Delaware County Medicine & Health Spring 2017 - 22

FEATURE

major
disasters
in delaware
county and
treatment
of mass
casualties
By: Harry V. Armitage, M.D.

There have been a number of events in the
history of Delaware County which can be
placed in the category of great disasters. One
of these was the Great Flood that occurred
in 1843 and was the cause of widespread
property damage and loss of life and there
was the 1877 launching accident at the Roach
Shipyard in which seven workmen were killed
and others injured. The collapse of the Third
Street Bridge in Chester in 1921, resulting in
the drowning of twenty-four people in the
Chester Creek, belongs in the list, and there
are others which could be included.
The magnitude of three disasters was such
that each of them tested the ability of the
community to respond to the critical demands
associated with the management of mass
casualties. These were: the Jackson Explosion
in 1882, the Eddystone Explosion in 1917, and
the Sun Oil Fire in 1946. The intervals that
separate these events allow a comparison of
evolving changes in emergency medical care in
three separate eras.

20 DELAWARE COUNTY MEDICINE & HEALTH

spring 2017

the jackson
explosion
The explosion at the Jackson Pyrotechnic Manufactory at the foot of Welsh Street in Chester occurred
on February 17, 1882. The building, at one time the
home of the Civil War hero, Admiral David D. Porter,
had been leased to Professor Jackson of Philadelphia
and was being used as a fireworks factory. During the
morning hours, a fire started in the attached kitchen
of the building and soon spread to the main structure.
Firemen had mounted ladders in attempting to control
the blaze, when a violent explosion tore large holes
in two walls of the building, hurling stones and other
debris in the direction of a crowd of spectators who
had approached the scene.
Bodies were tossed into the air, with some traveling as far as one hundred and forty feet. One young
lad, William Ward, Jr., a future mayor of Chester, was
thrown into the nearby Delaware River, where he was
saved from drowning by a fireman from the Hanley
Hose Co. Eight firemen died in the explosion; eleven
other persons were killed by projectile missiles, and an
additional fifty-seven were wounded, many by flying
stones which struck and penetrated their bodies. Some
carried embedded stones for the remainder of their
lives as mementos of the day that came to be known
as Black Friday.

no hospital in the
chester area
The nearest hospital was in Philadelphia, and the
wounded were treated in nearby houses, in drug stores,
and on the pavement as doctors set up emergency stations throughout the city. In a house at 2nd & Market
Streets, three seriously injured women were treated,
one for a broken leg, another for internal injuries, and
a third for an injury requiring amputation of a leg. In
another house, doctors removed bone fragments from
the shattered jaw of a man who refused anesthesia.
(One might speculate as to whether his decision was
based on stoicism or well justified fear). The drug
stores of the city were soon filled with the injured that
were treated by druggists (pharmacists) and doctors
alike. Druggist William Farley of 9th & Madison
Streets offered victims medicine and supplies free of
charge. The dead were taken to a morgue which was
established in City Hall.
At the time of the Jackson explosion kitchen-table
surgery was still common-place in areas of the country
where hospitals were beyond reasonable reach, and



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Delaware County Medicine & Health Spring 2017

Delaware County Medicine & Health Spring 2017 - 1
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http://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/delcomed/DelawareMedicalSocietyFall2019
http://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/delcomed/LivingwithLossfromAddiction
http://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/delcomed/DelcoMedicalSocietySummer2019
http://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/delcomed/DelawareCountyMedicalSocietySpring2019
http://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/delcomed/DelawareCountyMedicalSocietyWinter2019
http://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/delcomed/DelawareCountyMedicalSocietyFall2018
http://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/delcomed/DelawareCountyMedicalSocietySummer2018
http://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/delcomed/DelcoMedicalSocietySpring2018
http://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/delcomed/DelcoMedicalSociety
http://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/delcomed/DelawareCountyMedicalSocietyWinter2017
http://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/delcomed/DelawareCountyMedicalSocietyFall2017
http://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/delcomed/DelawareCountyMedicalSocietySpring2017A
http://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/delcomed/DelawareCountyMedicalSociety
http://www.nxtbookMEDIA.com