not undergo chemical reactions under a set of given conditions. The noble gases often do not react with many substances, and were historically referred to as the inert gases. Inert gases are used generally to avoid unwanted chemical reactions degrading a sample. These undesirable chemical reactions are often oxidation and hydrolysis reactions with the oxygen and moisture in air. The term inert gas is context-dependent because several of the noble gases can be made to react under certain conditions.

Firedamp is flammable gas found in coal mines. It is the name given to a number of flammable gases, especially methane. It is particularly found in areas where the coal is bituminous. The gas accumulates in pockets in the coal and adjacent strata, and when they are penetrated, the release can trigger explosions. Historically, if such a pocket was highly pressurized, it was termed a "bag of foulness".

Boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion

A boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion is an explosion caused by the rupture of a vessel containing a pressurized liquid that has reached temperatures above its boiling point.

Cleveland East Ohio Gas explosion

The Cleveland East Ohio Gas Explosion occurred on the afternoon of Friday, October 20, 1944. The resulting gas leak, explosion and fires killed 130 people and destroyed a one square mile area on Cleveland, Ohio's east side.

A gas explosion is an explosion resulting from mixing a gas, typically from a gas leak, with air in the presence of an ignition source. In household accidents, the principal explosive gases are those used for heating or cooking purposes such as natural gas, methane, propane, butane. In industrial explosions many other gases, like hydrogen, as well as evaporated (gaseous) gasoline /petrol or ethanol play an important role. Industrial gas explosions can be prevented with the use of intrinsic safety barriers to prevent ignition.

PEPCON disaster

On May 4, 1988, a conflagration followed by several explosions occurred at the Pacific Engineering and Production Company of Nevada (PEPCON) chemical plant in Henderson, Nevada. The disaster caused two fatalities, 372 injured, and an estimated US$100 million of damage. A large portion of the Las Vegas Valley within a 10-mile (16 km) radius of the plant was affected, and several agencies activated disaster plans.

Collinwood school fire Conflagration

The Collinwood school fire erupted on March 4, 1908, killing 172 students, two teachers and one rescuer in one of the deadliest school disasters in United States history.

Senghenydd colliery disaster

The Senghenydd colliery disaster, also known as the Senghenydd explosion, occurred at the Universal Colliery in Senghenydd, near Caerphilly, Glamorgan, Wales, on 14 October 1913. The explosion, which killed 439 miners and a rescuer, is still the worst mining accident in the United Kingdom. Universal Colliery, located on the South Wales Coalfield, produced steam coal which was much in demand. Some of the region's coal seams contained high quantities of firedamp, a highly explosive gas consisting of methane and hydrogen, and were prone to explosions.

Mine rescue

Mine rescue or mines rescue is the specialised job of rescuing miners and others who have become trapped or injured in underground mines because of mining accidents, roof falls or floods and disasters such as explosions caused by firedamp.

2,3,3,3-Tetrafluoropropene chemical compound

2,3,3,3-Tetrafluoropropene, HFO-1234yf, is a hydrofluoroolefin (HFO) with the formula CH2=CFCF3. It is also designated R-1234yf as the first of a new class of refrigerants: it is marketed under the name Opteon YF by Chemours and as Solstice YF by Honeywell.

Benjamin Franklin Hanser Jones was a professional football player during the early years of the National Football League (NFL). Jones won an NFL championship with the Canton Bulldogs in 1923, one with the Cleveland Bulldogs in 1924, and another with the Frankford Yellow Jackets in 1926. He finished his career with the Chicago Cardinals in 1928. Jones died on May 17, 1929 at the age of 30. The cause of death was due to gas inhalation after he was exposed to an explosion at a clinic, located in Cleveland, Ohio, on May 15, 1929.

The Eccles mine disaster was an explosion of coal-seam methane that took place on April 28, 1914, in Eccles, West Virginia. The explosion took the lives of at least 180 men and boys.

The Kingman explosion, also known as the Doxol disaster or Kingman BLEVE, was a catastrophic boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion (BLEVE) that occurred on July 5, 1973, in Kingman, Arizona.

Lundhill Colliery explosion

The Lundhill Colliery explosion was a coal mining accident which took place on 19 February 1857 in Wombwell, Yorkshire, UK in which 189 men and boys aged between 10 and 59 died. It is one of the biggest industrial disasters in the country's history and it was caused by a firedamp explosion. It was the first disaster to appear on the front page of the London Illustrated Times.

History of Cleveland Clinic

Cleveland Clinic was established in 1921 as a hospital in Cleveland, in the U.S. state of Ohio.


  1. 1 2 3 "Cleveland Clinic Fire" . Retrieved 2009-06-16.
  2. 1 2 3 4 "Cleveland, OH Clinic Explosion and Fire, May 1929" . Retrieved 2009-06-16.
  3. "Encyclopedia of Cleveland History: Cleveland Clinic Disaster" . Retrieved 2011-05-07.
  4. Health and Safety Executive leaflet/cellulose.pdf
  5. BLS Inflation Calculator
  6. Giunta, Carmen Lee; 'Thomas Midgley Jr. and the Invention of Cholorofluocarbon refrigerants: It Ain't Necessarily So'; Bulletin of Historical Chemistry; volume 31, Number 2 (2006); pp. 66-74