|Agency||Chicago Fire Department|
|Type of Firefighter||Career|
|Age Range||41 to 45|
|Date of Birth||0/0/0|
|Date of Death||1/12/1951|
|Cause of Death||Struck by object|
|Nature of Death||Trauma|
|Attribute of Death||[not applicable]|
|Type of Duty||Firefighting operations|
On January 12, 1951, four firefighters were fatally injured in an explosion and subsequent structural collapse while fighting a fire in a four story office and warehouse building. Lieutenant John Schuberth (Engine Co. 42), John P. Gleason (Engine Co. 42), and Henry T. Dyer (Engine 11) of the Chicago Fire Department were killed on-scene and Patrick Milott, a firefighter with the Chicago Fire Insurance Patrol, died a few days later of injuries sustained at the scene. Seven other firefighters and two civilians were injured by the blast.
The fire began in the lower levels of the 75 year old building, before spreading through the elevator shafts to the upper floors. The fire was reported to the Chicago Fire Department around 2:04 PM, after which a 5-11 and subsequent special alarms were eventually ordered. The smoke and flames emitting from the structure could be seen for miles around and drew crowds of spectators to the scene. After burning for thirty minutes, however, the fire caused a substantial explosion that toppled a wall onto firefighters operating hoselines on fire escapes and ladders in an alley outside the building.
The special alarms brought 68 pieces of equipment to the site, including all but one of the department’s ambulances. In order to allow the fireboats to navigate the river, the La Salle Street Bridge remained up for 54 hours as the fire burned. More than 300 firefighters were on the scene and as many members of the local law enforcement worked to control the crowds. Firefighters stayed on the scene for several days as the fire reignited periodically in the rear area of the wreckage.
The explosion was initially blamed on fifty-five gallons of lacquer thinner in storage on the fourth floor of the warehouse, but later investigations showed that the explosion had probably been caused by excessive dust circulating through the elevator shafts. Witnesses later confirmed that the dust contained combustible materials such as paint particles. Property damages from the fire were estimated at $1.5 million.
“3 Dead in $1,500,000 Fire!,” Chicago Daily Tribune, January 13, 1951.
“City Officials Hail Fund to Aid Kin of Fire Dead,” Chicago Daily Tribune, January 15, 1951.
“Dead Firemen’s Families to Get Award, Annuity,” Chicago Daily Tribune, January 14, 1951.
“Doubts Lacquer Theory in Fire, Blast Fat AL to 4,” Chicago Daily Tribune, January 16, 1951.
“Dust Explosion Held Cause of Fire Fatal to 4,” Chicago Daily Tribune, January 17, 1951.
“Lieutenant, 2 Engine Company Men Lose Lives,” Chicago Daily Tribune, January 13, 1951.
“Raze Tottering Walls as Fire Deaths Reach 4,” Chicago Daily Tribune, January 14, 1951.
“Three Firemen Die as $1,500,000 Fire Destroys Riverfront Building –Thousands Watch Fight,” Chicago Daily Tribune, January 13, 1951.
“Top Emergency Plans Put Into Action By Blaze,” Chicago Daily Tribune, January 13, 1951.