Illinois Fire Service Institute

 

Firefighter Record

Firefighter Details

Name Thomas O'Brien
Agency Chicago Fire Department
Rank Pipeman
Type of Firefighter Career
Age Range 36 to 40
Sex Male
Date of Birth 0/0/0
Date of Death 3/5/1869
Cause of Death Caught/Trapped , Fall , Contact/Exposure
Nature of Death Trauma , Burns
Attribute of Death [not applicable]
Type of Duty Firefighting operations

Incident Details

Incident Name N/A
Incident City Chicago
Incident State IL
Incident Date 3/5/1869 18:30
Incident Location Industry/ Manufacturing
Incident Attribute Structural collapses , Blizzards , Fires

Incident Summary

On March 5, 1869, four Chicago Fire Department firefighters died in the line of duty while fighting an industrial fire at the intersection of Canal and Washington Streets. Truckman Peter Marrotta of Truck 1, and Pipemen George Berg, Thomas O’Brien, and Charles Whilt, all three assigned to the steam fire engine “A.C. Coventry” (Engine 11), were killed in a structural collapse.

The fire started in the engine room of the factory and spread quickly throughout the three-story building, consuming abundant stockpiles of lumber and oils. Because the building’s windows were closed with large, iron shutters, firefighters had great difficulty accessing the structure’s interior. Firefighters from Truck 1 and Engine 11 climbed to the roof to cut holes into the building so that water streams could attack the flames from above, but the roof collapsed. While some firefighters were able to hold onto beams, fire hoses, and telegraph wires to keep from falling with the roof during the collapse, Berg, Marrotta, O’Brien, and Whilt were all killed when they fell into the burning structure.

A joint funeral service for the four fallen firefighters was held at the A.D. Titsworth firehouse on March 8. Additional funeral services for Berg and O’Brien were also held at St. Peter’s Church, and both firefighters were buried at Rosehill Cemetery. Marrotta was buried at Calvary Cemetery, and Whilt’s body was sent to Philadelphia for burial.

Marrotta was survived by his widow and one child, and Whilt was survived by his widow. Berg and O’Brien were both U.S. Civil War veterans.

Citations:

“The Fire Fiend,” Chicago Tribune, March 6, 1869.

“The Great Disaster,” Chicago Tribune, March 7, 1869.

“The Canal Street Disaster,” Chicago Tribune, March 8, 1869.

“Ashes to Ashes,” Chicago Tribune, March 9, 1869.


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