Our Lady of Angels Fire December 01 2012, 3 Comments

Today marks the 54th anniversary of Our Lady of Angels Fire that devastated so many lives and marked one of the most tragic fires in American History.  The fire occurred at Our Lady of Angels School on the west side of Chicago and killed 92 children and 3 nuns.  Here is an excerpt from a previous Chicago Tribune story about the fire:

"Max Stachura stood outside the burning building, begging his little boy, Mark, 9, to jump into his arms. Children were falling all about the father and he caught or stopped the fall of 12 of them. But little Mark was too frightened or he didn't understand his father. Mark didn't jump."

Fifty years later, Mark's mother has the day in crisp focus, and adds a missing detail.


As Mark stood at that second-floor window, fire to his back, he held a small statue in his hand and waved it proudly through the black smoke, hoping his father would notice. Mark had won the statue that day —a figure of an infant Jesus — for being first to answer a quiz question.

The fire began at the foot of a stairwell in the basement of the school about an hour before school was scheduled to let out for the day.  The fire which started in a trash barrel went unnoticed for 10-20 minutes filling the stairwell and the 2nd floor (which did not have a fire door) with smoke.  Fire department units arrived within four minutes of being called, but by then the fire had been smoldering unchecked for possibly 40 minutes. It was now fully out of control. The fire department was also hampered because they had been incorrectly directed to the rectory address around the corner on West Iowa Street and lost valuable minutes repositioning fire trucks and hose lines. Additional firefighting equipment was summoned rapidly, but by then it was already too late for most that were trapped on the second floor.  Stories from the firemen and victims from that day are truly horrific.

 

 

 

 

 

Our Lady of Angels fire brought sweeping changes in school fire safety regulations which were enacted nationwide, including mandatory sprinkler systems, fire doors, and requirements for specific building materials for the construction of new schools. Some 16,500 older school buildings in the United States were brought up to code within a year of the incident.  We've attached a short docu-film about the fire and if you're interested in reading more about the fire, its cause and the investigation afterward, you can click here.