Nearly 30 years later, investigators are still trying to find the arsonist who set the fire that ended tragically.
The Columbus Division of Fire dedicated a new Station No. 2 this afternoon at the corner of Fourth and Fulton streets. The John Nance Station was named after a former Columbus firefighter who was killed in the line of duty nearly 30 years ago.
Nance died when he fell through the first floor of the burning Mithoff Building at 151 N. High St. on July 25, 1987. A number of rescue attempts were made to pull Nance through the hole to the basement, each failing for a variety of frustrating reasons, as he continued to communicate his plight to his peers above. Ultimately, he informed them that he was out of oxygen just as the situation grew too dangerous to attempt any more rescues. He died less than a year before his scheduled retirement.
The final blow, however, came later, when it was determined the fire that killed John Nance had been intentionally set. An arsonist had found his way to the basement of the building, which served as storage for Russell’s Tall Girls Shoes above. The arsonist covered the boxes and papers in the basement space with accelerant and lit it before escaping into the night. The case has never been solved, and the arsonist who killed Nance has never had to answer for his crime, much to the great dismay of Columbus firefighters, who have been working the case ever since.
“The Murder of John Nance” is a wrenching cover story that appeared just months later, in our December 1987 issue, detailing almost moment by moment the tragic events of that summer night. Over the years that followed, that story became one of our most requested issues ever, as fire stations around the country called to request it for use in training. In fact, firefighters nationwide are now trained in what’s called the Nance Drill, a rope rescue for scenarios in which a firefighter has fallen through a floor.
The new, $8.9 million, 22,200-square-foot German Village-area station honors John Nance’s memory. Anyone with information about the 1987 Mithoff Building fire should call the arson squad at 614-645-3011 or the Columbus police cold case squad at 614-645-4036.