Senator Kennedy Honors 60 Years Since Cleveland Hill School Fire

March 31, 2014

Kennedy-sponsored resolution calls the New York State Senate to pause in reflection of the lives lost and changes made to prevent fires in schools locally and across the state.

Local tragedy, which claimed 15 lives, was the last time a child died in a school fire in New York State.

CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. – Senator Tim Kennedy memorialized 60 years since the Cleveland Hill School Fire in a resolution the New York State Senate adopted this week. This tragedy – which struck the Town of Cheektowaga on March 31, 1954 – claimed 15 young lives and shook the entire community. It spurred a nationwide conversation and led to important changes that have dramatically improved the safety of our schools. In the 60 years since the Cleveland Hill School Fire, no child has perished in a public school fire in New York State.

Senator Kennedy called the Senate’s attention to this tragic event to remember the lives lost, commemorate the heroic actions that saved hundreds of lives and reflect on the changes that have been made to make schools safer.

The Cleveland Hill Union Free School District held a remembrance ceremony March 29 at the Cleveland Hill High School Auditorium, which gathered close to 800 people. It was a moving ceremony that remembered the victims of the fire and honored the heroic actions that took place thate day.

Senator Kennedy delivered the following remarks from the Senate floor on his resolution remembering 60 years since the Cleveland Hill School Fire.

“Thank you Mr. President. I rise today to call this chamber to recognize a tragic event that occurred 60 years ago in the Town of Cheektowaga, the Cleveland Hill School Fire. The Cleveland Hill Union Free School District will hold a remembrance ceremony to honor the victims and heroes of this tragedy this weekend on Saturday, March 29.

“March 31, 2014 will mark 60 years since the Cleveland Hill School Fire which claimed the lives of fifteen sixth-grade children and injured 19 others. It was one of the worst school fires in New York State history, and resulted in a nationwide reflection of school building construction requirements.

“On March 31, 1954, an undetected fire burned through the walls and tore through the corridor of the wood-framed, one-story, eight-room annex of the Cleveland Hill School, causing panic among students and faculty.

“With the corridor impassible, courageous teachers immediately sprang into action, directing children to break through school windows with any items available nearby. The teachers then began to lift children out of the windows, allowing most to escape to safety. Sadly, some windows were either too small to fit through or simply would not open, creating a devastating situation for the sixth grade class of Mr. Thomas Griffin, who were attending music class with Mrs. Melba Seibold.

“Mrs. Seibold heroically saved 24 children from the fire, and in the process endured severe burns, suffered smoke inhalation, and broke several vertebrae while jumping out the window. Tragically, fifteen children were unable to escape and perished in the blaze. Among the children lost were; they were: Bruce Brand, Verna Bagley, Marlene Dupont, Michael Hause, Elizabeth Lies, John Mendofik, Blain Poss, Reba Smith, Patricia Steger, Barbara Watkins, Patricia Blendowski, Donald Kelleher, Marlene Miller, Suzanne Jors and George Hoffman.

”The heroic action of Mrs. Siebold, her colleagues and other students resulted in the survival of 1,650 students and 150 faculty members, while firefighters bravely rushed into the inferno with no regard for their own safety

“It was a tragic day in our history, but it ultimately led to important changes that have undoubtedly saved lives.

“In the aftermath of the Cleveland Hill School Fire, many changes were made to increase the safety of school buildings. There was a national movement away from wooden-framed school buildings, and today in New York State, regulations require rescue windows in classrooms to have a minimum 6-square-foot opening.

“Because of these changes and others, the Cleveland Hill School Fire was the last time a public school child died in a school fire in the State of New York. A clear sign that the necessary actions prompted by this tragic fire has helped keep our children safe in the decades since. Thank you.”


Senator Timothy M. Kennedy represents the New York State Senate’s 63rd District, which is comprised of the town of Cheektowaga, the city of Lackawanna and nearly all of the city of Buffalo. More information is available at