|Agency||Chicago Fire Department|
|Type of Firefighter||Career|
|Age Range||56 to 60|
|Date of Birth||0/0/0|
|Date of Death||12/17/1953|
|Cause of Death||Struck by object|
|Nature of Death||Trauma|
|Attribute of Death||[not applicable]|
|Type of Duty||Firefighting operations|
On December 17, 1953, a fire at Chicago’s Reliance Hotel resulted in the deaths of five Chicago Fire Department firefighters: Captain Nicolas A. Schmidt, a twenty-five year veteran (Engine 107); Robert R. Schaack, a WWII veteran who had been wounded at Okinawa (Truck 19); John Jarose, who had only recently returned to duty after breaking his leg at an earlier fire (Engine 31); Robert Jordan (Truck 2); and George Malik (Engine 31). In addition, one civilian hotel guest was killed in the fire and 24 firefighters were injured.
The three-story hotel had recently been inspected by the city and several changes to the design and layout of the building had been ordered. The hotel was in the process of being remodeled in preparation for a second inspection scheduled for later in the month, but a major fire occurred before these modifications could be finalized. The Chicago Fire Department quickly arrived on scene, but the hotel was already engulfed in flames. Shortly after officers ordered a 3-11 alarm, the interior west wall collapsed, bringing the roof and upper stories down with it.
Firefighters were operating on the roof and inside the building searching for trapped victims when the building collapsed. Those on the roof were able to ride down on top of the debris, but firefighters inside the building were trapped. Firefighters immediately began digging through the debris in search of their trapped colleagues, while those under the debris who were able to move around also worked to free their comrades. Together, inside and out, they worked steadily through frigid temperatures to dig out the trapped firefighters.
Because of the precarious state of the remaining roof and walls, the rescuers were initially unable to use heavy machinery to move debris from the collapsed building. Six hours after the collapse, with two firefighters still missing, Assistant Fire Commissioner Anthony J. Mullaney ordered all of the firefighters out and brought in a power shovel. Upon seeing the heavy machinery, the wife of George Malik, who was still missing, cried out, “They put the crane in- our hope is gone.” The digging continued for some time, even after the third floor gave way and collapsed into the basement, and the final body, that of Malik, was finally recovered.
Seventy-five occupants of the hotel were successfully rescued, but civilian John Tybor was killed in the blaze. Witnesses later reported that Tybor, a former inmate of Manteno State Hospital, had been intoxicated shortly before the fire, and his body was later recovered in the area of the hotel where the fire had begun. Considering his history of mental illness and the fact that his body had been recovered from the heart of the fire, investigators initially believed that the fire could have been an art of arson. Furthermore, investigators also found a note in Tybor’s pocket that allegedly stated he had been involved in numerous crimes and had a history of starting fires. The inquest following the fire focused in part on questions of Tybor’s mental health, but the cause of the fire was never definitively determined to be arson.
Funeral rites were held separately for each of the fallen firefighters, with fellow firefighters serving as pallbearers and fire trucks carrying loads of flowers to the resting places.
“Here is a List of Fire Dead and Injured,” Chicago Daily Tribune, December 18, 1953.
“Fire Toll: 6 Dead, 24 Hurt,” Chicago Daily Tribune, December 18, 1953.
“3 Story Hotel Caves In; Rescuers Toil 6 Hours,” Chicago Daily Tribune, December 18, 1953.
“Death on Duty,” Chicago Daily Tribune, December 19, 1953.
“Manteno Aids to Face Fire Probe,” Chicago Daily Tribune, December 19, 1953.
“Services Held for 5 Firemen Killed on Duty,” Chicago Daily Tribune, December 22, 1953.
“Families of 5 Firemen Share WGN-TV Fund,” Chicago Daily Tribune, December 23, 1953.
“Kin of 5 Killed Fighting Blaze to Get $44,500,” Chicago Daily Tribune, January 6, 1954.