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Jim Kershner’s this day in history

Fri., Aug. 24, 2012

From our archives, 100 years ago

A brave railroad fireman saved the lives of his conductor, engineer and eight other men in a thrilling rescue at the Stampede Pass tunnel on the Northern Pacific line in the Cascades.

An air hose on the freight train broke in the middle of the tunnel, causing the train to stall. The conductor and brakeman jumped down and hastened to the broken hose in the middle of the train. Yet the tunnel had already filled with deadly fumes. The conductor reeled and fell, unconscious. The brakeman, in bad shape as well, staggered back to the helper engine on the back of the train.

The helper engine’s fireman, Jack Denise, ran 25 car lengths to the conductor’s prone form, but Denise was so weak he couldn’t lift the conductor’s body. He made it back to the helper engine, only to find his engineer unconscious. Denise detached the helper engine from the train and backed it up to the tunnel entrance.

There he enlisted a crew of Italian section hands, who risked their own lives in helping Denise bring the conductor out on a handcar. Then Denise and the Italian crew went back into the tunnel and made their way to the head engine, where they found more unconscious men. Denise detached the head engine from the train and raced it to the other end of the tunnel.

In all, 11 men, including Denise, were recovering in a Tacoma hospital.

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