|Agency||East Peoria Fire Department|
|Type of Firefighter||Paid-On-Call (POC)|
|Age Range||31 to 35|
|Date of Birth||10/4/1927|
|Date of Death||1/28/1959|
|Cause of Death||Contact/Exposure|
|Nature of Death||Asphyxiation , Burns|
|Attribute of Death||[not applicable]|
|Type of Duty||Firefighting operations|
At 9:45 PM on January 28, 1959 an alarm was sounded at the Green Gables Tavern at 808 Meadow Avenue in East Peoria, Illinois for a fire in the structure. Employees and patrons had noted a burning smell for some time but were unable to locate a source. As the main floor and upstairs apartment slowly began to fill with smoke an emergency call was made to the East Peoria Fire Department.
Assistant Chief Marvin J. Stein and Firefighter Donald Hammer responded from East Peoria Fire Department’s Central House at 201 N. Main Street and Captain LaVerne Hagey responded from Station 2 on Chicago Street. Special Firefighter George E. Cornwell, a paid-on-call member of the department, arrived from home at about the same time as the Engine driven by Assistant Chief Stein. Ironically, Firefighter Cornwell’s brother was the cook at the Green Gables Tavern, thus he was familiar with the building and its layout including the fact that there was an apartment above the business that was usually occupied.
Initial reports from the scene indicated a small amount of visible fire from the front of the structure with heavy smoke on the second floor. While Firefighter Hammer manned the first arriving engine’s pump, Assistant Chief Stein and Firefighter Cornwell ascended the outside staircase to the second floor and made entry with a hose line while donning their “all-purpose” masks.
Shortly afterwards, Firefighter Cornwell returned to the exterior staircase entrance and requested an axe which was passed to him by Firefighter Harold Arrowood. Firefighter Cornwell re-entered the building and within about one minute of this time firefighters on the exterior staircase landing reported a sudden influx of heavy, dark and excessively hot smoke followed by an explosion that pushed them back from the door. Assistant Chief Stein and Firefighter Cornwell were trapped in the structure by the sudden explosion and subsequently lost their lives to the fire.
Assistant Chief Marvin J. Stein was born in East Peoria on March 30, 1925, a son of Earl and Margaret Wilson Stein and married Mary Ellen Bratt on April 15, 1951. He was a Navy veteran of World War II and a graduate of East Peoria Community High School where he was active in athletics. He joined the East Peoria Fire Department on March 15, 1949. He was survived by his widow and two children, son Mark James and daughter Mary Jo.
Firefighter George E. Cornwell was born in Indianapolis on October 4, 1927, a son of Theodore and Mabel Oliver Cornwell and married Bonnie Smith in Peoria on May 14, 1953. He was an Army veteran of World War II. He joined the East Peoria Fire Department on May 6, 1952. He was survived by his widow, a son George Jr., a daughter Cynthia Sue and a step-daughter Sheila Marie Parson.
Incident Summary by Lt. Garry Grugan, East Peoria Fire Department