Doctors Memorial (Eitel) Hospital Fire, December 23, 1956 (Photo courtesy Minnesota Historical Society)
At 3 a.m. on December 23rd, 1956 “a gaily decorated Christmas tree ‘exploded’ at Doctors Memorial Hospital…setting off a flash fire that left [eight] dead. The fire lasted only 10 minutes…”- Minneapolis Tribune, December 24, 1956
There would have been more casualties if it hadn’t been for heroic staff such as the nurses on duty at the nursery, Cecilia Janick and Barbara Brassil. The nurses put water soaked diapers on the faces of babies and closed the nursery door and opened the windows to keep fresh air in the room until firefighters could arrive. The nurses and firefighters carried the babies out of the hospital and across the street to an apartment and put them on a bed.
Other city hospitals were banned from having lit trees the rest of that Christmas season. They were also asked to take the trees down as soon as possible after Christmas. University Hospital had over 80 trees that season while St. Mary’s had none.
The Minneapolis fire chief later attributed the seven deaths due to asphyxiation to be caused by open fire doors within the hospital. One death was an incubator baby, 13 day old son of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Rassmussen, who died after he had to be moved from the incubator due to the fire.
"Other nurses on duty at the time of the fire, all of whom were praised highly by police and firemen, were: Mrs. Rose Carlson, 2304 Butler Place, relief night supervisor; Mrs. Beatrice Visger, 102 E. Nineteenth Street; Mrs. Lorraine Loomis, 6677 Olson Memorial Highway; Mrs. Helen Condry, 32 Spruce Place; and Shirley Gardner, 1365 Willow Street." - Minneapolis Star, December 24, 1956