From the Editor: Nance story still resonates

Eric Lyttle
Columbus Monthly

The Columbus Division of Fire dedicated its new German Village-area Station No. 2 to a fallen firefighter on June 28. John Nance died on July 25, 1987, after he fell through the floor of the burning Mithoff Building at 151 N. High St. Fellow firefighters worked frantically to rescue him from the burning basement below, but ultimately, time ran out.

The following December, then-Columbus Monthly staff writer Mike Norman's riveting, gut-wrenching account of that tragic night appeared as our cover story. In the months, and then years, that followed, requests for that story continued to come in from fire stations across the country. But until I called Columbus fire battalion chief Steve Martin about the new station dedication, I didn't know the whole story behind those requests.

Martin told me about a retired New York City firefighter named John Norman, a hero of 9/11 as the search and rescue manager for the World Trade Center site. Twenty years before the terrorist attack, Norman authored a book titled “Fire Officer's Handbook of Tactics.” Now in its fourth printing, the book has become a bible for firefighters everywhere. In it is something called the John Nance Drill.

A Columbus firefighter sent John Norman a copy of our story. “As I read it, I could immediately picture myself there,” the former New York City firefighter told me recently. “To think that they were that close. You have a situation where you think you're going to rescue a fellow firefighter, and then things start to go wrong and it doesn't happen. Oh God. Just to think of it still chills me to the bone.”

Norman says he passed his copy of the story around to his men and said, “What would we do? Let's figure this out.” They worked days at a time inside vacant buildings in Brooklyn trying to recreate the Mithoff Building situation based on the details in our story. Ultimately, they came up with a rope rescue using a modified handcuff knot that can be tied easily and quickly and then tightened around a downed victim's ankles or wrists to be pulled to safety. They called it the Nance Drill.

The Nance Drill was incorporated into the second edition of Norman's “Tactics” book, as well as a program called “Saving Our Own,” that has been taught to thousands of firefighters everywhere. The Nance Drill, Norman says, has saved hundreds of lives. “Give the author my thanks,” he continues. “He got it so right. And because of that, he, too, is responsible for saving hundreds of firefighters' lives.”

To read more about this story, including author Mike Norman's response, visit

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Columbus Monthly was recently named “Best Magazine in Ohio” by the Society of Professional Journalists. Additionally, senior editor Dave Ghose placed second for “Best Political Reporting” among print publications with under 75,000 circulation for a three-story entry that included “Rating the Legislators,” “The Accidental Candidate” and “The Battle for the Prosecutor's Office.”

Associate editor Chris Gaitten placed second in “Best Minority Issues Reporting” for his story, “The Second Shangri-La,” about local immigrants who have found entrepreneurial success in Columbus.

What we learned this month

1. The governor of Ohio is the 187th highest-paid state employee, making about $148,000 annually.

2. A person's limb must respond to a brain signal within eight-tenths of a second or the brain won't recognize it as part of the person's body.

3. A local Tupperware-selling drag queen was on Frasier as a David Hyde Pierce look-alike.