Three Chicago Fire Fighters Killed, Two of Them Officers
Three firemen, including an acting division marshal and a captain, were killed and two others injured, one critically, in the sudden collapse of two brick walls of a burning food-processing plant in Chicago’s stockyard district on March 1.
The victims were Howard Strohacker, 48, chief of the 29th Battalion, acting as fire marshal of the 4th Division; George Donovan, 41, captain, Engine 29 and Sylvester Pietrowski, 37, of Engine 50. Worst injured was Edward Hoyt, 42, assigned to Ladder 18. Also injured was Thomas McCauley, chauffeur to Chief Strohacker.
Tragedy struck quickly when without warning except for a muffled puff, two walls of die rear half of the oneand two-story brick plant of the Lawrence Corporation, 527 West 41st Street, crashed outward.
Acting Marshal Strohacker and Captain Donovan reportedly were planning the removal of all fire fighters from the immediate area, fearing a collapse when wooden sections of the interior were found burned through. Fireman Hoyt was atop a ground ladder leading to the second floor when the wall fell. He slid the ladder but was caught by flying bricks.
The fire, for which two alarms were sounded, apparently started in a boiler room and crept upward through wall interstices to an empty storage room where the explosion apparently occurred. Fire Commissioner Robert Quinn said the muffled blast was doubdess caused by an accumulation of gases.
Chief Strohacker was buried under the west wall and Captain Donovan and Fireman Pietrowski were caught under the south wall. Fellow fire fighters and volunteers worked frantically to extricate the men. Captain Donovan was alive when dug out, but died en route to the hospital.
The cause of the fire was not immediately ascertained. Word of the tragedy brought Chief Fire Marshal Albert Petersen and other fire and civic officials to the scene, and to the hospital, where the victims were taken.
At the height of the fire “about 5,000 persons were milling around” the fire ground where rumors of a much greater disaster were rife. Property loss was reported as $15,000.