|Agency||Chicago Fire Department|
|Type of Firefighter||Career|
|Age Range||51 to 55|
|Date of Birth||0/0/0|
|Date of Death||11/22/1895|
|Cause of Death||Struck by object|
|Nature of Death||Trauma|
|Attribute of Death||[not applicable]|
|Type of Duty||Firefighting operations , Hose operations|
On November 22, 1895, four members of Chicago Fire Department Engine 2 died in the line of duty while fighting a fire in the Dry Goods and Woolen Exchange building located at the northwest corner of Franklin and Van Buren Streets. Lieutenant Patrick J. O’Donnell, Pipeman John Downs, Pipeman Thomas J. Prendergast, and Pipeman Martin Sherreck were killed when portions of the seven-story structure collapsed.
The fire started on the second floor of the building at around 9AM. The fire was adjacent to an elevator shaft, allowing flames and smoke to quickly rise and spread throughout the building. Panicked workers were jumping from the upper levels of the building as fire companies arrived on scene, and one woman ultimately jumped to her death.
Four hours after the fire started, a majority of the flames had been successfully extinguished, but firefighters were still scattered throughout the building fighting small pockets of fire. Portions of the building structure had been weakened by the fire, and the structure was no longer strong enough to support two large safes installed on the upper floors of the building. At around 1PM, the safes crashed through the weakened floors, and created an avalanche of mortar, heavy beams, flooring, pipes, and other debris.
Although seventy firefighters were operating in the building at the time of the collapse, only five firefighters from Engine 2 were directly in the path of the falling debris. The five firefighters were swept from the second floor of the building and buried under tons of debris. Firefighters began aggressive efforts to rescue their trapped colleagues, and Engine 2 Pipeman Daniel McNally was pulled out of the wreckage with minor injuries in less than one hour, but search and rescue efforts were delayed when the fire rekindled during the afternoon. After the rekindled blaze was successfully extinguished, firefighters were able to locate and recover the bodies of the four fallen firefighters.
Prendergast was survived by his widow and one child.
Funeral services for Downs, a member of the department since 1871, were held at All Souls’ Church, and he was buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery. He was survived by his widow and eight children.
Funeral services for Sherreck were held at Bohemian Church, and he was buried at Norwood Park Cemetery. He was survived by his widow and one child.
O’Donnell was survived by his pregnant widow and eight children, and he was buried without a grave marker at Calvary Cemetery in Evanston. In November 2008, 113 years after his death, fifty of O’Donnell’s descendents and dozens of Chicago firefighters joined Chicago Fire Commissioner John Brooks at the cemetery to dedicate a gravestone engraved with O’Donnell’s name and likeness.
“At the Homes of the Dead Men,” Chicago Daily Tribune, November 23, 1895.
“Chicago’s Heroic Firemen,” Chicago Daily Tribune, November 23, 1895.
“Description of Burned Block,” Chicago Daily Tribune, November 23, 1895.
“Fire fatal to five,” Chicago Daily Tribune, November 23, 1895.
“Search for the Buried Firemen,” Chicago Daily Tribune, November 23, 1895.
“Coroner’s Jury Visits the Ruins,” Chicago Daily Tribune, November 24, 1895.
“One Lesson of the Recent Fires,” Chicago Daily Tribune, November 24, 1895.
“Prendergast’s Body Recovered,” Chicago Daily Tribune, November 24, 1895.
Joel Hood, “Chicago Firefighter Laid to Rest—113 Years Later,” Chicago Tribune, November 23, 2008.