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Hotel Roosevelt fire

The Hotel Roosevelt fire, on December 29, 1963, was the worst fire Jacksonville, Florida had seen since the Great Fire of 1901, and it contributed to the worst one-day death toll in the city's history. Twenty-two people died, mostly from carbon monoxide poisoning.

The Hotel Roosevelt was, at the time, one of only two luxury hotels in the city's downtown, with many restaurants and businesses located on its ground floor, including a ballroom and a barber shop. At the year's end, the Hotel Roosevelt hosted hundreds of travelers who came to attend the Gator Bowl.

Timeline
The fire was said to be started after a cigarette was left unattended in the ground-floor ballroom after a Gator Bowl celebration[1], but was in reality started in the ballroom's ceiling; the old ceiling, which was deemed a fire hazard, was not removed when the new ceiling was installed, providing kindling for the fire, which started from faulty wires.[2]

The first calls to the Jacksonville Fire Department were made at 7:30 a.m. Smoke was traveling throughout the 13-story building, and hotel visitors climbed out of the smoky building with the help of other patrons and bedsheets tied together. Mayor W. Haydon Burns immediately called for assistance from the U.S. Navy, and eight helicopters were flown to downtown from Cecil Field and NAS Jacksonville. The airmen helped the patrons out of the building, and transported them to a nearby parking lot, where ambulances were already waiting.

The fire was extinguished by 9:30 a.m., and it was estimated that nearly 475 people were saved from the burning building. After a day of recovering the dead, firefighters found 21 residents dead in their beds from smoke inhalation. In addition, assistant chief J.R. Romedy collapsed of a heart attack during the initial rescue efforts, and died at the scene

Aftermath and remembrance
Property damage to the Hotel Roosevelt was immense, and the hotel was closed in 1964, with most of the hotel's businesses and staff relocating to the equally upscale Hotel George Washington. After much renovation, the building was re-opened as a retirement home, the Jacksonville Regency House, which closed in 1989.

The former Hotel Roosevelt, located on Adams Street in downtown, is still standing. The building was placed in the National Register of Historic Places in February 1991. Memorials are still held to remember those who died in the fire (the most recent gathering occurred in December 2003 for the 40th anniversary of the blaze).

Additional information;

By 7:45am, the hotel's doorman called the fire department to report a fire on the first floor. The fire department immediately responded with three fire engines, two ladder trucks, a Fire Chief and two assistant Chiefs. Not one fire fighter, rookie or veteran would ever forget what they saw as they drove up to the hotel.

"When I got there that morning there was bed sheets hanging out, people hanging off the bed sheets, people holding hands lowering each other from floor to floor." Fire Chief Miles Bowers was already a veteran in 1963 but that was the worst human loss he's seen to date. "I remember it very vividly. It's something that is etched in my mind and it will be there forever."

Within 45 minutes of firefighters arriving, then Mayor Haydon Burns called the U.S. Navy for help. The Navy responded with eight helicopters from Mayport, Cecil Field and NAS Jacksonville. Guests were lifted from outstretched ladders on the roof to a nearby city parking lot to waiting ambulances.

As firefighters went to each hotel room, they kicked in doors giving mouth to mouth too many who were unconscious while still in their beds. During the rescue of one of their own, Assistant Chief J.R. Romedy collapsed of a heart attack in front of a door. Firefighters lined up to continue CPR until a doctor arrived and performed an emergency tracheotomy on the site. But that wouldn't be enough to save Romedy's life.

"It was an awful lot to take in for a young fella." Captain Rob Sorensen was just three years on the job when he responded to the Roosevelt Hotel Fire. He was next in line to give mouth to mouth to Asst. Chief Romedy when the doctor declared him dead.

Sorensen would eventually become the official videographer for Jacksonville Fire and Rescue. He says in all the years he's both put out fire and shot video of them, the Roosevelt remains the worst tragedy he's ever witnessed. "I know that I look back at the pictures and the video I have, it just instantly brings me back to that day. To that tragic event."

By 9:30am, the flames were out, rescue attempts continued but the grim job of recovering the dead had begun. More than 475 people were saved that cold December morning.

100 people including 20 firefighters were treated for injuries, most of them for smoke inhalation. Firefighters believe the fire started from a smoldering cigarette left in a first floor ballroom after a Gator Bowl celebration.

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