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Our Lady of the Angels (OLA) School Fire, December 1, 1958





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Death in the Corridors

DEATH IN THE CORRIDORS OF A CHICAGO SCHOOL

By
Dale K. Auck, Director
Fire Protection Division
Federation of Mutual Fire Insurance Companies
Presented at the 31st Annual Fire Department Instructors Conference
Memphis, Tennessee
February 24-27, 1959

This is the story of “Death in the Corridors of a Chicago School.”

The date is December 1, 1958, a Monday, about 2:30 o'clock on the afternoon of a cold wintry day. About 1200 pupils are in their classrooms -- everything is just like any other day.

(SLIDE NO. 1)

This is the scene a few minutes later — at this moment 87 children and 3 nuns are dying. Four more children died later in hospitals. You are witnessing the third worst school fire disaster in the history of this country. This is the “Our Lady of the Angels” parochial school at the corner of North Avers and West Iowa Streets on Chicago's west side. What a prophetic name for a school!

Like all major fire disasters, this incident has literally torn every city and town loose from its shell of self-complacency, apathy and civic negligence as regards fire-safety! This was largely due to the news services and to television that allowed the nation to watch this catastrophe happen. Virtually every newspaper raised its editorial voice asking “HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN?” “WHAT WAS THE CAUSE?” “CAN IT HAPPEN AGAIN -- TO US?”

Within a few days the Cook County Coroner had impaneled a “blue ribbon” inquest jury to sit in judgment on these questions. It was composed of architects, construction men, contractors, bankers, business men, engineers, an arson expert and a fire projection engineer. Public hearings involving testimony of 30 witnesses were held between December 10th and 15th and a verdict was rendered on January 7th, 1959. In the Christmas holiday interim, a subcommittee of six jurymen drew up 31 technical recommendations for changes in the Chicago Fire Prevention Code so as to mitigate, the possibility of a similar fire recurring. I had the honor of being a member of that jury and of the subcommittee. It was an onerous task but the jury did its work. They not only established the cause of death but reached definite conclusions as to the cause of fire, its spread, and how to prevent other like fires.

The verdict -- “that these persons did reach their death thru asphyxiation, burns or injuries suffered while escaping a fire of undetermined origin.” (We had our choice of several verdicts -- murder via arson, murder via homicide, accidental or unknown.)

From here on, let me furnish you with the facts and - YOU BE THE JURY!

(SLIDE NO. 2)

This is the Sanborn map of the school site. (Attached to last page) The fire concerned only the north wing -- no fire entered the south wing or the communicating annex between the wings. The building was of ordinary brick construction, with wood-joisted floors and a wood roof covered with tar and gravel. All ceilings were covered with combustible acoustical tile except the corridor of the second floor. The building was built in 1910 as a church  (first floor) and school (second floor). In 1939, when the parish built the church next door, this wing was remodeled and occupied as a chapel (basement) and school (first and second floors).

Three stairwells served the north wing, two in front and one in rear. Basement doors to these stairwells were heavy wood, with sheet metal on the stair side. First floor doors were Underwriters' Laboratories Class “B” Xalomein type. On the second floor, the front stairs merged into a common hall with swinging, ordinary wood doors to the east-west corridor. Each classroom had two doors to this corridor, with large glass transoms above each door. At the rear stairwell, there was no second floor enclosure of any sort. An undivided cockloft, three feet high, was over the entire north wing area above the second floor ceiling.

Protection was provided by soda-acid extinguishers and standpipe-hose in adequate numbers -- however the extinguishers were hung so high above the floor that even a husky adult might have had trouble in getting them down for use. Building fire alarm controls were very few and were ordinary electric toggle switches, not marked and very inconspicuous.

The school was inspected by the Chicago Fire Prevention Bureau several times each year and as lately as October 7th, 1958 -- no violations had ever been found in it. All things considered, it was a “safe” school and the equal in appointments, protection and construction of hundreds of other schools in Chicago or, for that matter, of any city school, anywhere.

This parish owned other properties within a few blocks of the school - the school janitor took care of all of them. On the day of the fire, he was returning from one of the other properties and as he passed the rectory on Iowa Street, he looked back thru the areaway between these buildings and saw smoke. This time was established to be about 2:36 P.M. He ran to the rectory and told the cook there to call the fire department. He then ran thru the basement boiler room, up the annex stairs to the second floor, found the hall full of smoke, (it's now 2:38 P.M.), broke open several windows (cutting himself badly), opened the fire escape door, ran back downstairs and outside, where he fainted from loss of blood. It's now 2:43 P.M.

A salesman was driving past the school on Avers Street at 2:40 P.M. and noticed smoke coming from the rear stairwell. He entered the grocery next door -- they had no public phone. He went next door -- they had no phone. He tried a third place and they phoned an alarm into the fire department. It's now about 2:43 P.M.

An insurance man was driving past in Iowa Street at 2:43 P.M. He saw smoke, stopped his car and ran thru the first floor of the south wing but found that the pupils had already marched out in drill formation. He then tried to enter the second floor of the north wing but it was full of smoke. He broke out several windows there, went outside and saw Engine 85 just pulling up to the hydrant. Children are now jumping from the windows! It's now 2:45 P.M. and he takes several injured kids to a hospital.

It can thus be established that heavy smoke was evident between 2:38 and 2:40 P.M., indicating that the fire had a very good start. The first alarm to the fire department was via phone, from the cook in the rectory, at 2:41 P.M. and at this moment no one had sounded the building fire alarm yet. The nearest city alarm box is two blocks away.

(SLIDE NO. 3)

Now, let's go back to about 2:25 P.M. It was the custom for each room to send a pupil to the basement about this time to empty the room's wastebaskets into drums near the incinerator in the boiler room. A pupil from Room 206 was in the hallway at 2:25 P.M. and smelled no smoke. He went to the basement via the stairway in the annex. On his return, (about 2:30 P.M. ) he smelled smoke and so reported to his teacher. His teacher went to Room 207 and conferred with that teacher who ran down to the principal's office in the south wing. (The principal was teaching on the first floor for a sick teacher. ) The teacher returned to the Room 206 teacher and they decided to evacuate their pupils. Room 207 went down the fire escape and Room 206 went down the annex stairway. The smoke was now much heavier and suddenly changed from gray color to black.

The time is now 2:30 P.M. The kids march over to the church basement and the Room 206 teacher comes back into the school. She remembers that no one has, as yet, operated the building fire alarm system so she does that from a control in the south wing. It's now about 2:41 P.M.

In Room 210, the teacher notices the kids are getting restless about 2:30 P.M. She mentions to the class that it is unseemly warm today -- will one of the boys open a window or two? (Remember, it is a cold wintry day). A few minutes later she asks a boy to open the corridor door and smoke rolls into the room. It's now about 2:37 P.M.

THE STAGE IS WOW SET FOR DISASTER 1 We can definitely place smoke in the corridors about 2:37 P.M. And yet, the Lid from Room 206 didn't smell anything at 2:25 P.M. when he vent to the basement. Things really happened fast -- and this time element must be kept in mind when searching for the cause of the fire. THERE IS ONLY A 11-12 MINUTE TIME DIFFERENTIAL with which to have this fire reach devastating proportions!

Engine 85 is followed within seconds by Truck 35. It's now about 2:44 P.M. and the children are already jumping from the windows. A “box” alarm is radioed in by #85; as soon as 3 more engines and another truck arrive, they radio for a 2-11 response. By now over 15 phone alarms have come in and a 5-11 is sounded at 2:57 P.M. Commissioner Quinn is en route. This is Chicago's maximum disaster response!

(SLIDE NO. 4)

The initial “still” alarm men ladder the building while Engine 85 puts a hose line into solid flame in the rear stairwell. Civilians are helping firemen man the ladders -- kids are coming thru the windows faster than men can handle them! Some are literally hauled thru windows, lowered a few feet -- and dropped. Many heroic deeds are performed. Heat has broken out the glass transoms over room doors -- flame has eaten out the thin wood panels in these doors — the rooms are full of smoke and heat.

AND THEN THE ROOF COLLAPSED, sending a great wave of superheated air everywhere. This was the moment when most of the trapped pupils died - you just cannot live in superheated air! This blast knocked two fire companies from the second to the first floor in the front stairwells and injured several firemen. The Department's new “Snorkel” water tower is clearing fire out of the roof space -- its operation is fantastic! The fire is soon brought under control -- but it's too late!

At this point, I'd like to pay tribute to the Chicago Fire Department -- they did absolutely everything that human men could do. Their tactics and heroic work was magnificent. At fire control and rescue, they are pre-eminent!

To have a fire, one must have fuel and a source of ignition. That's basic. We know we had the fuel -- we don't know specifically just what was the ignition source. We'll cite the facts as the testimony and the fire photos showed them -- YOU ARE THE JURY!

(SLIDE NO. 5)

At the street level landing of the rear stairwell a lot of junk was stored. It was neatly packaged and stacked in a compact mass. This is what was left after the fire - it's water-soaked ashes. It was baled newspapers, old exam books, bundles of clothing (there was a clothing drive in progress at the church that week), wallpaper sample books and the like — a compact mass about 3 feet high. There was another pile of like material at the basement end of those stairs. This trash was not near any steam pipe or radiator. The stair handrails and newel posts were of wood> as was the stairs. Stairwell walls were plaster on wood lath on furring strips on masonry. This, then, was our fuel. Now we need a source of ignition. Testimony showed that older pupils had, in times past, been caught “sneaking a smoke” in this basement stairwell. Ho such action was noted the day of the fire. Yet, did some pupil smoke here that day and discard a cigarette or a lighted match when he thought he heard someone coming? If he did, maybe he returned to his room and died in the fire. The arson squad interrogated over 700 lads, but no one really knows. Did some adult passing thru the nearby alley to the grocery step inside the street door to the school to light his pipe, and carelessly discard a match? It's possible -- but no one really knows. Some persons claim this was a “set” fire, using gasoline. The Police Arson Squad cannot establish arson as a cause to this date. They removed the lover stairway and subjected it to destructive distillation but could find no hydro-carbons, so no one really knows. Did the fire start in the open, undivided, roof-space from electrical causes and spread downward thru this stairwell? Firemen will tell you fire spreads up, not down. That's true under normal conditions but let's explore this possibility a moment.

(SLIDE NO. 3)

I got a ladder and measured the depth of char over the entire cockloft area. At the stairwell, it was 7/8" deep -- this distance kept decreasing until it was 1/2" at the first roof ventilator. It kept decreasing down to 1/16" at the second roof ventilator. From there on, westward, roof members were only smoked up - there was no char. This definitely establishes the path of flame intensity. It is confirmed by the amount of roof destruction, shown colored on the screen. Fire COULD have burned up here, undetected, for possibly 30 minutes -- any smoke from the ventilators would not have appeared abnormal from the street. Remember the nun who felt the room was overly warm and had the windows opened? This COULD have been radiated heat down thru the thin lath and plaster ceiling.

(SLIDE NO. 6)

This shows the roof space over the stairwell as seen from Room 206, looking east. Fire of this intensity builds up a terrific pressure -- the thin ceiling of the stairwell could have broken under this pressure and this would cause blazing tar from the built-up roof to drop down the stairwell onto the trash stored there. This secondary fire's heat could then have broken a nearby window in the basement of the stairwell so that a draft was established that made the stairwell a roaring, blazing, chimney flue. This theory would account for a slow start of the fire, thorough involvement over a long period of time causing deep char, and then a sudden augmenting of the fire within the period of 2:25 - 2:37 P.M. that we had previously mentioned as a limiting factor affecting the cause. It would also account for the original gray (wood fuel) smoke that SUDDENLY turned black by the addition of tar (a hydrocarbon) to the fire.

This premise of the start of the fire is held by several members of the jury and an officer of the Fire Prevention Bureau. Chief O'Brien testified it must have burned undetected for 30 minutes to reach this intensity. The arson squad of the Police Department holds to the cigarette-match theory. The correct answer -- NO ONE REALLY KNOWS.

(SLIDE NO. 7)

This building had been inspected many times -- why didn't they catch the obvious fire hazards or deficiencies? This is the last inspection report -- and it is a sorry one. It is not the fault of the lieutenant-inspector, it is the fault of the “system” under which he worked. He tool: the jury by the hand and led them, step by step, thru this last inspection. He looked thru the boiler room, he walked thru the hallways, he saw that the fire extinguishers were 75 feet apart -- and left. He was asked why he had not noted four prominent electrical defects in the boiler room that we saw -- he said that was a job for the city's electrical department. He didn't think the school was overcrowded, and even so, that was the prerogative of the city's building department. He didn't worry about screening over basement classroom windows, again that was building department. He didn't lift the fire extinguishers down to see if they were full or empty -- he didn't know that the Code had two conflicting articles regarding the sq. ft. of floor area per extinguisher and wouldn't have used either if he did -- the 75 feet rule was paramount. He said he wouldn't have listed any defect he saw unless it was specifically mentioned in the Code. Therefore, his inspection determined that this school was LEGALLY SAFE - but it was not actually fire-safe.

There was no city fire alarm box in front of the school because the school was built prior to 1949 when the new Code required such boxes -- worthwhile requirements such as this were not made retroactive to existing pre-ordinance buildings. And yet the City made the sprinkler ordinance for flop houses on Skid Row retroactive just a few years age.

(SLIDE NO. 8)

The Building Commissioner was interrogated about overcrowding in the school. He said that every room met the Code. And here's an ironical twist -- the Chicago Code says that classrooms having movable furniture (like kindergartens) shall have 20 sq. ft. per pupil, but where the desks and seats are attached to the floor, the criteria shall merely be that every child shall have a seat and you can crowd 'em in as tightly as you desire. Here again this school was LEGALLY SAFE but let's face it, it was overcrowded!

ROOM NO.

PUPILS PER ROOM

ROOM AREA sq. ft.

Max Pupils @20’

Pupils Overcrowded

Dead

206

40

363

35

+5

0

207

41

506

25

+16

0

208

47

616

30

+16

11

209

63

759

38

+25

1

210

57

616

31

+26

29

211

65

828

41

+24

25

212

56

616

31

+24

28

Total

369

 

232

+137

94

Now the chaps that wrote this 20 sq. ft. per pupil requirement into the NFPA Building Exits Code must have done some pretty sound thinking. Look at these figures. Here is the actual room attendance, here is the SAFE number of pupils using the 20 sq. ft. rule, here is the number of pupils overcrowded. NOTE THAT THE NUMBER OF CHILDREN WHO DIED ALMOST EQUALS THE AMOUNT OF OVERCROWDING. Need I say more? Try this on your schools in YOUR home town. From time immemorial, fire drills had always followed the same pattern here. This room always went down this stairs -- it never varied. The time required to clear the building of all pupils was the chief criteria. Teachers had never been Instructed to simulate a fire condition that eliminated one exit -- they had never been taught to plan other routes in an emergency. The pastor admitted on the stand that after 40 years of teaching he had just learned that time was NOT of the essence that emergency re-routing drills were needed.

The Fire Department says that they were given the wrong address -- that they came to 3808 West Iowa Street first, I am inclined to discount this because at this address they could look back between the buildings (like the janitor did) and see smoke. I think this argument is specious.

Now let's consider the recommendations submitted by the jury's subcommittee.

(SLIDE NO. 9)

#1 Automatic Sprinklers, regardless of building height - the first line of defense between a child and the fire. Extinguishment or control of fire is basic - if it is done automatically, the human element error is removed. Our recommendations were based on life safety first, but property preservation in the interest of the taxpayer or the parish was also a secondary consideration. In fire-resistive and incombustible construction, we asked for partial sprinklers in basement areas of ordinary and extra hazard and in stairwells and corridors having acoustical tile. In ordinary brick and in frame buildings, total sprinklering is the only answer.

Some lawyers say we can't legislate to get property preservation that law can affect only life safety. All law in Illinois affects “health, safety and welfare” of people. Let's assume a school is on fire - all the kids get out OK but we lose the building. Now the pupils have to travel farther to a new school until the burned one is rebuilt, classes are doubled up, instruction is not as good, overcrowding is present; they're getting a second class education -- hasn't the pupil's “welfare and safety” been jeopardized?

Fifteen days after this school fire, we had another fire in a suburban school that was just as old as this Chicago one, had as many pupils, was of the same construction and the fire started in the basement stairwell. BUT IT HAD A 30-YEAR OLD SPRINKLER SYSTEM! It had never operated until this day. Result? Two heads extinguished the fire, the loss was about $10, there was no smoke, no panic, everyone marched out, no problems. Try and argue against this one!

#2 Stairwells - they must be enclosed and have Underwriters' Laboratories Class B doors - they're the second line of defense between a child and the fire. Door closers with fusible links should be banned on Class B doors -- remember most of these pupils were killed by heated air and toxic gas, not flames that would eventually actuate the door closer. Unused vertical shafts, like ventilation systems venting into open attics, must be closed off at each floor. And don't let educators tell you that swinging doors injure pupils - kids are smart, they'll learn to use them correctly. For example, 60,000 people daily pass through swinging doors in the Northwestern Railroad station in Chicago - in seven years, I've never seen anyone bumped by them.

#3 Corridors - paneled doors should be protected with sheet metal or replaced with solid doors, preferably of the Underwriters' Laboratories Class C type. This is the third line of defense between a child and the fire. This is not of primary importance if the building is totally sprinklered.

#4 Transoms - eliminate them, fill up the hole where they were with wall construction, protect them with sheet metal on the corridor side or install wired glass, remove their operating hardware and nail them shut. The same would apply to windows in corridor walls for lighting purposes. This is not of primary importance if the building is totally sprinklered.

#5 Provide an automatic building fire alarm system tied in to the water flow devices in the sprinkler piping. Mark manual alarm control stations prominently, have them at both ends of corridors and see that horns or bells are loud enough to be heard over the average noise level of any room, even in music rooms or gymnasiums.

#6 Automatic alarm transmission to the Fire Department. This is also to be triggered by the sprinkler water flow. It would involve modification of the city box at the front of each school so that its transmitter could be set in operation or it could be supervisory service to a central station (like ADT) who would call the fire department.

#7 Change the Fire Department's operating procedure so that all schools and other public institutions get a “box” alarm response automatically (until the first 6 recommendations are accomplished). In places where there are numbers of people, a “still” phone alarm response does not bring a sufficient striking force to bear at the outset of a fire where rescue could be paramount.

#8 Fire Extinguishers. Eliminate the erroneous section of the Code on this subject. Train inspectors to calculate what is needed - the right types, in adequate numbers, properly distributed. Ban all carbon-tetra-chloride extinguishers. Place units low enough so they can be easily handled and mark their locations conspicuously.

#9 Horizontal Segregation. In long hallways we asked for smoke barrier swinging doors at mid-points. Hospitals use them, why not schools'?

#10 Fire Door Wedging. We asked that the wedging open of any Class A or B fire-safety door be made a legal misdemeanor, via legislation. Also, we asked for a small metal sign on every such door, stating that it was a fire-safety door, that it must be closed at all times, and provided for a fine against the school principal or custodian whenever an inspector found a door wedged open.

#11 Some of our schools still have gas exit lights. We asked for their 100% removal and for a standard, separate circuit, electrical, exit-light system.

#12 Duct Systems. These may be heating, ventilating or air circulating ducts and they can spread smoke and flame from an insignificant fire all over the building. We asked for fire dampers or heat-smoke detection devices, so interconnected that the operation of any one would shut down all of them.

#13 Windows. The south wing of this school had heavy metal screening nailed over the grade-level basement windows to classrooms. If those corridors became smoke filled, pupils could not get out the windows because of the screening. We asked for screening to be on knockout frames, hinged and easily operable. We also asked for the prohibition of fixed glass-block wall construction in lieu of windows.

#14 Overcrowding. Here we asked for a universal application of the 20 sq. ft. per pupil rule for all classrooms.

#15 Fire Inspections. We asked that fire department inspectors be required to list ALL fire and safety hazards on their reports, regardless of whether they are covered by the Code or not. When these reports are checked in the Bureau, those hazards that are non-Code are to be transmitted to the municipal Code Revision Committee for study and inclusion.

(SLIDE NO. 10)

#16 Training. We asked the Bureau to setup training schools for school teachers to teach them basic fire prevention and how to recognize a fire hazard.

#17 Fire Drills. We asked that every drill simulate an actual fire condition (by blocking an exit), that they be held monthly, and that no advance notice of a drill be made to anybody. We also asked that the drills extend to visitors, nurses, kitchen cooks, and the like, so that the latter could close down ovens, turn off gas, etc.

#18 Waste Paper. Schools are manufacturers of waste paper, therefore, we wanted each school to have an approved incinerator. Burning pits or enclosures outside are to be banned.

#19 We asked that all Class A and B doors used as exit trays be made to open in the direction of exit travel.

#20 Combustible Trim. Trim, woodwork and combustible ceiling treatments in corridors are fire spreaders so we asked that they be covered with an approved flame-retardant paint. This could be disregarded if the building was totally sprinklered.

#21 Retroactivity. We asked that ALL fire-safety legislation be made retroactive to apply to existing buildings, giving those in charge a reasonable time for compliance.

#22 Addenda: We recognized that the foregoing recommendations were subject to legislative action, while the following ones are really administrative matters for Boards of Education to setup and administer.

#23 Housekeeping - must be excellent - everywhere. Storage in stairwells must be prohibited. Clothing should not be hung in the open corridors, lockers should be provided. Custodial equipment, lumber and storages should be kept to a minimum and only in sprinklered cutoff areas.

#24 Boiler & Fuel Rooms - must be cutoff 100%, with Class A doors.

#25 Electrical - we asked for an annual inspection by qualified men, (not custodians), with defects and subdivision of circuits (because of overloading) to be remedied at once.

#26 Openings - we asked for a responsible adult to check all doors and windows every morning before school starts to see that they were easily operable and that exit lights were lit.

#27 Stages - we asked that these stages using scenery comply with the Code for theaters. We established the premise that if a room required two exits therefrom, that two doors opening into the same corridor was not the answer, the Code meant two ways or methods of exiting. We asked inspectors to be more realistic in checking this item.

#28 Maintenance - the addition of sprinkler and other automatic fire-safety equipment in schools sets up a maintenance problem far beyond the capabilities of the average custodian. We asked Boards of Education to hire a qualified fire protection engineer to be in charge of all school fire equipments and to conduct teacher training.

#29 Codes - we asked that the Chicago Code be simplified by adopting NFPA Codes that were pertinent, in their entirety, by title, under an enabling act, as amended. In this way, the Chicago Code would always be up-to-date because of the annual review and changes NFPA Standards get.

#30 Preplanning - we asked that fire protection be installed on school plans before construction started. This would save a lot of money.

#31 Others - while these recommendations were aimed at the school system, we pointed out that most of them applied to hospitals, homes for the aged, nursing homes and the like and asked that Code authorities incorporate them into the Codes for those other institutions. Maybe the legislators won't adopt all of them but they now have the blueprint for pupil safety.

Well, that's a pretty formidable list. Right away the screams were heard that it would cost millions, that taxes would go sky-high. We made a statement to the press that silenced almost all talk about costs -- and it went like this. We got a reputable sprinkler contractor to provide a bona fide estimate on sprinklering the school that burned. It was $10,500. How there's 1200 pupils there and that makes it about $8 per pupil. After this fire, I think you could pass the hat in that parish and get $8 from every father rather easily. BUT, any good sprinkler system will last for at least 50 years with nominal maintenance so that $8 creeps down to the tremendous sum of about 16 cents per pupil per year - a 1/2 gallon of gasoline or 1/2 pack of cigarettes. That 16 cents a year WILL PROTECT THE KIDS NOW IN SCHOOL, THEIR KIDS AND THEIR KID'S KIDS. And in addition, for those schools that carry insurance, they'll get their money back in 25 years in insurance premium savings. The 25 or 30 million dollars that it will take to fix up Chicago school; with sprinklers is the cost of 15 miles of super-highway -- can't we put “first things first” and suffer a few bumps rather than jeopardize the lives of 450,000 school kids? FRANKLY, JUST HOW PENURIOUS CAN WE GET?

Three months have elapsed since the fire -- has anybody done anything about correcting this fire hazard situation? I'm glad I can say “yes”. The archbishop of the Chicago diocese has setup a separate fund of $7 million and has hired a reputable firm of fire protection engineers to let 360 sprinkler contracts, supervise their installation and make the acceptance tests. They are also hiring this firm to inspect all Catholic schools twice a year to keep things shipshape. The Superintendant of the public schools recently told me that if he would give up his re-decoration plan in public schools for a couple of years he could lay his hands on $4 or $5 million dollars. The Lutheran parochial schools are consulting with engineers and sprinkler companies. The parade has started!

On the other hand, I hate to report to you that much of the fire ser-vice has not revised their thinking as a result of this fire. They're still thinking in terms of putting the fire out and in getting alarms of fire. The fire marshal of an eastern city recently stated that he wasn't concerned with fire hazards - he felt the Code should be tightened a bit about fire alarm boxes. He wants boxes inside schools. If he was quoted correctly in the papers, ALL HE IS THINKING ABOUT IS HOW TO DO SOMETHING AFTER THE FIRE HAS STARTED -- HE NEVER MENTIONS DOING ANYTHING TO PREVENT THE FIRE. This is horse and buggy thinking. The fire service must wake up and modernize its thinking to preventing fires from ever starting.

One school in a Chicago parish jumped the gun and hired a contractor to enclose its second floor stairwell. He did a swell job -- except for one thing — he put a metal, rubber-footed door stop on each door. The papers ran half-page photos of this new work, they praised it to the skies. I wrote to Msgr. McManus, head of the diocese board of education and pointed out that with the same fire starting in the same place as before and these new enclosures, the answer would be the same - we'd have another 90 children killed because of smoke and toxic gases through a door held open by these door stops. The same thing would result if fusible link door closers had been used. His reply is a classic and I'll quote him: “This incident is an example of what happens when a zealous pastor, who cannot be expected to be a building expert, relies upon a contractor who doesn't know his business.” This case is exactly why the jury made Recommendation, #28 about having a qualified fire protection engineer on the staff of Boards of Education. He must spend these large sums for fire protection correctly.

It's a darn shame that we Americans will wake up only after we've suffered a catastrophe. What's the matter with us -- we believe our doctor when he tells us we need an operation -- why don't we believe our fire protection engineers when they tell us a certain building was built to burn? We didn't get theaters fixed up until we killed hundreds in the Iroquois Theater fire -- we killed a lot more in the LaSalle and Winecoff Hotels and got fireproof smoke towers -- we killed over 600 in the Cocoanut Grove and got flameproof decorations -- and so on down the list. How we'll get sprinklers and stairwell enclosures in schools unless the legislators get penurious.

I'll make a bit of prophesy right now. There was a bad department store fire recently in Bogata, Columbia. It didn't make our newspapers. The way our bargain basements look between Thanksgiving and Christmas, we're going to have a real hot one in this country one of these days and it will get a few hundred more souls. Why can't we pre-plan our next disaster so it won't be one?

(SLIDE NO. 11)

And so the sad story has been told. I hope these children haven't died in vain -- I hope school fire-safety can be kept alive until all our pupils are protected. The jury, in their verdict, said “Fire protection is not a luxury - it is a necessity!  It is just as important to a school as having a heating plant or proper desks I School officials have a MORAL RESPONSIBILITY to return the student safely to his home -- education is not their sole function.” Architects must help them meet their responsibility.

(SLIDE NO. 12)

“Fire Engineering” magazine said, “It is the responsibility of the fire service to employ means at its command to ensure that none of our schools become monuments to dead children.” The NFPA said, in their fine report, “This fire is an indictment of those in authority who have failed to recognize their life safety obligations in housing children in structures that are fire traps.” The editor of the Chicago “Daily News” said, “In their stark simplicity, the list of 31 recommendations of the jury points inevitably to complacency, omissions and common negligence on the part of the whole community. The allowance for a 'reasonable time' for compliance with then MUST NOT be translated into permission to do nothing at all.”

(SLIDE NO. 13)

No one can help little ten year old Johnny Jajkowski of the 5th grade any more, but we can do something that will keep Dick Scheidt of Rescue Squad #l from having to do this again at some future date.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the evidence is in, we rest our case, the verdict is in your hands and hearts I May God help each one of you when you go back to your home towns to fulfill your moral responsibility to REALLY DO SOMETHING about YOUR schools!