Illinois Fire Service Institute


Firefighter Record

Firefighter Details

Name John Petersohn
Agency Aurora Fire Department
Rank Captain
Type of Firefighter Career
Age Range 41 to 45
Sex Male
Date of Birth 2/5/1889
Date of Death 1/11/1934
Cause of Death Struck by object
Nature of Death Trauma
Attribute of Death [not applicable]
Type of Duty Firefighting operations

Incident Details

Incident Name N/A
Incident City Aurora
Incident State IL
Incident Date 1/10/1934 23:30
Incident Location Store/Office
Incident Attribute Structural collapses , Fires

Incident Summary

On January 11, 1934, three firefighters from the Aurora Fire Department died in the line of duty while fighting a commercial fire in a Woolworth’s Five and Dime store on Broadway Street. Captain Herbert L. Reiss of No. 4 Company, Captain John Petersohn of No. 5 Company, and Firefighter Charles Hoffman of No. 5 Company were crushed to death when an exterior wall of the store collapsed.

The fire was reported around 11:30PM on January 10, and the entire Aurora Fire Department responded to the alarm. Firefighters attacked the fire from both the street level, and from the roofs of nearby buildings that were adjacent to the three-story, burning store. More than an hour after firefighting operations began, the roof of the building collapsed. The front exterior wall of the building collapsed outward shortly thereafter, and six firefighters were buried in the debris.

Uninjured firefighters immediately began search and rescue operations for their trapped colleagues, but the fire grew at a rapid rate. Fire Chief Lloyd Gramely soon refocused the firefighters on suppression efforts, and called in mutual aid firefighters from Naperville, Elgin, and Batavia. Once the flames were under control, firefighters were able to successfully rescue injured firefighters from the debris, but Reiss, Petersohn, and Hoffman had been crushed to death.

Petersohn joined the Aurora Fire Department in 1911, and served with No. 6 Hook and Ladder Company until he resigned in 1917. He rejoined the department in 1923 as a firefighter with No. 1 Company. In 1926, he was promoted to lieutenant of No. 5 Company, and in 1931 he was promoted to captain. He was survived by his widow, three children, and four siblings.

Reiss joined the Aurora Fire Department in 1916, and served with No. 6 Hook and Ladder Company. He was transferred to No. 1 Company in 1918, and in 1924 he was promoted to lieutenant of No. 4 Company. Following the line of duty death of No. 4 Company Captain Barney Weiler in 1929, Reiss was promoted to captain. He was survived by his widow, three children, six siblings, and his mother.

Hoffman joined the Aurora Fire Department in 1923 and served with No. 5 Company until his death. He was survived by his widow, one child, five siblings, and his mother.

Firefighter and Incident Images

No images exist for this Firefighter/Incident

Firefighter and Incident Audio

No Audio for this Firefighter/Incident record


11 Gerty Dr.
Champaign, IL 61820
Driving Directions
Contact Us
Phone: (217) 333-3800
            (800) 437-5819
Fax: (217) 244-6790
Phone: (217) 333-8925
Hours: 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Social Media

You are encouraged to use this site for individual educational purposes only; however copy and/or reprinting of any materials and photographs without authorization is strictly prohibited. Please obtain permission by contacting

© 2021 The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois