Chicago, IL Our Lady of the Angels School Fire, Dec 1958 - Fire Experts Speculate

Closing of Two Doors Might Have Held Down Death Toll in School Fire

CHICAGO (UPI) - Fire experts speculated today that had two massive wooden doors been closed in Our Lady of Angels school when fire broke out on Monday considerably less than 90 persons might have died.
Two investigators of the National Fire Protection Association said that if two doors at the second floor landing had been closed the intense fire and hot gases would have been kept out for precious minutes and "in all likelihood every classroom could have been emptied in time."
Chicago Fire Commissioner ROBERT J. QUINN said that "all you need is one inhalation of that superheated air the fire pushes in front of it and your lungs collapse"
Meanwhile, offers of aid poured in today to the injured and grieving while the investigation into the cause of the holocaust ground slowly forward.
Authorities resumed questioning pupils and nuns in hope they could shed some light on the mystery, but the painstaking investigation "turned up nothing new" according to police Capt. HARRY PENZIN.
About 20 teen-aged boys were questioned Tuesday by police who urged them to obey their religious beliefs and tell truthfully whether one of them had flipped a lighted cigarette in trash behind a basement stairwell.
Authorities have determined the blaze started in the stairwell at the northeast corner of the two-story brick school. The flames and dense smoke were sucked up the stairwell to the second floor where most of the victims were trapped and died.
Question School Janitor
Police Tuesday night questioned school janitor JAMES RAYMOND, 43, who was hospitalized with shock and injuries. RAYMOND told detectives he was entering the school when he saw smoke pouring from the rear of the building.
RAYMOND said he rushed to the basement and checked the incinerator and boiler, but found nothing wrong. He then told authorities he ran to the first floor and broke windows so the children could escape.
PENZIN said RAYMOND also insisted that he had checked the areaway where the fire apparently started last Thursday and found it clean of trash.
PERCY BUGBEE, general manager of the NFPA, said in Boston that the experts had found that the doors were left open allowing fire and gases to spread rapidly through the second-floor corridor serving six classrooms. Nearly all of the children were in these six rooms.

Three Bodies Unidentified
BUGBEE said it was significant in the report that the fire did not enter the first floor because the fire door was closed there.
In other developments:
-- Only three charred bodies remained unidentified at the county morgue, but four girls were missing. Authorities were unable to determine what had happened to the missing girl. The victims included 53 girls and 34 boys.
--The Chicago archdiocese announced that Archbishop ALBERT GEORGE MEYER will officiate at mass funeral services for the dead children Friday in a National Guard armory. The victims aged 9 to 15, will be buried together at the Holy Innocents Shrine of the Queen of Heaven Cemetery, if the parents approve.
-- The mayor ordered flags to be flown at half mast in the city until the funeral, and a city-wide day of mourning was to be declared.
--In the well kept West Side neighborhood where the school was located shades were drawn in the homes of the victims and streets were quiet. The bodies of the three nuns who died were brought to the Our Lady of the Angels rectory Tuesday night, encased in black caskets. They are to be buried Thursday.
Expressions of sympathy came from around the world including the Vatican where Pope John XXIII invoked the 'comfort of heaven" on the sorrowing families.
Chicagoans opened their hearts to the bereaved in their midst, offering money to help pay expenses and blood to treat the 75 injured, including three nuns, still hospitalized with burns and broken bones.

The Coshocton Tribune Ohio 1958-12-03