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Our Lady of the Angels (OLA) School Fire, December 1, 1958
OLA Fire Period News Articles
(These stories have been reproduced as accurately as possible from the original news reports, including original errors)
90 Die In School Fire (12/1/58)
74 Hurt, Blast Traps Scores (12/1/58)
Tough Chicago Police Weep At The Tragic, Tiny Bundles (12/1/58)
Tom Feared Sight Of Death's Mask (12/1/58)
Margaret Was a Little Girl Who Didn't Like to Be Sick (12/1/58)
Joe Wasn't Hurt, He Saw Only Horror (12/1/58)
Sobbing Nun Tells of Horror In School Fire (12/1/58)
Parish Families Seek Children (12/1/58)
Man, 74, Stricken Helping Children (12/1/58)
F.B.I. Ready to Assist Chicago Fire Inquire (12/1/58)
Panic Grips Classrooms; Confusion Increases Toll (12/1/58)
Everybody was Jumping (12/1/58)
List of Identified Dead In Chicago School Fire (12/1/58)
Fire Gong Tolled A Deadly Message (12/1/58)
Frantic Dad Tells Fire Rescue Role (12/1/58)
85 Youngsters Still Hospitalized; Blaze 3rd Worst In 100 Years (12/2/58)
Smoldering School Ruins Like A Cavern Of Death (12/2/58)
87 Children, 3 Nuns Die in School Fire (12/2/58)
Probers of Fire Ask: Why? (12/2/58)
Schoolboy Smoking Cigaret Might Have Touched Off Fire (12/2/58)
One Family's Story (12/2/58)
Throng Just Waits, Looks (12/2/58)
The Morgue (12/2/58)
School Fire Chicago's Worst in 55 Years (12/2/58)
“I'll Remember It to My Dying Day,” Says Fireman (12/2/58)
Chronology Shows Speed of Disaster (12/2/58)
Girl Recalls Burning Backs Of Classmates (12/2/58)
Chicago Presses Search for Clues to Fire At School (12/2/58)
'I Won't Give Up Hope,' Says Father (12/2/58)
Boy Who Jumped Tells of Tragedy (12/2/58)
Pope John Wires Condolences to Bereaved Kin (12/2/58)
Arson Squad to Probe Fire in School Last Year (12/2/58)
“It's Just Too Much,” Laments Archbishop (12/2/58)
Hospitals Work Around Clock to Relieve Injured (12/2/58)
Other School Tragedies (12/2/58)
Moscow Says School Fire No Accident (12/2/58)
Memories of Horror Rack School Janitor (12/2/58)
How Fireman Feels Carrying Out Victims (12/3/58)
Third Worst In Nation (12/3/58)
Priests Try Vainly To Comfort Bereaved Relatives And Parents (12/3/58)
Struggle to Save Fire Survivors Continues (12/3/58)
Gigantic IFs Jolt Probers Digging Into Fire Mystery (12/3/58)
Fire Leads to School Checkups (12/3/58)
Rites Held for Nuns Killed in School Fire (12/4/58)
10,000 Mourners at Funeral Of Three Nuns Killed in Fire (12/4/58)
Mass Offered for 28 Small Victims of Fire (12/5/58)
Fire Victim's Souls Commended to God (12/5/58)
91st Chicago Victim Of School Fire Dies (12/6/58)
500 Children Face Questioning In School Fire (12/6/58)
Bereaved Families Mourn in Chicago (12/7/58)
9-Year-Old Boy Dies, Raises Chicago School Fire Toll to 92 (12/8/58)
Boy Becomes 92d Victim of Chicago Fire (12/8/58)
School Fire Horror Probed (12/11/58)
Chicago School Afire Long Before 1st Alarm (12/11/58)
Terror, Torment Related by School Fire Victims (12/13/58)
Girl Fire Victim, 9, Wonders Why Cards Have Stopped Coming (12/14/58)
Fire. Thirty-Eight O Eight Iowa...The Alarm Was Desperate, the Tragedy Incredible! (12/15/58)
Nightmare in the News (12/15/58)
Disasters - The Chicago School Fire (12/15/58)
How Safe Are The Schools (12/15/58)
Fire Hazards Found At 2 City Schools
Two Schools To Be Closed As Fire Risks
Texas School Tragedy Of 294 Dead Recalled
$50,000? So What?
Erect Fireproof School Building (11/30/59)
City Cleared As Defendant In School Fire (7/19/60)
New School Open (9/60)
Considered prime suspect in Chicago blaze (1/16/1962)
Boy Admits Fire Fatal To 95 (1/16/62)
Judge Rips Lie Tester On Boy's Story Of Fire (1/16/1966)
Cicero Won't Let Police Talk to Youth (1/16/1962)
Lad Cleared in School Fire (3/13/62)
Memories stay forever - Our Lady of Angels fire survivor (11/83)
'Born fireman' wanted to be part of the action (6/1/2003)
How Safe Are The Schools
CHICAGO, Dec 15 - (US News)- A school fire killed 87 children in Chicago last week, and people across the country immediately began asking: How safe are our schools.
In city after city, State after State, officials have set out to find the answer.
Special investigations are being made, school buildings are being rechecked in a nation-wide search for fire hazards.
Causes for alarm. Already, these investigations are turning up some alarming facts.
Michigan's State superintendent of public instruction, Dr. Lynn Bartlett.. estimates that his State has at least 1,800schools which must be considered fire hazards. Kentucky's State Fire Marshal, Ray Humkey, says that the Chicago disaster could be duplicated in -1 5 per cent of Kentucky's schools. Two experts on fire in Utah say that State has many two-story schools which are improperly equipped for fire emergencies.
A public school and two private schools in New York City were ordered closed last week when fire hazards were found in a recheck of the city's 1,500 schools. Seven public schools were found hazardous in Washington, D. C.
As a result of such findings, new programs are now being organized and new building codes drawn up in many localities to eliminate fire hazards in schools.
A look at the records. Events show the danger that exists. The National Fire Protection Association estimates that there are more than 2,100 school fires each year, on the average, in the United States. There were 128 last year in York City alone.
In the great majority of school fires, no lives are lost. Fires often occur outside of school hours. When fires strike during class sessions. pupils trained in fire drills usually march out to safety.
Yet, all too often, school fires become horrible tragedies. In the last 50 years, according to the National Fire Protection Association, at least 726 American youngsters and teachers have been killed in 36 fires.
Last week's fire in Chicago killed 90 persons - 87 children and three nuns. Yet it ranks third among the worst school disasters of this century. The worst was at New London, Tex., in 1937, when 294 were killed by an explosion which destroyed a schoolhouse. There were 175 killed in Collinwood, Ohio, in 1908; 77 at Camden, S.C., in 1923, and 36 at Hobart, Okla., in 1924.
Lessons for parents, officials. What happened in Chicago is bringing home to parents and officials all over the country a realization of how fire can strike even in a school that is thought to be safe..
The fire in Chicago was at Our Lady of the Angels School, a Roman Catholic parochial school with an enrollment of 1,700. It was a two-story building, built of brick. Chicago's fire commissioner, Robert J. Quinn, said the building had been inspected by the fire department during Fire Prevention Week, October 5 to 11, and was found to comply with all the safety laws. “The building actually was what one would term very clean,” he said.
Yet this is what happened.
Fire broke out in a stair well in the basement of the school. The blaze swept up the stair well to the second floor so fast that scores of children were trapped. The inside stairway was ablaze, and the single outside fire escape was at the end of the building farthest from the victims.
How could this happen, in a school so recently inspected and declared safe.
What started the fire may never be known. But one explanation for the rapid spread of the blaze was given by investigators. They said there were no doors at the top of the stairway on the second floor, and this permitted the fire and hot gases rushing up the stair well to leak out into the second-floor corridor. The investigators said that, if there had been doors and they had been closed, the flames could have been held back long enough for all children to escape.
The big question. Not, with the Chicago disaster fresh in their minds, people everywhere are wondering about the schools attended by their own children.
These questions are being asked: How can a school be made safe against fire? And, if fire should strike a school, how can the occupants of that school be assured of a safe escape.
What people are finding as a result of the nation-wide check now under way, is that there are no national fire-safety standards laid down for schools. There is no national agency with any authority to say how a school shall be built, no nation-wide records of school conditions are kept.
School safety is left, in most areas, to local regulations. Only a few States impose State-wide requirements and State inspections.
Result is a hodgepodge of school-building standards - and many possibilities for dangerous conditions to exist. There is no way of knowing how many of this country's schools are “fire traps.”
It is often difficult to tell, even by close inspection, whether a school is safe.
Guides for building There are, however, some basic rules for school boards to follow in planning school construction. Check lists are provided by which parents, school?board members and teachers can measure the safety of school buildings.
These guides to school safety can be obtained by any person for only a few cents. Following are some of the publications that are available, and how they can be obtained.
“School Fire Safety” - Bulletin 1951, No. 13, issued by the U. S. Office of Education. For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U. S. Government Printing Office, Washington 25, D. C. Price: 20 cents.
“Checklist of Safety and Safety Education in Your School” - issued by the National Commission on Safety Education of the National Education Association. Available from the National Education Association, 1201 Sixteenth Street, N. W., Washington 6, D. C. Price: 50 cents.
“Fire Safe School Buildings” - published by the National Board of Fire underwriters. Copies can be obtained, without charge, through the office of the inspection board or rating bureau maintained by the fire insurance companies in your State, or by writing to the National Board of Fire Underwriters at 85 John Street, New York 38, N.Y.: 222 West Adams Street, Chicago 6, 111., or 465 California Street, San Francisco 4, Calif.
“School Fires” - obtained from the National Fire Protection Association, 60 Batterymarch Street, Boston 10, Mass. Price: 50 cents.
Some points to watch What these publications tell you to watch for in measuring the safety of your school is set out in the chart on page 43. Following are some of the suggestions the experts offer for making schools safe against fire.
School buildings should be constructed of fire?resistant material. Buildings of more than one story should have masonry walls?not wooden ones?and contain fire?resistant walkways from each classroom to the outside. One?story buildings are safest. Buildings of more than two stories are not recommended.
“Hot spots” where fires are likely to originate?such as furnace rooms, laboratories and classrooms for manual training and domestic science?should be segregated from other areas by fire?resistant construction or by distance.
Areas where large groups congregate ? such as auditoriums and gymnasiums - should be on the ground floor with direct exits from the building.
Stair wells should be enclosed, because open stairs invite an upward flow of heat, smoke and fire which increases the danger on upper floors and often makes the stairway unusable. Heavy doors should close off the stair wells at their entrances to each floor. This was demonstrated in the Chicago fire.
Vertical openings in the partitions should be blocked at each floor level to prevent the fire from rising.
Corridors and stairways should wide enough to accommodate all the students. A minimum suggested is a stair lane at least 22 inches wide for each 60 pupils. There should be at least two stairways?and they should be remote from each other. Entrances to stairs should be protected by smoke-retaining shields.
All exit doors should open outward, and be equipped with a “panic lock” - a wide bar that opens the door when pushed at any point.
The best “fire escape,” according to experts, is an enclosed, fire?resistant stair well. Outside fire escapes should be pro. vided, however, for buildings where enclosed stair wells are not feasible.
Each building should have an automatic warning device that notifies the fire department as well as the occupants.
One safety precaution highly recommended is an automatic sprinkler system that sprays a room with water when set off by heat. Officials of the National Fire Protection Association say their records show no fatal fires in schools with sprinkler protection.
A new danger In these days of growing enrollments, a new fire hazard is often added: that of overcrowding. If the classes in your school are large,' special safety measures must be taken.
At this time of year, there's another thing to watch: Christmas decorations. Make sure they are not flammable.
At all times, teachers and janitors should be on guard against accumulations of flammable waste material. The Chicago fire is believed to have started in a pile of papers.
Inspections and fire drills of course, should be standard procedure. But what the nation is finding now is that these are not always enough.
Schools, to be safe, must be built for safety - and they must be kept safe by constant vigilance.
As a result of the Chicago fire, the people of this country are alerted to the danger. Outlook is that a lot of schools now are going to be made safer against fire.