Chicago survivor of school fire that killed 95 recalls terrifying ordeal 60 years later

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Saturday marks the 60th anniversary of the Our Lady Of Angels school fire in Chicago's Humboldt Park neighborhood, which claimed 95 lives.

Serge Uccetta was just 12 years old when he had to make a choice: jump out of a second floor window to the ground below or perish in the flames.

"The only way out was through the windows because the fire had pretty much come and there was no way to get out in the hallway," Uccetta said.

Looking on at the site of the fire where his old school once stood, he remembers it all.

"I mean, you have no choice," he said. "Because everybody behind you is pushing and screaming, because they're trying to get out, and you have to do whatever you have to do to get out."

Uccetta made it out of the fire but will never forget what he saw next.
"I mean, you're sitting here looking at kids screaming, jumping out the window," he said.

Ninety-two children and three nuns were killed in the tragedy seen around the world.

"There was a famous photograph of a little boy, John Jajcowski, with a fireman bringing him out," Uccetta said.

Photographer Steve Lasker took that photo and many more documenting the tragedy. He was on the scene as firefighters arrived and captured anguish and suffering with every click.

WATCH: Steve Lasker discusses photographing the deadly fire 60 years ago
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Photographer Steve Lasker recalls covering the Our Lady of Angels fire and taking the picture that became famous around the nation.

"First of all, I froze. I don't know for how long. I had never seen anything like that before with children jumping out of windows," Lasker said. "The firemen started carrying down children and the nuns that had heart just sank to the floor. It was a terrible terrible thing."

It's a memory that will haunt him forever. But the pain and loss transformed school safety for the better.

"This tragedy changed the complete structure of schools all over the nation, if not the world," Lasker said.

"The improved regulations, building codes for schools, fire doors, sprinklers, preparation, fire drills really changed quite a bit after that," added Uccetta.
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