IFLODD: Firefighter Memorial

Firefighter Record

Firefighter Details

Name Robert Coombs
Agency Des Plaines Fire Department
Rank Firefighter
Type of Firefighter Career
Age Range 31 to 35
Sex Male
Date of Birth 0/0/0
Date of Death 4/26/1962
Cause of Death Fall , Contact/Exposure
Nature of Death Trauma , Asphyxiation
Attribute of Death [not applicable]
Type of Duty Ladder operations , SCBA operations , Search and rescue operations

Incident Details

Incident Name N/A
Incident City Des Plaines
Incident State IL
Incident Date 4/26/1962 13:30
Incident Location Sewer
Incident Attribute Gas leaks , Medical emergencies

Incident Summary

Robert Coombs joined the Des Plaines Fire Department as a career firefighter on May 1, 1956. On Thursday, April 26, 1962, Coombs died in the line of duty during the rescue of three workers trapped thirty feet underground in a sanitary sewer near the intersection of River Road and Rand Road in Des Plaines. The workers had been exposed to methane gas while removing a bulkhead that had been used to seal off an older sewer line during the construction of a new sewer.

At around 1:30 PM, a restaurant owner called the Des Plaines Fire Department after a sewer worker ran into his restaurant to report that three of his coworkers were unconscious at the bottom of the sewer shaft. Firefighters responded to the scene and several firefighters, including Coombs, descended into the sewer wearing SCBA masks, each with a twelve minute supply of air. With some assistance from civilians, the firefighters successfully rescued the three trapped workers, but Coombs, the last firefighter to leave the sewer, ran out of oxygen and was overcome by sewer gas. Coombs was further injured when he fell more than twenty feet to the sewer floor while his colleagues were helping him exit the sewer shaft. Coombs was taken to Lutheran General Hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival. The three sewer workers, along with three other firefighters, were all successfully treated at local hospitals.


“Fumes Kill Fireman; 6 Are Stricken,” Chicago Daily Tribune, April 27, 1962.

“Des Plaines Expresses Gratitude to Fireman Killed in Sewer Rescue,” Chicago Daily Tribune, May 20, 1962.

Firefighter and Incident Images

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Firefighter and Incident Audio

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