OH OH - John Nance, 51, Columbus, 25 July 1987

Discussion in 'Cold Cases' started by nerosleuth, Jul 30, 2017.

  1. nerosleuth

    nerosleuth Active Member

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    At 8:00 a.m. on the morning of Saturday July 25, 1987, Columbus firefighter John W. Nance began his 24 hour tour of duty at Station 2 located on the southern edge of Downtown Columbus at Fulton and Fourth Streets.

    Firefighter John W. Nance was 51 years old and he was a firefighter with the Columbus Fire Department for more than 27 years. He was planning to retire from Columbus Fire in early 1988.

    Firefighter John W. Nance was assigned to Engine 3 where not only he was the house cook for Station 2; he also was the acting lieutenant on Engine 3.

    During the day, the fire crew members of Engine 3 performed their daily routine of polishing their fire engines, cleaning up the station house, checking on a couple of fire hydrants, and responding to fire and medic runs.

    Later that evening at Station 2, the temperature was in the 80s on a hot and muggy summer night. It was also pizza night at Station 2 where the firefighters ordered pizza, giving Nance a break from his cooking duties that evening.

    Nance and a few other firefighters had finished playing volleyball behind the station house when their pizzas arrived at the station house around 9:30 p.m. that evening.

    At 10:10 p.m., just as the firefighters were finishing their pizza dinner, the high pitched alarm tone suddenly blared inside Station 2.

    Fire crews from Station 1 on the northern edge of Downtown Columbus on North Fourth Street, and fire crews from Station 2 were dispatched to a report of a fire at the Mithoff Building, which was located at 151 North High Street between Long Street and Spring Street in Downtown Columbus.

    Fire crews from Station 1 were the first units to arrive on the scene and took up positions in front of the Mithoff Building on North High Street.

    Then shortly afterwards the fire crews from Station 2 arrived and took up positions in the rear of the Mithoff Building on Wall Alley.

    Firefighters arriving at the scene saw dense heavy smoke coming out of the front and the rear of the Mithoff Building. The dense heavy smoke was close to the sidewalk level, which indicated that there was a basement fire inside the building.

    The Mithoff Building on North High Street in Downtown Columbus was an old four story building that was built sometime during the late 1800’s or early 1900’s.

    At the time of the fire, less than half of the space at the Mithoff Building had been occupied.

    The first floor of the Mithoff Building was occupied by a flower shop, a shoe shop, and the Central Ohio Transit Authority customer service office. The upper floors were occupied by several businesses and public interest organizations.

    Acting Lieutenant John W. Nance and his Engine 3 crew, along with other fire crew members from Station 2, entered the first floor in the rear of the Mithoff Building.

    After entering the first floor in the rear of the Mithoff Building, not only did the fire crews encountered poor visibility from the heavy dense smoke, they also felt excessive heat coming up from the floor, which indicated that the fire was underneath them. The fire crews also looked for but couldn’t find an entrance into the basement.

    The firefighters that were inside the front and the rear of the Mithoff Building had thought that the heat they felt on the first floor was coming from the same basement inside the Mithoff Building.

    But the firefighters inside the building didn’t realize that the Mithoff Building actually had two very deep basements that were separated by partitions and hallways.

    Many of the firefighters in the rear of the Mithoff Building were becoming exhausted from the heat and were running out of air from their air bottles. Numerous firefighters, including Nance and his Engine 3 crew, left the building to change their air bottles and be hosed down with water.

    After exchanging their air bottles and being hosed down with water, Nance and his Engine 3 crew reentered the Mithoff Building a second time. They soon realized that a power saw was needed to cut holes through the floor so water could reach the fire that was below them. Nance then sent a firefighter outside the building to get a power saw.

    While the firefighter from Nance’s Engine 3 crew was getting a power saw, Nance was searching for a place to cut a hole in the floor when he suddenly fell into the deep basement through a hole that had been burned into the floor by the fire.

    The hole that Nance fell through into the deep basement was about 70 feet from the rear entrance of the Mithoff Building.

    Then after Nance had fallen into the basement, another acting lieutenant from Engine 10 who was on the first floor in the front of the building had found a door that connected into the rear of the building on the first floor.

    The acting lieutenant from Engine 10 went through the door on the first floor and he suddenly fell into the same hole that acting lieutenant John W. Nance had fallen through.

    As the acting lieutenant from Engine 10 was pulling himself up from the hole, he also heard acting lieutenant John W. Nance screaming for help.

    But the Engine 10 acting lieutenant couldn’t see Nance at all in the deep basement. He could only see thick dense smoke and a bright orange glow in the deep basement.

    The Engine 10 acting lieutenant franticly sent a firefighter down call three times over the radio to the command post that a fellow firefighter was down and trapped after falling into the basement.

    Firefighters on the scene rushed into the rear of the Mithoff Building and launched several desperate rescue attempts to free Nance.

    Even though the firefighters were able to communicate with Nance, the smoke and fire inside the building was getting worse each passing minute during the rescue attempts.

    Then the alarm bell started ringing on Nance’s air bottle. After two minutes, the alarm bell stopped ringing after running out of air in Nance’s air bottle.

    It wasn’t long before Nance had passed out unconscious in the deep basement due to lack of oxygen, and from the smoke and carbon monoxide in the fire.

    As the rescue attempts to free Nance were in progress inside the building, the smoke and fire conditions got dramatically worse outside the building. Flames were clearly visible on the upper floors of the Mithoff Building.

    The fire chiefs at the scene of the Mithoff Building fire then issued an immediate evacuation order to all firefighters inside the building.

    After all of the firefighters were evacuated from the building except for acting lieutenant John W. Nance, suddenly the entire Mithoff Building was completely engulfed in flames.

    It took Columbus firefighters several hours to contain the raging inferno that burned overnight inside the Mithoff Building.

    Nance’s body was recovered from the rubble in the basement of the Mithoff Building shortly after noon on Sunday July 26, 1987.

    An unused air bottle that firefighters had lowered into the basement during their desperate rescue attempts was found next to Nance’s body.

    High levels of carbon monoxide were found in Nance’s bloodstream after an autopsy.

    The Franklin County coroner discovered that the carbon monoxide level in Nance’s bloodstream was 64.7 percent. A carbon monoxide level of 6 percent is enough to cause death.

    The coroner also said that asphyxiation was the cause of Nance’s death.

    It wasn’t long before investigators were able to determine the exact cause of the Mithoff Building fire.

    The completely gutted Mithoff Building was torched by an arsonist and the death of Columbus Fire acting lieutenant John W. Nance was declared to be a homicide.

    The Mithoff Building was razed a few days later.

    The case remains unsolved to this day as no one has ever been arrested in connection with the arson of the Mithoff Building and for the murder of Columbus Fire acting lieutenant John W. Nance.



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  3. nerosleuth

    nerosleuth Active Member

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    Here is the link to a local magazine article that originally was published in the December 1987 issue of Columbus Monthly.

    The magazine article covers in great detail about the Mithoff Building fire and the death of Columbus Fire Acting Lieutenant John W. Nance.


    The Murder of John Nance


    Here are two Columbus newspaper articles that were written on two different anniversaries of the Mithoff Building fire.

    The first newspaper article was written in 2012 on the 25th anniversary of the Mithoff Building fire.

    Pain of that ‘terrible night’ remains for firefighters

    On the night of July 25, 1987, Columbus Fire Acting Lieutenant John Nance perished during a three alarm fire in the Mithoff Building at 149-155 North High Street.

    The fire was later ruled arson, making Nance’s death one of the city’s unsolved homicides.

    The fact that the case remains open frustrates firefighters and police alike.

    Not only did the Mithoff Building fire have the makings of a professional arson job, investigators suspect that the fire was likely set for insurance money.

    Only a few of the firefighters that worked with Nance on the night of the Mithoff Building fire still remain with Columbus Fire.

    Nance’s name is known to every recruit coming through the Columbus Fire Academy.

    Recruits are schooled on what is known as the “Nance drill” or the “Nance maneuver,” a method of rescuing firefighters who have fallen through floors and may be unable to save themselves due to injury or disorientation.

    The Nance drill is now taught in fire departments all across the United States.



    The second newspaper article was written in 2017 on the 30th anniversary of the Mithoff Building fire.

    Anger simmers 30 years after death of firefighter in Downtown arson

    Acting Lt. John Nance died on July 25, 1987, while battling a three-alarm fire in the Mithoff Building at 149-155 North High Street.

    The blaze gutted the building, and the remaining walls and facade were torn down in the days after.

    Investigators say that not only was the fire a professional arson job, they also believe more than one folks were involved.

    Even though there were persons of interest in this unsolved case, investigators lacked sufficient evidence to charge anyone in connection with the Mithoff Building Fire.

    Anyone with information regarding the Mithoff Building fire that killed Columbus Fire Acting Lieutenant John Nance should call the

    Columbus Fire arson squad at 614-645-3011 or the

    Columbus Police cold case squad at 614-645-4036.



    Here are some recent Columbus news media articles about the new fire station in Downtown Columbus that was dedicated in honor of fallen firefighter John Nance.

    The new Columbus Fire Station 2 was rebuilt at the same location in Downtown Columbus where Nance was assigned at the original Columbus Fire Station 2.

    Columbus Fire Station 2 has always been the busiest fire station in Downtown Columbus.

    Not only does it serve Downtown Columbus, it’s also located next to the Interstate 70 & 71 freeway and it responds to many freeway incidents in the Downtown Columbus area.


    Columbus Fire Station dedicated to firefighter who died 30 years ago.



    [/B]New CFD fire station named for fallen firefighter John Nance[/B]



    New fire station pays respect to John Nance



    Family members of late firefighter speak at dedication of new fire Station 2.



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