|Agency||Chicago Fire Department|
|Type of Firefighter||Career|
|Age Range||56 to 60|
|Date of Birth||0/0/0|
|Date of Death||1/17/1962|
|Cause of Death||Fall , Contact/Exposure|
|Nature of Death||Trauma , Burns|
|Attribute of Death||[not applicable]|
|Type of Duty||Firefighting operations , Hose operations , Search and rescue operations|
On January 17, 1962, Chicago Fire Department Battalion Chief John C. Benham of the 28th Battalion died in the line of duty while trying to rescue three small children from a burning apartment building. Three unattended children had set fire to their apartment with matches or a cigarette lighter and the fire quickly spread into other apartments in the three-story apartment building. Fire department response was delayed when one of the building’s residents tried to telephone the department, but others on the shared party line refused to hang up. Most of the tenants were able to escape the building, but the three brothers, all under the age of six, remained trapped.
By the time the fire department arrived on the scene, flames were consuming the front door of the building and the screams of the trapped three children could be heard from their first floor apartment. Benham led three firefighters and a hoseline through the front entrance, but the front stairway collapsed below them. The three firefighters were quickly pulled from the burning wreckage, having suffered minor burns, cuts, and bruises, but Benham had suffered fatal burns. The three young brothers also perished in the flames.
Funeral services for Benham were held at St. John Berchmans Church, and he was interred at St. Joseph Cemetery. He was survived by his widow, two children, and four siblings.
“Heroic Chief, 3 Youngsters Perish in Fire,” Chicago Daily Tribune, January 18, 1962.
Obituary of John C. Benham, Chicago Daily Tribune, January 19, 1962.
"Fire Chief John C. Benham Killed During South Side Rescue Attempt," Chicago Fire Fighter, March 1962.