CHICAGO (CBS) — For more than 90 years, the infamous Chicago Union Stock Yards fire stood as the deadliest blaze for big city firefighters in American history. On the 106th anniversary of the inferno, the Chicago Fire Department honored the 21 firefighters who died battling the intense flames.
Thursday morning, firefighters gathered around a bronze and aluminum memorial that retired Chicago firefighter Bill Cosgrove helped to erect at the site of the entrance to the Union Stock Yards in 2004. Artist Thomas Scarff created the sculpture depicting three of the men who battled a massive blaze in 1910. The fire raged for more than a day before it was extinguished.
“Twenty-one Chicago firefighters were killed by a falling brick wall. Until 9/11, this fire constituted the greatest loss of firefighters in this country,” Cosgrove said.
The firefighters depicted in the sculpture include Fire Chief James Horan raising his bugle to warn his men of the falling brick wall. Horan was among the 21 killed.
The base of the sculpture is engraved with the names of every all 558 Chicago firefighters ever killed in the line of duty.
Cook County Commissioner John Daley helped to lay a wreath at the memorial, and his mind was on his father, former Mayor Richard J. Daley, who died 40 years ago Tuesday – like the fallen stock yards firefighters, dying just days before Christmas.
Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago said the Union Stock Yards fire serves as a reminder to all who join the brotherhood of firefighters.
“We will always be the people – like these people on the memorial – who will give their all, including their lives.
Santiago noted winter is historically the most dangerous time of year for firefighters.
Firefighters faced multiple challenges at the Stock Yards Fire. The first crews to arrive found the stock yard’s water system had been shut down to prevent freezing, so they had to lay miles’ worth of hose to get to hydrants with sufficient pressure.
In addition, the eight-story warehouse where it started had no windows, and firefighters had to do their job from a precarious position. A nearby loading dock was the only place from where the fire could be attacked, and access was restricted by a rail line filled with box cars running down the center of Loomis Street at their backs, cutting off their escape.