Focus on History: Heroes helped Northville family survive 1940 fire

By Bob Cudmore

A fire that broke out Wednesday, Oct. 2, 1940, in a first floor apartment on Second Street in Northville almost took the lives of the five children of the Rhodes family who were living there.

The oldest was Shirley, born in 1930. She told her mother smoke was coming from one of the bedrooms as she was getting her brothers and sisters up at 8 a.m.

Their mother, Esther Rose, got all but one of the children out of the burning building including Shirley, Earl, John and Mary Ann. Three-year old Jimmy was missing.

Esther suffered smoke inhalation. That morning, Esther’s husband Arnold was working for the Civilian Conservation Corps in Speculator.

When firefighters arrived, Chief Loren E. Crannell was told of the missing child. Chief Crannell put on a smoke mask and ran into the burning building where he found Jimmy, who had buried himself in his blanket, rolled out of bed and was up against a wall.

Chief Crannell grabbed another blanket, which he pulled over their heads. He crawled out of the building carrying Jimmy. Jimmy suffered smoke inhalation and shock.

Chief Crannell had cuts and bruises and the smoke bothered his throat the rest of his life.

Mary Ann Rhodes Johnson, the youngest member of the family, provided information for this story, “Fire Chief Crannell is truly a hero and the Rhodes family was forever grateful to him.”

Years later Jack Sands, Shirley’s husband, purchased a memorial brick with “Fire Chief Loren Crannell Northville NY” engraved on it. The brick was placed in the Brick Memorial Park at the Firemen’s Museum in Hudson, N.Y.

The story of the fire was told in the Northville Northampton Historical Society News Letter. Gail Cramer, the editor, wrote, “I’m proud to say that Fire Chief Loren Crannell was my father.”

The fire may have started from wiring in a bedroom wall. The alarm was turned in by meat market owner Frank Langr whose store adjoined the Rhodes apartment. After the fire, he provided groceries and other support.

Living upstairs were Mr. and Mrs. Leon Horton, who made it out of the building safely but lost their belongings.

The headline in the Gloversville newspaper stated, “Mother Saves Four, Fire Chief 5th Child From Burning Northville Home.”

After the fire, Jimmy stayed with his grandmother Alida Canfield. His Aunt Rachel Mills was a nurse and lived next door. The rest of the family stayed with Bertha and Clarence Resseguie, their aunt and uncle.

After the fire, Esther and Arnold had two more children, Carol and Joan.

The family then lived in a house on Mechanic Street owned by Arch Dunham until the house was sold in the 1960s.

Others who helped the family included Oscar Chamberlin and his wife who owned a grocery store. Dan and Emily Weaver provided transportation in their car.

The family moved back to Second Street eventually. Arnold had a big garden and the children helped. After the war, Arnold worked at Mohawk Carpet Mills in Amsterdam. He died in 1965. Esther died in 1978. Mary Ann and Joan are the only Rhodes children alive today.

Jimmy Rhodes served in the U.S. Army then worked at General Electric in Schenectady. He died in 2019 from a heart attack.

His sister Mary Ann Rhodes Johnson said Jimmy had his first heart attack at GE. “He was working on top of a generator when it happened and they had to get a crane to get him down so they could get him to the hospital. (Sounds like he just liked to make things difficult when it came to saving his life.)”

Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact him at 518-346-6657 or [email protected]

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