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

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This photo from 1960 shows Fire Main at city hall, the dispatch center where telephone calls, such as the call reporting the OLA fire, were received. Here, operators would answer the phones, and depending upon the type of call, dispatch an ambulance, fire companies, or whatever was appropriate. Box alarms were received and dispatched here as well. The information was sent, via a “joker” and P.A. speakers in the various fire houses, by the dispatcher in front of the microphone in the center of the picture. Part of an electric wall map of the city's fire and rescue companies is visible at the upper left. (Photo courtesy of Greg Boyle)
A fireman climbs truck 26's eight-five foot main aerial ladder up the west side of the north wing.
A fire department ladder truck is parked in front of the main entrance to the north wing with it's 85 foot arial ladder extended to the roof. A pumper truck is in the alley north of the school (left in photo).
Firemen attempt to gain access to the second floor where dozens of children are still trapped in their classrooms. Entering via the stairwells is hopeless at this point because of the suffocating smoke. In 1958, firefighters did not have masks and air bottles.
Amid a forest of ladders, a fireman approaches a window at room 212, the room with the least fire damage yet one of the highest death rates. All the deaths in room 212 were due to suffocation from the deadly smoke that permeated the second floor.
Firemen struggle to get a handle on the fire from the alley north of the school. The snorkel is shooting water into room 210 while crews on the ground attack the blaze in room 208 and the northeast stairwell. Fire can be seen through the northwest stairwell window at the far right.
The snorkel attacks the fire through one of the windows of room 212 by directing the water at the ceiling, a standard fire-fighting technique. By directing the stream at the hottest part of the room, the ceiling, the fire is cooled and much of the water instantly turns to steam, helping to smother the flames.
The snorkel shoots thousands of gallons of water per minute onto the fire, while the late afternoon sun illuminates the smoke with a sunset-like reddish glow.
Fireman John Windle directs water at the blaze from his vantage point on the Chicago Fire Department's newest tool, the snorkel. A new weapon in the firefighting arsenal in 1958, the snorkel allows a single firefighter to direct water onto a roof, through a window or other places unreachable with just ladders. Firefighter safety is increased as well, because he can withdraw to a safe distance on a moment's notice, unlike a fireman on a ladder or entering a burning building and negotiating smoke-filled halls, stairways and rooms.
Firemen stand atop their fire truck to get a better attack on the blaze in room 208. Meanwhile, the snorkel pours water through the west window of room 210.
Firemen concentrate on dousing the worst part of the blaze, which burned in the cockloft above the classrooms and center hallway, and eventually burst down into those rooms with devastating results.
The scene looking west in the alley north of the school as firefighting operations are nearing completion. The snorkel used is evident in the foreground, and some of the many ladders placed to second floor windows can be seen at left.
A  fireman seeks access to the second floor in hopes of reaching the classrooms in time to rescue the children trapped in those rooms. On both the north and south sides of the north wing, children were hanging out of windows gasping for air, screaming for help, throwing things and finally, jumping, falling or being pushed to the ground some 25 feet below. But there was not enough window space to allow all the children a spot at a window, and by the time firemen fought their way into the classrooms, room by room, there were no more children alive.
When firemen were finally able to enter the school, to their horror they discovered their mission had become one of recovering bodies, for all who remained were dead. Here firemen work in the front hall of the north wing, as a blackened statue of Christ looks on. (Photo courtesy of The Catholic New World with photo research by Renee Jackson)
A fireman in room 212 watches as a child is carried down a ladder. Room 212 suffered 28 deaths, even though the fire was far less severe in that room -- the suffocating smoke and poisonous gases killed without mercy.