Memorial recalls death of 21 firefighters

December 22, 2008 3:33:45 PM PST
December 22, 1910, is a date the Chicago Fire Department will never forget. A fire broke out on that day in the Union Stockyards and 21 Chicago firefighters were all killed in one instant. ABC7's Frank Mathie says those men were remembered Monday morning, almost a century after the tragedy.

"It was a similar day ninety eight years ago when a seven story brick wall collapsed and killed twenty one Chicago Firefighters," said Bill Cosgrove, retired Chicago firefighter and historian.

Ninety-eight years is a long time, but firefighters have long memories, and Monday morning in the old Union Stockyards near Halsted and Peoria those men who gave their lives so long ago -- from a different era -- were remembered.

"Engine 59 pulled out of this firehouse and proceeds right through this gate that leads into the stockyards and responds to 43rd and Loomis where the fire was," said Cosgrove. "Horses pulling the wagons and steam pouring out of the top...they had no idea they were going to this type of alarm."

The fire was roaring through the seven-story Morris meatpacking warehouse. Some large doors were opened, the air rushed in, and the blaze became a blast.

"There was probably some type of explosion that occurred, and the wall moved out about a foot and came crashing down through a canopy on the loading dock killing all 21 Chicago firefighters," said Cosgrove.

They didn't have a chance and all 21 were killed instantly. James Horan, the department's commissioner at the time, was one of the victims. Also killed were Captain Dennis Doyle and Nicholas Doyle, father and son. And it all happened just as the holidays began.

"This is three days before Christmas. Nine of the 21 were buried on Christmas Day," said Cosgrove.

A memorial in the old Stockyards was dedicated four years ago. It honors the fallen 21 and also 510 other firefighters who have died since 1865. Sometimes it hurts to remember but it's better than forgetting.

The 21 firefighters killed in the fire was the highest death toll from a single event until the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.


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