|Agency||Chicago Fire Department|
|Type of Firefighter||Career|
|Date of Birth||0/0/0|
|Date of Death||8/5/1897|
|Cause of Death||Struck by object|
|Nature of Death||Trauma|
|Attribute of Death||[not applicable]|
|Type of Duty||Firefighting operations|
On August 5, 1897, six firefighters from the Chicago Fire Department were fatally injured in the line of duty while fighting a fire in a grain elevator located on Grand Avenue at the north branch of the Chicago River. Pipeman John J. Coogan, Pipeman Jacob J. Schnur, and Pipeman Jacob S. Straman, all of Engine 3 were killed instantly, as was Driver Thomas Monaghan, although his body was not found until August 8. Driver Charles M. Conway of Engine 27 died from his injuries on August 6, and Pipeman William Hanley of Engine 5 died from his injuries on August 19.
The fire was discovered by a Chicago and Northwestern Railway grain elevator employee shortly after 5PM, and the first responding firefighters were met by intense heat, smoke, and rapidly spreading flames. Because the fire was confined to the upper levels of the elevator and the flames were spreading upward, however, fire officers believed that the conditions for a grain dust explosion had been avoided and an aggressive fire attack was ordered. Firefighters from Engine 27 were stationed on a rooftop thirty feet from the elevator, and firefighters from Engine 3 were attacking the fire from street-level, when the grain dust exploded.
The elevator was ripped apart by the explosion, sending iron, bricks, wood, and tons of grain raining down onto the firefighters. Coogan, Schnur, and Straman were instantly crushed to death by a falling wall, and Conway, Monaghan, and Hanley all suffered serious burn injuries in the explosion. Conway died from his injuries at Cook County Hospital on August 6, and Hanley succumbed to his burn injuries at Polyclinic Hospital on August 19. Monaghan’s body remained missing for several days, but was recovered from the Chicago River on August 8 with severe burn injuries. More than thirty other firefighters, and seven civilians, were also injured by the explosion.
The explosion was witnessed by thousands of city workers heading out of downtown for the day, including Coogan’s fiancée and Straman’s wife and sister, and damage to the elevator, its contents, and nearby buildings was estimated at $275,000.
“Three Firemen Die at Their Posts” Chicago Daily Tribune, August 6, 1897.
“Railroad Cars Scorch and Burn,” Chicago Daily Tribune, August 6, 1897.
“They Fight the Fire at Fatal Cost,” Chicago Daily Tribune, August 6, 1897.
“Driver May Be Alive,” Chicago Daily Tribune, August 7, 1897.
“Heroism of the Firemen,” Chicago Daily Tribune, August 7, 1897.
“Victims of the Fire,” Chicago Daily Tribune, August 7, 1897.
“Thomas Monaghan’s Body is Found,” Chicago Daily Tribune, August 9, 1897.
“James Henley Dies of Burns,” Chicago Daily Tribune, August 20, 1897.