f- The Chicago School Fire By Chester I. Babcock, Manager and Rexford Wilson, Engineer NFPA Fi" Remd Deparl",en! Chi,",. T""M Shortly before classes were to be dis- The School Building missed on December 1 , 1958 , fire broke oUt at the foot of a srairway in the The fire was confined to one wing of Our Lady of the. Angels School , Chi- the V-shaped 2-story brick , wood- cago , II1inois. Ninety pupils and three joisted building (see diagram 1). The nuns at this Roman Catholic grade north wing, where the fire occurred schoollosr their lives when smoke , heat had been built in 1910 and originally and fire cut off their normal means of housed a church on the first floor and parochial school classrooms on the escape through open stairways and second. Aftera new church was built. corridors. . Seventy-seven were seriously injured. on adjoining property in 1949, the church-school huilding was converted to a classroom building, and in 1953 it Gmeful app",i..ion i, given to Chief F. W. was connected to anOther old 2-story Kempf of rhe Chicago Fice In,u,""" Pmo! , to brick , wood-joisted building (located at Chicago Fice Commi"ion" R. J. Quinn and hi, the corner of W. Iowa and N. Avers mlf , to Mr. EI"", R"ke of the Cook County In- peerion Duceau and to orhm in rhe Chicago area Sts. ) by a 2- story brick , wood-joisted for their coopmrion and ",i"an" ,J",ing chi, annex. The firsr and second stories of invwigacion. rhe resulting V-shaped building were 155 The Quarterly National Fire Protection Association January 1959
156 QUARTERLY 01 THE NrPA - JANUARY 1959 c",."s.,. ri." Thi. photo wo. taken "0" the .,ade levellandin. in Ihe eo, .Iai,well el Ihe ne"h win.. The Ii,e ,a"ed at the ba.e..ent levellandin. wh... the leu, ..en a,e Iandin.. The window in the lell bad.,eund b,oke eady in Ii,e. Twe deo,way. ,e.. bae..ent level are ne vi.i- ble. At !he Ii"t IIae, level the Cia.. B lire deer thai kepI Ii,e and ...eke out 01 the Ii"t "aY i. ..en ,andin. aja,-
THE CHICAGO SCHOOL FIRE 157 (H(/RCH WINe WEJ"T .TOWA J"TREET Diagra.. I. Pial plan 0 "haol and adlaeent properly. Seeand .to", delail. 0 "hool building .hown. FIe .tarled 01 ba.e..enllevel 01 "airway ..a,ked by "0".occupied by classrooms. A -chapel was receiving the final hour s instruction be-in the basement of the north wing, and fore the scheduled 3:00 P. M. dismissal.there were three classrooms in the base- Sometime prior to 2:25 P. M. firement of the south wing. broke out in combustible material at the Open interior stairways and lack bottom of the rear stairway of the northstandard protection for doorways in the wing. A pupil " sneaking a smoke " inmasonry division wall between the this stairway is one possible cause. Fol-north wing and the annex made the en- lowing the fire a partially burned bundletire building essentially one fire area. of newspapers , a book of wallpaperFor further information on construction samples , a package of old exam bookssee " ConstruCtion Details " on page 167. and the remains of a roll of asphalt- satUrated felt were found among other An exact count of the number of peo- combustible material in the debris.ple in the school at the time of the fireis not known. Conservative estimates Discoveryplace the total at between 1200 and1300. It is known that there wete 569 At 2:25 P. M. the teacher of Room 206pupils and teachers in the north wing, (see diagram 2) started two of her of whom 329 were in the six second- pupils on the normal routine of takingstory classrooms. the class waStebaskets down to the boiler room incinerator. They returned Origin of Fire at 2:30 P. M. to say that they smelled At 2:00 P. M. most of the pupils were smoke. The teacher raId her classra in their classrooms with their teachers remain seated as she hurried to Room ""c-~._~~O"c~-
158 QUARTERLY OF THE NFPA - JANUARY 1959 Ra~ Room 2/0 CrocloS GNclo4 Room 2/1 Room 209 RoamZO7 Croci. Croclo8 CrJclOS~6 OO.ocI "niu~cI In",."" ""ecl s,, :rn r. Dlag,a.. 2. Seeand "ory of narlh wing. F;,e .tarled at ba.e..enl level 01 .tai,way ..a,ked by "0", After th;. d;agra.. w.. d,awn one of he 16 Inlu,ed in Roo.. 210 died. Ca..alUe., Roo.. 210 .hould ,ead 30 dead; IS iniured.207 to ask what she should do. Afterbeing advised of the smoke the teacherof Room 207 ran down the corridor tothe principals o ffice in the middle of thesouth win g to alert her. The principalwas not there as she was substitutIngfor a sick teacher on the first floor. . The Room 207 teache~ then returnedto her classroom. She and the teacherof Room 206 decided to take their classesour of the building. The pupils inRoom 207 went our through the cloak-room and down the fire escape stairswhile those in Room 206 went down theannex stairs and outdoors. Smoke wasalready at head level in the second ~ory cotridor. Both classes were taken to the churchafter which the teacher of Room 206 ranback to the school , went to the firstfloor of the south wing and operated thefire alarm signal. The time was now The 40 pupU. and Ihelr leaehe, who were Iabollt2:42 P. Roo.. 207 e..apeddawn Ihl. Ii" mope. Meanwhile , the school janitor wasri:turning -along W. Iowa St. to the between the parish house and the schoolschool building from other school prop- and saw smoke in the rear , near the.erty several blocks away. At approxi- stairwell. He says he ran into theboilermately 2:25 P. M. he entered the aller room , then ran to the parish house and
THE CHICAGO SCHOOL FIRE 159yelled to the housekeeper to call the fire stOpped his car , and since there waS node~artment. He then ran back into the fire alarm box in sight , rushed intO aboiler room and started through the small neighborhood grocery store justbuilding. According to the fire depart- north of and adjacent ro the school andment , the housekeepers call was its asked for a telephone. On being tOldfirst notification of the fire. This call that there was no pl/hiic telephone hewas received at 2:42 P. , suggesting said I wanted to report a fire in thethat she may have delayed placing the school!" and rushed out to try to findcalL The standard response to a tele- a telephone somewhere else. The storephoned alarm - one engine , one ladder proprietress followed him out and wenttruck , one rescue squad and a battalion tOward the school. She saw no commo-chief - was dispatched. A unit of the tion or unusual aCtivity inside but onChicago Fire Patrol also responded on approaching the doorway to the rearthis alarm. stairway she saw a tongue of flame com- ing from over the door. She then ran At about the same time; the fire de- back to her stOre and telephoned the firepartment alarm office received the first department over her priM" telephone.of fifteen other telephoned alarms , none This call was made at approximatelyof which came from anyone in the 2:43 P. M. She was rold Help is al-school building. A passing motOrist ready on the way. " On immediatelyon North Avers Avenue saw smoke com- returning to the . school she found chil-ing from around the outside door to therear stairwell of the north wing. He calling for help. dren ar open second srory windqws c"",.r","", View of mond .Ioy eo"ido, 01 norlh wing, looking ,a.. Ironl .tai,way landIng. fje o,lginated in ,eo, ,ai,way beyond Ihe a"h in eenle, ba,kg,ound 01 photo. 000 Roo.. 212 i. alloll lo,eg,aund.
160 QUARTERLY OP THE NFPA - JANUARY 1959 Hot smoke and fire gases that came up after doors had been opened and thenthe open rear stairway and mushroomed quickly closed to keep out smoke athrough the second story cotridor of the whoosh" was heard. This noise isnorth wing had been noticed by occu- thought to have accompanied the igni-pants of classrooms off the cotridor be- tion of fire gases and combustible inte-fore the building alarm rang. rior finish in the corridor. As heat be- gan breaking large glass transoms over The building fire alarm gave the first the doors , hot fire gases and flames en-notification to all other occupants tered the classrooms. Fire also enteredclassrooms except those in Room 206 the shallow roof space through a venti-(annex) and Room 207, as noted. lation grill in the corridor ceiling. Spread of Fire This was the apparent situation in the second story of the north wing when During the five or ten minutes that the firSt piece of fire apparatus arrived.the fire burned before discovery it is sur Since the major efforts of. firemen had tomised that it 4eveloped rapidly. Burn- be directed toward rescue during theing was greatly intensified when the early stages, the fire in the second storywindow in the Stairwell at basement grew . steadily worse and eventUallylevel was broken by the heat , permit- burned off about one third of the roofting a good supply of fresh air to enter before being controlled.the fire area. Hot fire gases and smokebillowed up the chimney- like stairwell Eseapeand mushroomed through the second On hearing the building fire alarmstory corridor at ceiling leve1. From all occupants of the entire first floor left the available indications there was no ac- building by the five available stairways. tual burning in the second story at the to the street , apparently without con-time second story occupants first noticed fusion and unaware of the fire.smoke. However , the occupants of sevoral of the classrooms in the second Evacuation of the second floor of thestory of the north wing reported that. annex and south wing was hampered by smoke which came through an open door in the division wall at the second story level. This door was closed early in the fire , possibly by a fireman who had entered the building to assist in rescue , or by the janitor. While many of the occupants of the second story of the south wing and annex reached the street without difficulty, there were inStances of panic and of rescue by ci- vilians. When some of the pupils of a second story classroom in the south wing refused to leave , their teacher ordered them to crawl to the stairway. When they balked at the stairway; she CJ" rolled and pushed them down. Several pupils in the second story of the south wing were taken down fire department. ladders. f Stories of the actions of the occupants of classrooms in the second story of the Floor north wi rig are not complete , but jt is TYPICAl SECOND I"U)OR .scal. possible to reconstruct fairly reliable ac- t:lA3SRDDMDt10/l! In F.., counts of what went on in the six rooms.
THE CHICAGO SCHOOL FIRE 161 Room 207 10 Room 207, at the top of the rear cape. If it was the plan of the teacher; stairwell (see diagram 2) the 24 fifth to ev acuate her class by this route was not necessary to do so for the jani- , it grade and 16 sixth grade pupils had juSt settled down afrer returning from a tOr arrived at this momenr and forced music lesson in another part of the open the Stuck or locked door, There- huilding, The door ro the corridor after all occupants of Room 207 filed down the firc escape and to the church. W"s dosed, No de"d; one injured* Roo.. 208 The 46 seventh grade pupils in Room 208 firSt learned of the fire when smoke poured in under the door from the cor- ridor. Ordered into fire drill formation by their teacher , the pupils attempted to leave via the corridor but were forced Chi.g,r,"~ The eloakao.. belween Roo... 206 and 207 .how. Ihe way eoa" Were hung In he ..ain eo"dor 01 Ihe norlh wing al Ihe .arl 01 he fIe, Note,lhe heigh 01 he fIe exllngui.her 0 he dg ht of he 7- II. hlgh door 10 he fire "ape. Shortly after 2:30 P, M. the teacher from Room 206 came in and talked briefly with the teacher of this room telling her of the smoke odor detected by two of her pupils. (For additional details see pages 157 and 158, ) A few mo- ments later she ordered her class to go our through the rear classroom door to the fire escape. No building fire alarm U".a"u was given at this time, Escape by this Many oecupan" ",eaped fro.. Roo.. 208 In Ihe ...and .ary by lu..plng 0 Ihe roof over routewas temporarilydelayed however a ba.e..en .tairway .hown lu" beneath fin when the pupils could not open the rear "ory window.. The "airway wh... fIe classroom door, One report says the .tarled I. 01 lell. door was locked , another that it was stuck, Following instructions ahoy jumped from a window to the fire es- The injuri" mnrionod herein (tOtal, 77) are tho,e ,har requiced extend,d hopiC21iw;on,
QUARTERLY OF THE NFPA - JANUARY 1959 C"""T""~ The quiek- IMnking leaeher 0 Roo.. 209, who look Ii,.. eon"al 01 , he, do.. , had ..ueh to. do with he fad Ihatonly one ehlld died in Ihi. 00". Nole the vaeanl .pane. on Ihe wall. that had been ;tied with Mghly eo..bu"ible p,emd pap.,boa,d bla,kboard..back into the room by smoke and flames, ing the door and finding the corridorPanic gripped them as they ran for the filled with smoke , the teacher slammedwindows. Some jumped to the raised it shut and then went intO action as fol-roof of an outdoor basement stairway; lows, Eoys were ordered to pile booksabout twenty- five managed to escape at cracks around doors while the girlsdown two shorr extension ladders were ordered to the windows, IJoysraised by the assistant janitOr, IJut ten were next told ro pile desks in front ofdid not get out before flames flashed doors, Cespitc these clforts smoke andthrough rhe room, Nine pupil, and heat continued tnpush intO the room"one teacher dead; 13 injured, Looking across the courryard ro class rooms in the south wing the teacher-Roo.. 20. noticed that no one was aware of the Duringa mathematics lesson in Room fire, She starred her class chanting,209 one of the 62 pupils raised his hand Fire! Fire! The schools on fire!" toand reported smelling smoke. On open- attract attention,
THE CHICAGO SCHOOL FIRB 163 About this time the Occupants of Roo.. 210 Room 209 heard a " whoosh" from the corridor. Through the transom flames Details of the actions of those in this room are incomplete. Geography, could be seen roaring along the corridor had jUSt begun for the 56 fourth grade pupils at ceiling level, The manually operated building fire alarm starred to sound, when smoke Was seen coming in from The children remained calm and some under the doors, Many were burned by names befote they jumped, of them received permission ro drop from a window ro the canopy over an bodies were found in a pile . Several beneathOutside Stairway from the firSt floor to windows. 29 pupils and one teacher the ground, Others , however dead; 15 injured. , re-mained at the windows until taken Roo.. 211down fire department ladders or until Details. of the evacuationpulled by a civilian into an adjacentwindow of the annex, Seeing no other eighth gradets in Room 211of thenot . are, 64pupils in the smoke- filled complete. Panic gripped the children room the as smoke poured in a slightly openedteacher went to the ladder , but as shestarred downsaw a girl still in the room, transom, A priest yelled from theThis pupil died before ground for them to use the front stairsOne pupil dead; nine injured, being rescued, but because of the smoke and hear in the corridor , this was impossible, SomeChi.."S". Tim" Many of the ourlh g,ade" af window. above Aoor 37% Ineh... In Roo.. 210 died beneath the.. double windows. Height
1--164 QUARTERLY OF THE NFFA - JANUARY 1959 I. . ~iJlc" i" . it~, -:~~;R"".:!; iI 3;;"- r":" if; :1~! if ,1 "C;;" t;-it~r r .. ;c iiJ~~ r,----",:)~, " LYT-fF" III" J ;" L~~~.0:~ t- I-"i , .I!t~" to hJ~ -::,",:,r ii,:,.,L fF: Zt.. f:C~i c,. t"" "*"~!"~!!"h ..; h"",~J~, ,; . h~;~~t ili J~ :i!llo " i """"1 Wid,W,," Roo.. 211, re..ole "0" Ihe ,ear "airway had a Mgh ea..alty 1i,1. Nole heavy Ii,e da..age. Roo.. 212, 0"0" he hall, ,uff.nod Ihe high.., nu..ber 01 ea.ualti.. but Vey 1i"le Ii,e da..age:jumped; s ome were taken down fire de- Fire Department Responsepartment ladders, 24 pupils dead; 18 Becauseoftherepeated telephone calls.mjured. Chicago Fire Alarm Headquarters sup-Roo.. 212 plemented the telephoned alarmre- Fifty- five fifth grade pupils were sponse by sounding the number of thestudying geography in Room 212. Be-- nearest street box , located one blockcause the room seemed warm the teacher east and one block south of the schoolasked to have the windows opened and proPerty. Sounding of this box at 2:44 then asked a boy to open the door to the M. brought two ladder companiescorridor, Smoke rolled into the toom. four engine companies and two chiefThe door was shut and the te acher tOld officers to supplement the ladder com- the pupils to stay in their seats arid pray pany, engine company; rescue squadbut as the room filled with choking hot fire insurance patrol and battalion chief -smoke many pupils rushed to the win- that had been dispatched on the tele-dows and jumped. Others stayed at phoncd alarm at 2:42 P. M. On findingwindows and were rescued by firemen children jumping from second story while a few who Stayed at their seats windows , the engine company respond- were asphyxiated. An electric clock on ing on the telephoned alarm radioed for the wall of this room stOpped at 2:47 a box alarm immediately after arrival. P. M, 27 pupils and teacher dead; 21 , This call was received simultaneously injured. with the striking of the box by the
THE ~HlCAGO SCHOOL FIRE 165alarm headquarters crew. At2:47P. Rescueafter the battalion chief responding on Before the first fire apparatUs arrivedthe still alarm arrived , a second alarm many children had already jumped fromwas ordered. Special calls for a total of windows. The assistant school janitorten fire department ambulances were with thc help of a priest had obtained-made at 2:50 P. , 2:52 P. , and 2:55 two eXtension ladders from a nearby M. At 2:57 P. M. the battalion chief . garage and had placed them against theordered a fifth alarm. A special call at wall beneath Room 208. . They were too3:08 P. M. was made for two additional short to . reach the window but aboutladder companies and two additional twenty- five . pupils were able to reachrescue squads , bringing the . total fire them from window sills.fighting and rescue equipment at thescene to 22 engine companies , seven Several outsiders rushed into theladder companies , five rescue squads building in ~n attempt to save thoseone fire insurance patrol , three high trapped in the second story of the southpressure units , two water towers , ten fire wing and annex. One man checkedthedepartment ambulances , seven chiefs entire firSt story and found everyone out.and two commissioners. The police de- Another is reported to have been seenpartment responded with over 70 squad- leaving the building with four childrenrols(patrolling stretcher-equipped panel under his arms and a third is said totrucks). have guided a small group of youngsters Chi,",. Tim" Roo.. 212 , IDeated larlh.., "0" .and lea" da..aged by the n,e , .u,alned the geat..t nu..be, 01 ea,uaille.. Note the eong..tian 01 d..k,. The heavy ,..oke eondltian, are ;ndieated by the do, nolo 01 the wal" under Ihe blaekboa,d, and by ..ake- I,ee pol, on the de,".
166 QUARTERLY OF THE NrPA - JANUARY 1959down one of the stairways. These re and broke out life nets. These are the first of innumerable heroic and oftencue efforts and those of the teachers that tragic rescue effortS by members of theh~ve been previously described are Chicago Fire Department and the Chi-thought to have been all that took cago Fire Insurance Patrol. Estimatesplace prior to arrival of firemen. indicate that these men were respon- Rescue operations by fire department sible for saving 160 lives.personnel consisted primarily of catch- While some of those who jumped diding pupils and in throwing all available not rquire immediate medical atten-ladders up to windows as . faSt as man- 85, tion and were able to run to theirpower would permit. Since Engine homes , moSt of them were hurried tofirst in , had the recommended five man one or another of four surrounding complement , it was possible for thepart of hospitals in fire department ambulances officer to divide his men. While , the and police squadrols. Activation of the crew laid in a 2y.- inch hose line hospital disaster plans greatly facili- remainder used the engine s 24- foot lad- tated efficient handling of the victims. der and roof ladder to Start rescue opera- tions on the north side of the north Fire Extinguishment wing. Ladder Company 35, first in , on The remaining men of Engine 85, seeing children at windows of the soUth running a hose line to the rear stairwell wing, started rescue operations from Started extinguishment operations. The Squad that part of the building. Rescue second in engine ran tWO hose lines up 6, . firSt in, helped ladder the building Wid, II.." Many ehild,en wm taken down ;,e depa,..ent add... bela,e they wee a,phyxioted Deparl..ent or bu,ned 10 death. When Ihi pidU. wa taken Iho,e ,tfil In the building wee dead. A new type of ;,e deparl..ent appalat.. ...d expe,i..entally by theChieago Fi,e " i, ,hown in u,e. and known a, Ihe Pil..an " gi,alle
THE CHICAGO SCHOOL FIRE 167the front Stairs and. used fog nozzles in tually burned through these doors butan a rlempt to make the cotridor usable by then fire department hose streamsfor rescue. This attempt had to he were in operation to keep ,he flamesabandoned , however , when the men from entering the annex. A similar doorwere forced down ,he stairway. in the division wall" at rhefirst stOry level was chained open but since the fire As engine companies arrived addi- did not enter the first stOry this deplor- tional hose lines were laid and the fire able condition was not a factor in thewas soon brought under control. outcome. . Construction Details Heigh" and A" One ".e A,ea The basement level was 4y,feet below The building was one fire area due to grade and the first floor 6 feet above,he open stairways and the fact that grade. The second stOry floor was 15 the masonry division wall between the feet above the first. Ceiling heights north wing and annex had substandard were 9 feet in the basement , 14 feet in. doorway protection. There were twO the first stOry and 12 feet in the second. wooden doors in this division wall at Gross floor areas of the basementthe second story level. The fact thatone of these doors was closed when the first and second floors of the entite building were approximately 12 000fire occurred and the other was closed square feet each , - tOtal gross floorshortly after the fire was discoveredprevented the fire from entering the sec- area of the building 36 000 square feet.ond srory of the annex from ,he second In the north wing each gross floor area was 6 400 square feet , - rota! grossstory of the norrh wing, The fire even- floor area 19, 200 square feet. The base" ment of the north wing was occupied by the chapel , boiler room and girls tOilet facilities; the first stOry contained four classrooms and toilers; and the second stOry six classrooms (see diagram 2). bit, Five interior and one exteriot stair- ways were disttibuted as shown in dia- gram 1. From the 84-foot-long main corridor in ,he second story of the north wing three stairways led to lower floors and the street , one a the rear of the COr- ridor and two at the front. The rear stairway (where the fire started) in ,he north wing was enclosed on all four sides at basement and first story levels by brick walls with a finish of wood lath and laSter on wood fur- ring. At the secon story level ,he stair- way was enclosed with this same ma- terial but only on three sides. Interior c"",.r","" wall openings were as follows: at the Na"ow hallway belween Roo.., 207 and basement level wooden doors (metal 209 lookIng lowa,d annex. 000 at end of sheet on one side) opened intO the rear hallway wa do..d ,a,y In lire. The,e wa, stairway from the boiler room and from negligible Ii,e da..age beyond thi, dao. Open "air fro.. ...ond to 1i,,1 lIoon 01 annex Gco"fioor "ea i, t hetocal fioorarea within the in ba,kgraund. pedrneter of the out,ide wall,.
168 QUARTERLY OF THE NrPA - JANUARY 1959 the girls tOilet room. A Class B fire An ourside Class C fire escape Stair door cut off the stairway from the first (with swinging lowersection)represent- floor corridor. The top of the stairway ing ~ unit of exit width (36 inches opened on a second story landing, which wide) was attached to the rear wall of in turn ope,ned into the second stOry the 2-story annex and accessible from main corndor as shown in Diagram 2. the second story cotridor of the annex. Exterior wall openings in this Stairwel1 were a 31 inch by 45 inch wood-framed The only stairway from the secondplain glass window at basement level stOry of the south wing was an opena pair of wood panel doors at the grade wooden flight of stairs of one unit oflevel landing, a 46 inch by 96 inch win- exit width discharging into the opendow at first floor level , and a 42 inch by first floor hallway. Six and one half84 inch window at the landing between feet ahead , an ll-Step stairway led tothe first and second floors. a landing with a door to the sidewalk The Stairs in the rear stairway were Inlerlo, Fini,hconstructed of wood except for asphalt Walls and ceilings in the huildingand rubber tile surface finish and a metalnosing on the treads. There were two were general1y wood-lath and plaster.flights of stairs and an intermediate Ceilings of all classrooms were finishedlanding between each floor , each stair with combustible cellulose fiber acousti-having a 7- inch riser and 1Oy- inch tread. cal tile cemented directly to the plaster.The under surfaces of the flightS and It was also cemented to the ceilings oflandings were finished with metal lath the firSt story corridors of the northand plaster. There were two units of wing and annex. There is difference ofexit width provided by this stairway opinion as to whether this combustible tile was on the ceiling of the second(52 inches wide). floor corridor of the north wing. The The two front stairways in the north Chicago Fire Department and memberswing were essential1y of the same con- of the combustible acoustical tile in-struCtion as the rear stairway and dustry say it was not , while the churchopened on a common landing at the official in charge of the school Statessecond floor level. Each of these two that it was. Burned pieces of the tilefront Stairways provided unitS of 2Y. were among the debrIS in the corridorexit width (each 56 inches wide). The on the day following the fire.common landing was separated from the Throughout this building there wassecond story corridor by two wood and wood interior trim in the form of doorsplain glass doors which were open at the door frames, transom frames , mop andtime of the fire. Coat hook boards. Furniture was con- In the 2-story a nnex a one unit , open structed principally of wood , and instairway of metal construction extended the secona story of the north wing therefrom the second stOry to an open corri- were pressed paperboard blackboards indor of the first story. Thirteen feet the rooms and a large amount of chil-from the bottom of these stairs and di- dren s clothing (it was below freezing -rectly. ahead was a flight of II steps , at outside) hanging from hooks alongthe foot of which was a landing with a borh sides of the main corridor.door to the sidewalk. Plastered walls had been given several CoatS of paint which at one location in the north wing measured 1/48 of an inch A unit of "it width" d,fin,d in paragraph in thickness. It is not felt that this thinJOn of rh, NFPA Building Exi" Code i, 22 inch"and i, con,ide"d to be the pac, necmarr fo, thefm p",ag of on, file of F",on,. Fraction, of a Each 1B inche, of width of CI", C fire "capeunir ace not couoted excepc char 12 or roo" inche, mi" i, counted" Y-i unit of exit width becau"ace counted " ~ unit. "eepnm and ocbet ,ubmnd"d facro",low travel.
170 QUARTERLY OF HiB NFPA - JANUARY 1959through the ventilation grill in the The Class B fire door at the first floornorth wing corridor ceiling outSide stairwell landing was intact followingRoom 208. Eventually the fire burned the fire except for cracking of the 100-up through the plaster ceiling over the square- inch wired glass window in itrear stairway. and slight warping of the exposed metal The two wood panel doors opening surface of the door. This door preventedinto the base of the Stairwell , all fire and smoke from entering the first one from stOry of the north wing.the boiler room and the other from thetoilet room , were both burned off their The wood stairs in the stairwell werehinges. Although it might appear sur- heavily burned and the top flight hadprising that there was no lire damage in collapsed. MoSt of the plaster on woodeither the boiler room or toilet room lath finish of the stairwell , includingthe lack of fire damage was probably be- that on the ceiling, had been destroyedcause of a Strong inrush of air into the but it is interesting to note that thestairwell from these rooms as soon as wood ro"of over the stairwell was notthe doors failed. burned through. It Need Not Have Happened Again it must be written that the les- mote from each other , and by sufficientsons learned from this fire repeat lessons exit capacity so that all occupants canlearned in years gone by. Again it must leave the building promptly. In none adequate. of these respects were the exit facilitiesbe said that conformity to the pro-visions of the Building Exirs Code of Our Lady of the Angels Schoolwould have prevented this disaster.Again it must be wondered how muchlonger it will be before the lessons so P,ea,dinanu Buildingtragically brought home ieJ?Catedly by In 1949 the City of Chicago adopted aschool disasters are apphed to all Municipal Code which incorporated allschools. the major features necessary for life safety from fire in buildings , including The loss of life in this fire was pri- enclosure of stairways in schools. How-marily due to i1ladequate exit faciliti,, ever , important provisions of this codeas discussed in the following section on including enclosure of exitS , did notexits. This is a basic principle of life apply to the north and south wings ofsafety from fire. Five other weaknesses Our Lady of the Angels School and toin the fire safety of the building also other schools in existence when thismade major contributions to this code was adopted. In other words theholocauSt. substandard exitS in all bur the annex Exits (built in 1953) were of preordinance Basically, the adequacy of exits is vintage , hence the non-retroactive lawdetermined by proper enclosure , by did not apply. Why the annex Stairsprovision of at least rwo ways out re- were not enclosed to comply with the The nationally mo~ni"d NFPA Building law is not known. "E,i" cod, i, the "ndard reference on adequate Exit Enela...eexit f,ciliti", from Building. "Aft" teviewing rhi, report Fire Commi"ioner The Building Exits Code requires that J Quinn "ated that he di"greed with the con- aU stairways in school buildings be eu-clu,ion rmhed by the NFPA invwigatO" ,hoc closed so that in case of fire theoccu-the principal cau,e of 16" ofexit hciliie,. life Commi"ioner Quinn , w", inadequoce f,elin~ that pants can escape without danger from ~~:I fire , smoke , fumes and resulting panic.:~~:cl:; ~~n ~:~a ~:;~r ;~;: ~fd l:~~~ ~:Ii:)::d The Stairways in Our Lady of the Angelsal..m to the fi,e dep"""ent. School were open except the two in the
THE CHICAGO SCHOOL FIRE 169coating contributed materially to the signed to sound an alarm in all parts ofspread of. fire. the building. The sYStem was not con- nected to the fire deparrment. Ordinary . Fire Protection electric light switches ro operate the There was neither autOmatic sprinkler alarm sYStem were mounted six feetnor aurol1latic fire detection eljuipment ahove the floor. They were not markedin the building. in any way ro indicate they were fire alarm controls. Private fire protection consisted ofsoda-acid fire extinguishers , standpipe The nearest public fire alarm box wasand hose sYStems and a manually oper one block east and one block south fromatedbuilding fire alarm signal system. the school and was not visible from anyThe tops of the 2Y:,- gallon soda- acid ex, point on or adjacent to the school prop-tinguishers were eight feet above the erty. Hydrants were well distributedcorridor floor (maximum recommended and fed by large mainsheight 5feet). Two standpipes in thenorth wing were one half inch less in Structurol Domogediameter than the 2- inch minimum rec- Although the fire infliCted severeommendedfor buildings of this height damage throughout the second story ofand access to valves and hose racks was the. north wing and burned off aboutdifficult because they were six feet one-third of the roof , it did not breakabove the floor. our of the stairwell at the first stOry and basement levels. It is thought that the The building was equipped with a roof damage was the result of fire ini-manual1y operated fire alarm sYStem de- tially entering the shal1ow roof space C",."S.,- Tim" A view of Roo.. 20B aken fro.. a wall opening ehopped by a rmue quad. The roal OVer he roo.. h~d eollap..d. Nole heavily bur~ed eemng me In he deb,I,.
172 QUARTERLY OF THE NFPA - JANUARY 1959through erection of stair towers , slide In existing buildings that lack en-escapes or fire escape stairs accessible closed exits and where it may be im-from individual rooms the occupants practical or too expensive to encloseof the second stories of these two sections them , the Building Exits Code suggestscould have reached the ground without the following substitute. The schoolhaving to pass through smoke- filled building can be occupied safely if bothcorridors and stairways. I) it is equipped with a standard auto- As demonstrated by the loss of life in matic sprinkler sYStem , and 2) if therethe north wing, however , adequa.te is a standard exit , of sufficient capacity from each room so that the occupantsexit capacity is not the only considera-tion , or even the most important con- can escape without passing through anysideration , when evaluating the ade- Cotridor which could be blocked byquacy of exits. Of primary importance smoke , heat or fire. This condition mayis the enclosure of exits to assure that be met in various ways , such as provid-the ways out of the building will be free ing doors leading directly outside fromof smoke and heat when needed. first floor rooms and by direct access to fire escape balconies "from every room onTwo Way, au! upper floors. Since there is always a possibility S..oke Venl, In "airway,that fire or smoke may p,event the useof one exit , at leaSt one alternate exit In the absence of an automatic smokemust be provided , remote from the vent at the top of the stairwell wherefirst. Eecause of the faCt that the three the fire started , all products of combus-stairways from the second noor corri- tion from the fire in the Stairwell weredor of the north win" "fOur lady of forced intO the second story corridor.ll,c Allgel, SchlIe! were a ll connected The presence of a venr would have re-through the common corridor , the pu- duced considerably the amount of smokepils in the second story classrooms had and hot fire gases that entered the cor- ridor. A smoke vent , however , is not ain reality no safe way out. The simple substitute for proper stairway enclos-expediency of enclosing the three stair- ures. It should be used in conjunctionwells at the second story landings wouldhave corrected this situation, The re- with such enclosures.quirement for two exits could also have Interior Finishlieen met by erecting stair towers , slideescapes or fire escape stairs accessible It is generally recognized that in the jfrom individual rooms. interest of life safety in schools interior finish should be noncombusrible(c;IassSpdnkl... and Ex", , flame spread 0- 20)* or at leaSt slow There is no question that if a com- burning (Class B , name spread 20-75).plete , properly installed and adequately The Building Exits Code , however.maintained automatic sprinkler system allows up to 10 per cent of the aggre-had been in Our lady of the Angels gate area of walls and ceilings of corri-School the fire at the base of the stair- dors and exitways to have a combustiblewell would have been luickly extin- Class C rating (name spread 75- 200).guisbed before smoke of any conse- No interior finish with a higher flamequence had penetrated the upper stOry. spread rating is permitted. The woodIt is , however , queStionable practice-tO trim in the second story corridor of therely on fire extinguishmentro the neg- north wing ",ith a Class C flame spreadlect of exits because of the possibility of rating, represented aboufl7. 5 per centboth human and mechanical failure. of the aggregate corridor area.Automatic sprinklers and stairway en-closures complement each other and Interio, Oni,h maceriai, ace elmioed by the tunnel em method (NFPA No, 255) in whicbboth should have been installed in this "bwoH enlene boned h"a eating ofOon the flameschool. pread ,calO and red oak lumbet a raring of loa.
THE CHICAGO SCHOOL FIRE 173 As previously indicated , there is dif- Comhu,/i/)/e Cellulose Fibn tlcousfiCar T,Yeference of opinion as to whether or notthe ceiling of the second stOry corridorwas finished with combustible cellulosefiber ;lcoustical tile. A linish of thismaterial would increase by 23 pcr centthe a~gre~arc corridor area with Cl;lSSC (tile with flame retardant co;ltin~ onexposed surface) or Class D (untrC;lteJtile). Because of ,he open stairwaysand the large amount of other com- !Iflbustible material present , the results ofthis fire can be satisfactOrily explainedwithout the presence of a combustibleceiling finish. The ceilings of a1l classrooms in the I"I~Isecond story of the north wing werefinished with combustible ce1lulose fiber;lcoustical tile. It is important ro recognize .the fact I/aDrthat even if this building had been of TYPICAL UCOND FLOOR Sea/.fire-resistive construction the results of ClI/SSR4.", WINDOW I.reef Chi""T,"." Seean d "a", landIng 01 ,ont 01 norlh w;ng. Open door 01 left wa, one 01 Iwo 01 openIng to eo"ldo,. Thee we,e no doo" at othe, end 01 eo"idar.
THe CHICAGO SCHOOL FIRE 171 Chi"" T,""", looking down one 0 the Iwo f,ont "a;,way, fra..lhe ,eeond "a,y landing ollhe norlh w;ng. Rear "airway whe,e Ii,e "arled wa, ,I..ila, In ean"rueUan.front of the north wing. These stairs provisions for the north wing as opposedwere enclosed at the second StOry level ro those for the rest of the building.by substandard doors which wereblocked open at the time of the fire. In the north wing, the seven exit units(See photo on Page 173. )It would have were more than adequate i11 cap~citybeen fairly simple and inexpensive ro handle the 329 people on the secondenclose aU stairways properly. If this floor. In the annex and south wing,had been done the 93 lives lost in this however , there were only 2% exit unitsfire would have been spared. available to accommodate the 281 people believed to be on the second floors ofExU eapaelly these two sections. Two-and-one- half The 9% units of exit width from the units of exit width are adequate rosecond stOry of this building Were suffi- evacuate only 150 people in I minute andcient ro permit 570 people ro reach the 20 seconds. The inability of the 2%ground in 1 mioute and 20 seconds , ac- exit units ro handle the 281 people incording ro exit capacity requirements the prescribed time was demonstratedset forth in the Building Exits Code and by the fact that the average time forelsewhere. It is conservatively esti- the evacuation of the second floor inmated lhat there were 610 people on the eight exit driUs in 1958 was slightlysecond floor of the building when the more than three minutes. Had addition-fire occurred. A closer exa mination of al exit capacity been provided to accom-the disrribution of exit capacity shows modate the excessively high population" striking contrast between the exit density in the annex and south wing
174 QUARTORLY or THE NFPA - JANUARY 1959this fire would have been similar because Fire Alarmsof the combustible materi.l, available at Inteda, Ala,..the bottom of the stairway, the absence The substandard condition of theof doors at the top of the stairway, and manual fire alarm sYStem in the schoolthe combuStible interior finish. should be nored. The alarm sending switches were not readily accessible to Detection most of the occupants of the building, they were only tWO in number and were As again clearly demonstrared by this not distinguishable from ordinary elec-fire , the fact that a building is populated tric light switches. Had readily identi-is no guarantee that a fire will be dis- fiable fire alarm stations been distributedcovered promptly, throughout the building it is likely that A complete automatic sprinkler sys- at least one of the people who firsttem would have detected and, extin- noticed smoke would have operatedguished the fire in itS incipiency, An the building alarm sYStem many minutesautomatic fire detection system installed sooner.throughout the school would probably Exleriar Ala,..,have discovered the fire before the According to the present Municipalsecond story corridor became impassable. Code of Chicago and the recognizedAutomatic protection in itself , how- standard for the installation of publicever , is not a subStitute for properly fire alarm boxes , all schools shouldenclosed stairways, It is desirable sup- have a fire alarm box at or near the en-plementary protection. trance. Had a box been so located at Our Lady of the Angels School it is In Case of Fire probable that the first alarm would have been transmitted to the fire department it is a cardinal rule of life safety that by the passerby at least one or tWO at the first indication of fire (which is minutes earlier. Furthermore , the box usually smoke) all occupants of the alarm would have resulted in response building and the fire department should of a box alarm assignment on the first be alerted simultaneously. From the notification of the fire. This would time the teacher of Room 206 was first have brought three additional engine told that there was smoke in the build.. companies and one additional ladder, ing until she operated the building fire company to the scene three or four alarm , it is estimated that 13mlOutes critical minutes earlier. elaJ?Sed. Her actions during this vital nder The NFPA Building hits Code rec- period have already been described u Discovery. " They clearly, indIcate ommends that any building fire alarm that adequate steps had not been taken system be arranged so that when oper- at this school to assure proper emergency ated to alert occupants of the building it action by the teachers In case of fire , nor will simultaneously transmit an alarm had a sufficient number of building fire to the fire department. Automatic alarm controls been provided. sprinkler systems and automatic detec- tion systems should be arranged to Had the building fire alarm been rung operate building and fire department when the fire was first discovered it is alarm systems simultaneously. probable that the second stOry corridor of the norrhwing would still have-oeen Housekeeping passable. Following -the fire the remains of a The alarm sYStem at this school was large amount of combuStible material not connected to the fIre department alarm headquarters , and no one in the NFPA 1010, 73, Standard for Intallacion , M,inte- school telephoned the fire department. nan" and U" of Municipal Fire Alarm Sy"e..,.
~~rn_=~" l~_ Summary(bundled newspapers , exam papers , etc. The ninety-three deaths In this fire arewas found among the debris at the baseof the stairwell where the fire started, ao indictment of those in authority whoThe school authorities Stated that com- have failed to recognize their life safetybustible material was not supposed to be obligations in housiog children in struC- tUres which are " fire traps. Schoolsaccumulated in this area. At the base of that lack adequate . exit facilities andand under each of the tWO front stair- approved types of autOmatic sprinklerwells, however , there was a wooden or detection equipment , and whichstOrage closet in which wooden chairsscreen panels and other combustible possess excessive amounts of highly , subStandardmaterials were srored; and a former combustible interior finish fire alerting means and poor housekeep- pupil of the school Stated that in 1957 newspapers from a paper drive were ing conditions must be rated as " fire stored at the foot of the rear stairway. traps. " School and fire authorities muSt take affirmative actions to rid their Good housekeeping is thus again empha- sized as a cardinal fire safety principle. communities nf such blights. 8yContrast - The Kenilwo rth School Fire , December 16 , 1958 fire An interesting sidelight of the fire is At 1:10 P. the fact that asa result of the Chicago broke out in the 46- year-old brick wood-joisted section of the 2-srory ele- disaSter the Kenilworth School Board had asked the Winnetka Fire Marshal mentary school at Kenilworth , Illinois. ro review again the schools fire pro- It originated in combustible material tection. Kenilworrh relies on Winnetka . stOred in a wooden closet at the base- for irs public fire protection. Acting ment level of a Stairway. Here the on one of the fire marshals recommen- similarity between this fire and that at dations the school superintendent re- the Our Lady of the Angels School ends. vised his exit drill procedure to include On discovering the fire a school cus- drills with one exit blocked. By coin- todian s first inclination was to fight cidence the exit chosen to be blocked in it but he immediately remembered the the latest of these exit drills was the imporrance of giving the alarm. Run- stairway in which the fire occurred. ning up the Stairs he yelled ro a teacher to call the fire department while he him- Although smoke made this stairway self tripped the building fire alarm impassable , closed stairway doors pre- system. vented smoke from entering cotridors. , the Finding this stairway impassable As the 650 children marched out of children reversed their exit travel and the building, the janitor retUrned to the walked through smoke- free corridors basement to find that the fire was being to smoke- free stairways while the sprin- extinguished by the two sprinklers in klers completed their extinguishment. the closet. None dead; none injured.