Monday, January 28, 2019

January 28, 1961 -- Hubbard Street Fire Kills Nine Firefighters
January 28, 1961 – Nine firefighters die while battling a fire at the Hilker and Bletsch Company, 614 West Hubbard Street.  The fire starts in the upper floors of the seven-story building and burns for some time before nearby railroad workers spot the flames.  The first alarm is sounded at 6:23 a.m., and within 20 minutes the alarm is raised to a 5-11, followed by a special alarm.  This brings over 300 firefighters, 67 pieces of equipment, four ambulances and three rescue squads to the scene.  Two fireboats stand by on the river, pumping water directly to the fire scene.  Battalion Chief George Kuhn leads a few firefighters to the top of an adjacent two-story building that holds one-gallon containers for packaging food in an attempt to run a hose into the warehouse.  Without warning the warehouse wall closest to their position collapses, burying Kuhn and those who are with him.  Firefighters race to free the trapped men, but before they have a chance to dig into the debris, the roof of the two-story building collapses, trapping a number of them.  The weather, with temperatures that stand near zero, makes a dire situation nearly impossible as water quickly freezes, and fire apparatus becomes immovable as it is frozen in place.  Fire Commissioner Robert Quinn leads men in a desperate attempt to extricate those trapped in a burning jumble of debris, but the effort is in vain.  It is not until late afternoon that the last man is found.  At a memorial service held in the City Council chambers a few days later, the city officially mourns the lives of the nine men who died in the line of duty.  Fire Commissioner Quinn says, “We here are greatly saddened by the loss.  Two men, one a veteran battalion chief, the other a candidate fireman of seven months, following normal fire fighting practices, went into a building next to a fire building to see if the fire could be kept out of the building. Without warning a portion of wall fell and cut their means of escape.  Seven other members of the department, realizing that the two men could be saved if they could force open a metal door, ran to the door and began to break it open.  As they toiled to free their comrades, the entire seven-story structure came down, ending their heroic efforts.  Where, but in the fire service, will you find such bravery?”  [, April 1961]  The men who lost their lives on that freezing January morning included: Chief George E. Kuhn of the Fifth battalion, a fireman since 1929; Chief George R. Rees, of the First Battalion, a fireman since 1943; Lieutenant Louis Repkin of Truck 19, a fireman since 1949; Fireman Stanley M. Sliwinski of Engine Company 26, a fireman since 1959; Fireman Robert E. Burns, a rookie since June of 1960; Fireman Hilliard Augustine of Rescue Squad 10, a fireman since 1954; Fireman William E. Hillistad of Engine Company 44, a fireman for two years; and Fireman Ciro Zuccarello of Engine Company 26, a fireman since 1955.

January 28, 1994 – Continental Bank Corporation announces that it has agreed to join BankAmerica Corporation in a deal valued at $1.9 billion.  Continental, a banking presence in Chicago for 137 years, occupied space in the Rookery Building before it moved into its own building just north of the Board of Trade on LaSalle Street.  With Contiental’s $22.6 billion in assets, BankAmerica will become the second largest bank in the United States, just short of the assets of New York-based Citibank.  Richard Rosenberg, BankAmerica chairman and chief executive says of the merger, “There is a superb fit between the two organizations.  We complement each other remarkably well in terms of business lines, balance sheets, and geographic presence.”

January 28, 1929 – Two hundred passengers are shaken up, and forty-two are injured as a Rock Island commuter train crashes through the bumper at the La Salle Street station, the second serious train accident of the week.  Four days earlier a passenger died and 39 others were injured when two Chicago and Northwestern passenger trains collided near Lake Street.  In the Rock Island crash the vice-president of the railroad blames the cause of the accident on the engineer’s failure to have his train, made up of seven steel coaches, under control as it entered the station.  The engineer, J. Boyd, maintains that fog and steam inside the train shed clouded his view and that the wheels of the train slipped on the tracks as he applied the brakes.   

January 28, 1901 -- WARNING . . . This one is not for the faint of heart, but it does demonstrate that in the days before O.S.H.A. danger was constantly lurking and peril was always at hand. It happened that Dr. B. L. Reise was administering vaccinations to women at the Young Woman's Christian Association Building on Michigan Avenue. Miss Stella Thomas of Burlington, Iowa, seeing that she would have to wait for some time because of the length of the line, headed for her room. There is speculation that the sight of the injections was disquieting to her, and as the elevator approached the fifth floor, Miss Thomas fainted and fell to the floor of the car in such a way that her head extended through the grate of the elevator's door and was caught between the bottom of the elevator car and the lower portion of the fifth floor. Miss Thomas, who had come to Chicago just three weeks earlier to enter the Sherwood Musical College in the Fine Arts Building, died within minutes. The second building from the middle left (next to the mansion on the corner) in the 1901 photo above is the YWCA building where the accident occurred.

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