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

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Overhead view of Our Lady of the Angels at the peak of the fire. This view is looking northeast. The north wing (where most of the smoke is coming from) is on the left, the south wing next to it on the right. The convent can be seen across the street from the south wing, in the lower right of the photo.
Another overhead view of the school at the height of the fire.
Overhead view of Our Lady of the Angels school at the height of the fire. Smoke is pouring from the roof of the north wing after firemen chopped holes in the roof to vent the intense heat and smoke. The south wing, immediately to the right of the north wing, suffered virtually no fire damage but a lot of smoke and water damage. Everyone in the south wing escaped without serious injury.
Firemen don't yet realize the number of children still trapped inside the fiery inferno. Firemen rescued about 160 children and teachers before the classrooms burst into flames one by one, killing all who remained. (AP Wire Photo)
Smoke is billowing from the west stairway window and door, and from room 211 where 24 children lie dead.
Smoke pours from the windows overlooking the small courtyard between the north and south wings of the school. When firemen arrived, there was a seven foot high iron picket fence blocking entrance to the courtyard. Firemen used valuable time breaking down the fence before they could begin rescue operations from room 211.
Firefighters have yet to control the fire as smoke belches from the windows and doors on the south side of the north wing. As is clear from the volume of smoke coming from the school, the children remaining inside the school are likely unconscious or dead from the suffocating smoke, if not the flames and heat.
Thick smoke is pouring from the second floor windows and the main stairwell. Firemen are on the roof where they will chop holes in the roof in order to vent some of the intense heat and suffocating smoke building up inside the second floor. The intense heat and smoke inside has made it impossible for firemen to get onto the second floor to battle the blaze and rescue children trapped inside their classrooms. The firemen don't yet fully realize it is already too late.
Firefighters recognized early on that because of the repeated application of hot tar to the roof without removing the prior layers, the fire was unable to burn through the roof, which would have helped to vent some of the superheated gas and smoke from the second floor. Thus, one of the fire department's first priorities was to chop venting holes in the roof. Firemen can be seen here as the prepare to do just that!
Smoke is now pouring from nearly every window and door of the north wing. Fire has invaded every classroom of the second floor, as well as the second floor hallway and the stairwells.
Ladders dot the wall of the school in the alley on the north side. The short ladders were placed mostly by neighbors and family members in vain attempts to rescue children from room 208, 210 and 212. By the time firemen arrived (with longer ladders), they had only minutes to attempt rescues before the classrooms were engulfed in flame.
Another view of firefighting efforts in the alley on the north side of the school. By the time this picture was taken, everyone remaining in the second floor classrooms was already dead.
The Chicago Fire Department snorkel is working the blaze in room 210, as a fireman climbs a ladder to one of room 212 windows. No children are hanging out of windows as they had been just minutes earlier, because everyone still inside the doomed classrooms is now dead or nearly dead.
Firemen are beginning to win the battle as the snorkel directs water onto the burning roof and firemen on the ground shoot water through the windows into room 210.
A huge crowd of parents, spectators and neighbors wait and watch as firefighters are finally bringing the blaze under control.
The battle to bring the blaze under control is beginning to turn in firefighters favor. What is not in their favor is the rescue of children and teachers inside the fiery classrooms - it is now too late as anyone remaining in those classrooms is already dead or beyond rescue.
Anxious parents and relatives rushed to the fire scene to await news of their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. All who stood outside the school that day witnessed unspeakable horrors none would soon forget, though few would discuss. (Photo courtesy of The Catholic New World with photo research by Renee Jackson)
View of the school from near the intersection of Iowa and Avers, looking at fire equipment and bystanders on Avers. The fire is nearly out and the magnitude of the disaster is just starting to be understood. There are more than 80 dead children still inside their classrooms.
Wide angle photo taken from northwest of the school shortly after firemen have finally extinguished the blaze. Hundreds of onlookers watch as firemen begin the grim task of removing the bodies of the victims.
An enormous crowd fills Avers Avenue and Iowa Street as word of the fire travels throughout the neighborhood. Frightened parents, neighbors and friends gather outside the school waiting to find their loved ones. At left is the south wing of the school, which did not burn, and to the right, across Iowa Street, is the convent, home to the BVM teaching nuns of Our Lady of the Angels. (Photo courtesy of The Catholic New World with photo research by Renee Jackson)
Looking south on Avers Avenue, a line of police squadrols, pressed into service as ambulances, wait to transport victims.
This is Chicago Fire Department hook and ladder truck number 36, one of the early units to arrive at the fire. It was positioned in front of the north wing on Avers Avenue, along with hook and ladder 26. It's main arial ladder was used to provide firemen access to the roof of the school. Some of it's smaller ladders were placed at the windows of rooms 208, 210 and 212 as part of the rescue efforts from those rooms. (Photo courtesy of Greg Boyle)
This is the “Quinn Snorkel” truck that responded to the OLA fire. Commissioner Robert J. Quinn came up with the idea of mounting a nozzle atop a mobile boom, much like tree-trimmers use, providing great mobility for both firefighting and rescue operations. The photo is from a 1993 calendar issued by Figgie International who owned American LaFrance (fire fighting equipment manufacturer) in 1993. This unit was restored to the 1958 appearance by the Snorkel Company for the American LaFrance Museum collection. (Photo courtesy of Ken Soderbeck of “Hand in Hand Restoration”)
This is Engine 7, date unknown, which responded to the OLA fire somewhat by mistake. Years before the fire, Engine Company 7 was moved to a new firehouse, but the “box card” was never updated, so Engine 7 was still listed for Box 5182, the nearest alarm box to OLA. As a result, when the alarm for Box 5182 was called (the OLA fire), Engine 7 was sent. Engineer Robert McCullagh, at left, is the only person currently identified in this photo. (Photo courtesy of McCullagh's grandson, Robert Minichino)
A forest of ladders dot the north wall of the school in the alley. Windows of rooms 208, 210 and 212 are on this side of the school.
The crowd in Avers Avenue remains large well after the fire is out and most victims have been removed. Looking west in the alley between the school and Glowacki's candy store. (Life Magazine Photo)