Saturday, October 8, 2016

October 8, 1934 -- Surviving Firefighters of the 1871 Fire Share Memories

October 8, 1934 – The Chicago Daily Tribune presents information gained from an interview with the three remaining survivors of the 225 fire fighters who lost the battle to save the city 63 years earlier.  Hoseman George Leady, 89-years-old, starts the reminiscing as the Retied Fireman’s Association of Chicago honors the few remaining surviving firemen who fought the fire.  On the anniversary of the fire that destroyed 17,500 buildings and left between 90,000 and 100,000 people homeless, it is interesting to think about what Leady had to say.  It wasn’t until the third alarm came that the city’s largest fire wagon was dispatched, Engine No. 9 with a pumping capacity of 500 gallons per minute.  “It got hotter and hotter,” Leady says.  “We took doors off their hinges and held them in front of the pipemen to keep their coats from igniting.  The hose in the street, full of water as it was, began to smoke and char.”  The fire drove the men to Polk Street and finally all the way to Michigan Avenue and South Water Street where hoses were dropped directly into the river because the hydrants no longer worked.  “I was the last man on the south side of the river,” Leady says.  “. . . all our men were gone, gassed or knocked out by the smoke, except the driver and me . . . we abandoned the hose in the street and got four scared horses harnessed up.”  The driver, Johnny Reese, provides a crucial piece of information about the cause of the fire, snorting at the idea that a cow burned the city to the ground.  “Why I saw the whole bunch of loafers who started that fire,” Reese says.  “Those fellows had been drinking all afternoon in O’Leary’s barn, and smoking their pipes.  Some sparks of burning tobacco – they didn’t have cigarets (sic) in those days -- got into the hay and set the barn.  The whole bunch was standing round the hydrant at Forquer and DeKoven streets and I know, because I heard them talking among themselves.” 

No comments: