|Agency||Des Plaines Fire Department|
|Type of Firefighter||Career|
|Age Range||31 to 35|
|Date of Birth||0/0/0|
|Date of Death||4/26/1962|
|Cause of Death||Fall , Contact/Exposure|
|Nature of Death||Trauma , Asphyxiation|
|Attribute of Death||[not applicable]|
|Type of Duty||Ladder operations , SCBA operations , Search and rescue operations|
Robert Coombs joined the Des Plaines Fire Department as a career firefighter on May 1, 1956. On Thursday, April 26, 1962, Coombs died in the line of duty during the rescue of three workers trapped thirty feet underground in a sanitary sewer near the intersection of River Road and Rand Road in Des Plaines. The workers had been exposed to methane gas while removing a bulkhead that had been used to seal off an older sewer line during the construction of a new sewer.
At around 1:30 PM, a restaurant owner called the Des Plaines Fire Department after a sewer worker ran into his restaurant to report that three of his coworkers were unconscious at the bottom of the sewer shaft. Firefighters responded to the scene and several firefighters, including Coombs, descended into the sewer wearing SCBA masks, each with a twelve minute supply of air. With some assistance from civilians, the firefighters successfully rescued the three trapped workers, but Coombs, the last firefighter to leave the sewer, ran out of oxygen and was overcome by sewer gas. Coombs was further injured when he fell more than twenty feet to the sewer floor while his colleagues were helping him exit the sewer shaft. Coombs was taken to Lutheran General Hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival. The three sewer workers, along with three other firefighters, were all successfully treated at local hospitals.
“Fumes Kill Fireman; 6 Are Stricken,” Chicago Daily Tribune, April 27, 1962.
“Des Plaines Expresses Gratitude to Fireman Killed in Sewer Rescue,” Chicago Daily Tribune, May 20, 1962.