Victims Of Jacksonville Hotel Fire Remembered
Forty years ago, 22 people lost their lives when one of Jacksonville’s (Florida) most lavish hotels went up in flames. Though the Roosevelt Hotel is still standing, those who didn’t survive the fire were remembered Monday.
One person in particular — a firefighter — was honored for sacrificing his own life to help others.
That victim’s relative, Carwyn Romedy (pictured, right), remembered watching the event unfold on the morning of Dec. 29, 1963 — not realizing that her husband’s first cousin was in the burning hotel.
‘My husband and I sat in our bedroom and watched it on television as it was occurring’, said Romedy. The family wouldn’t find out until later that one of the fire’s victims was a family member.
Chief Miles Bowers (pictured, left) also remembered that day well. He was one of the firefighters sent in to help. ‘When I got here that morning, people were hanging out with bed sheets tied together and hanging down the side’, said Bowers. ‘You can imagine seeing bed sheets out the window and someone hanging on the end of it with nowhere to go. And you look up there … and in a little while they get tired and turn it a loose and down they come.’
The fire started in the mezzanine area, where a big dance had taken place the night before. Firefighters put the blaze out fast, but that was just the beginning of their problems. ‘The smoke and the fumes had gone all up in the building and filled up all the hallways and the individual rooms’, explained Bowers.
Several decades ago, the Roosevelt was the place to be. The morning it caught fire, Miss America and the University of Florida basketball team were guests at the hotel. Though they were able to get out safely, 22 others were not as lucky.
Romedy was presented with an American flag at the ceremony to honor her husband’s first cousin, James Riley Romedy, who was an assistant chief with the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department. He died inside the hotel when he suffered a heart attack while trying to help others escape.
‘He was a great man and we all loved him’, said Bowers. ‘You know it was sad for everyone. … 22 people perished here and that’s terrible. But when it’s one of your own, it hits home.’
The Roosevelt Hotel is currently being converted into apartments. The project should be finished by January 2005.