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The worst day in Tucson History

Never again.
Never again would Tucsonans witness the sickening sight of people jumping from eighth-floor windows to escape flames, only to be crushed on the pavement below.
Never again would a small child or an elderly person burn to death because firefighters didn't have the equipment to reach them.
Not one more death by fire in a high-rise building.
Tucsonans made a solemn pledge in the days following Dec. 20, 1970: The flames that ripped through the Pioneer International Hotel would be a lesson learned, a disaster never to be repeated.

And while some may find it hard to fathom, especially the loved ones of the dead, the catastrophe that killed 29 people ended up saving lives.
Firefighters and planning experts say the changes in building codes spurred by the single greatest loss of life in Tucson's history have prevented countless deaths over the years here and around the nation. Following the deliberately set fire, every Tucson building over 50 feet high -about four stories - was required to have sprinklers and smoke detectors.And open stairwells, which firefighters say acted like a chimney for thePioneer flames - were outlawed in new buildings."The cost of retrofitting existing buildings with sprinklers was enormous," said Capt. Joe Gulotta of the Tucson Fire Department. "But as we saw with the Pioneer Hotel fire, the cost of not having them was even greater."Downtown then was the hub for shopping and business activities in Tucson. People from all over Arizona and northern Mexico stayed at the Pioneer, atNorth Stone Avenue and Pennington Street, hoping to get a head start on gift gathering. Many of them were asleep, recovering from a long day of shopping at nearby department stores, when the fire broke out shortly after midnight Dec.20. In the hotel ballroom, 350 Hughes Aircraft Co. workers were celebrating
at the company's annual party. Then, at 12:19 a.m., emergency dispatchers took three calls: Fire at the Pioneer!
Veteran firefighters at first thought it was another of the many false alarms called in on the hotel. But when they saw the bright orange glow in the sky, they realized it was the real thing. As some hotel guests and employees tried to extinguish the fire, set in two places on the fourth floor, others began to panic. Guests trapped in their rooms began making ropes from sheets and hanging
them out the windows as fire ripped through the building, fueled by flammable carpeting and wallpaper and the hotel's Christmas decorations. As smoke began to seep into rooms and flames licked at doors, some guests made a fatal decision.
They threw mattresses out the windows, then jumped, hoping to use the bedding as landing pads. Many hit the pavement instead.
Others began climbing down their hastily made ropes. Some never knew they were about to die. Several people sleeping in rooms on the upper floors died of carbon monoxide poisoning. Hotel owner Harold Steinfeld and his wife, Margaret,
who lived in the 11th-floor penthouse, were found dead of smoke inhalation. Some of those who tried to escape through windows survived. Emil Bossard, 79, climbed outside his 11th-floor room and clung to the windowsill, trying to draw firefighters' attention. "He was hanging out the window, I mean, literally hanging out the window," his grandson, Bruce Bossard, said in a telephone interview from his home in Ohio.
"He was a pretty rugged individual, and I heard he had intestinal fortitude and he just hung on." As the sun rose Dec. 20, police and fire investigators began looking for the fire's cause.

Investigators determined the blaze was deliberately set, and police soon arrested 16-year-old Louis Cuen Taylor, accusing him of starting the fire as a diversion so he could steal from rooms and the Hughes party.
Taylor was convicted of 28 counts of first-degree murder in 1972 and sentenced to life in prison, where he remains today at a complex in Buckeye. The 29th victim died of her injuries from the fire nine months later, but Taylor was not charged in that death.
Taylor has always maintained his innocence. Newspaper accounts from the time described the Pioneer fire as a
"holocaust." "It made a tremendous change in the Fire Department as well as the community," said Tucson Fire Chief Fred Shipman. "It had an effect on communities all over the U.S." At the Fire Department's urging, the city adopted a uniform fire code in 1975, establishing the sprinkler and smoke detector requirements among other things.
Fire officials say every high-rise in Tucson now complies with the code, which includes requirements for non-flammable carpeting, as well as sprinklers and smoke detectors.
They say the code's provision for closed stairwells pays tribute to the Pioneer fire.
"There was an opening essentially from the bottom to the top. It was just like a chimney, a fireplace," Pioneer fire investigator Bill Martin said.
Immediately following the fire, the Tucson Fire Department was given permission to purchase the biggest ladder truck made at the time - 150 feet. The 100-foot ladders used in the Pioneer fire reached only to the eighth floor.
The Pioneer fire "depicted the need for an apparatus that could reach to the tallest floor of the buildings in the city. There were too many people wanting to be brought down, and we weren't able to reach that high," said Marshal Jim Grasham of the Northwest Fire District. Grasham, who fought the Pioneer fire as a member of the Tucson Fire Department, recalls the sudden burst of activity led by city officials to reform the outdated fire codes. "What occurred was the realization that we need to engineer a system into these buildings so we don't have this kind of catastrophe again. The Pioneer
was a springboard for the city," Grasham said. "Unfortunately, it takes a catastrophic event to get the code developers and
the politicians to recognize the need to build something as safely as you can build it." Black smoke scarred the sides of the Pioneer long after the fire was out, a symbol of the emotional scars left on the city's residents.
The ruined building also was a literal and figurative sign of the demise ofdowntown. The Pioneer had been the center of Tucson's social life, the place to see and be seen. The city's largest Kiwanis and Rotary clubs met there, and it was the hotel
of choice of visiting dignitaries and business people.
Everybody who was anybody in Tucson had lunch in the hotel's Tap Room at one time or another. Out-of-town shoppers flocked to the Pioneer because it was right across the street from Jacome's and Steinfeld's, Tucson's leading
department stores. Suddenly, it was gone.
In those days, downtown "was very vibrant. And the reason it was vibrant was there were no shopping malls," said former City Manager Joel Valdez, who recalls that cowboys as well as business types added to the hotel's guest mix.
Although the hotel fire itself did not kill downtown, Valdez and other city leaders agree it sped the process. "I don't think downtown Tucson was ever the same after the fire," said former Mayor Lew Murphy. "It took the community a long time to get over it."

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