Ninety Students Lost Their Lives To A Chicago School Fire – 12/1/1958

US History |


Today in 1958, a fire erupted at Our Lady of the Angels School in Chicago, Illinois before the end of the day's class and killed 90 students.

The school, Our Lady of Angels School was under the management of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago and Sisters of Charity in Chicago operated the school. The school, which occupied a large old building was reported to have more than 1,200 student registered as at 1958. 

Sadly, there was little fire control system installed in the building before December 1958. No water sprinklers and no regular preparatory drills were conducted in the building. The fire that began in a heap of trash at the basement of the school led to the disaster.

Teachers on the first floor of the building were the first to detect the smoke around 2: 30 pm on that fateful day. Immediately, the teachers led their students outside but failed to sound a general warning to those in the upper floor of the building. Around 2:42, the school janitor noticed the fire and ordered the alarm to be rung but either he was not properly heard or the alarm systems failed to work, pupils on the second floor were unaware of the happenings beneath them.

Within few minutes, the fire had reached the second floor. In order to escape, some students jumped out through the window. Arriving at the scene, the firefighters tried to catch the students jumping through the window, yet some were wounded. In addition, firefighters tried to get ladders up to the windows. As the fire engulfed the second building, a fast-thinking nun quickly told her students to crawl under the smoke and roll down the stairs where rescuers were waiting to receive them. Students in other classes stayed in their rooms praying for help.

Hours later when the fire was finally quenched, 90 students and 3 nuns were already dead. This devastating incident led authorities to improve the standards for school design and fire safety measures. In addition, the news made headlines in media houses around the globe, and from the Vatican in Rome, Pope John XXIII sent his condolences to the families of those that lost their lives in the fire.

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