News

Simultaneous Chicago Fires: Remembering Firefighter Joseph P. Carone and Six Injured Firefighters

Incident Date: December 13, 1964
Departments: Chicago Fire Department (IL)
Number of Line-of-Duty Deaths: 1

On Sunday, December 13, 1964, two fires started in a short succession just three blocks from one another near the North Side of Chicago.

The first fire occurred at 671 North Clark Street in a hardware store. Chicago Fire Department units responded to the fire, including Engine Company 4 — which was located at 228 West Illinois Street.

As firefighters worked to extinguish the North Clark fire, a second fire started at 224 West Illinois Street—right next door to the quarters of Engine Company 4. The six-story building housed a furniture manufacturer and the United States Crayon Company on its upper floors.

  • The United States Crayon Company produced chalk and tailors’ crayons with a heavy press supported by a concrete slab on the fourth floor of the building.
  • The fire smoldered for a while before setting off the sprinkler system and raising the alarm. Had the crew been at the firehouse at the time of the fire, they could have seen it from their windows.

Firefighters arrived at the Illinois Street location and began fighting the fire. Some crews fought the fire from the top of the firehouse roof next door.

The Collapse

Truck Company 31 was operating on the third and fourth floor of the building. The fire was nearly under control when there was a loud crash—and a collapse. The collapse sent all six floors into the basement; the sound was so intense it shattered the windows of the firehouse next door.

When the collapse occurred, Firefighter Joseph P. Carone, who had been on the fourth floor with other firefighters, fell into the basement instantly, before anyone could react to help. Two firefighters who were on either side of Firefighter Carone recalled that he just disappeared. “One minute he was there, then there was a crash, and then he wasn’t. He clutched at the lieutenant’s coat but couldn’t hold on.” said the fellow firefighter, Leonard Tjalma.

Injured Firefighters

To keep themselves from falling, other firefighters grabbed onto anything they could to save themselves. Firefighters John Koch, Clarence Dicke, Joseph Taylor, Jamie Field, and Gerald Sullivan were injured in the collapse.

One firefighter was also injured at the fire taking place on North Clark Street.

The Aftermath

After the collapse, firefighters worked for over an hour, sifting through the debris in the flooded basement to recover Firefighter Carone.

Firefighter Joseph P. Carone is survived by a wife and four children. Over 250 firefighters attended his funeral mass at St. Symphorosa Church, along with classmates from his children’s school.

A Preventable Loss

A few days after the fires, a 17-year-old confessed to having set them both.

The teen had been released from a reformatory just sixteen days earlier for setting at least 33 fires. One of those fires claimed the lives of two men in a boarding house. A year later, he was convicted for the fire that claimed Firefighter Carone and sentenced to more than fifty years in prison. He was paroled in 1979.

In 2010, he was again convicted of arson in Syracuse, New York. During that trial, Firefighter Carone’s children, two dozen uniformed members of the Syracuse Fire Department, and its chief of the department were present in the courtroom. The arsonist received the maximum sentence for his repeat offenses and will serve prison-time for the rest of his life.

Remembering

 
 

 


More About Memorial Monday

Memorial Monday is established to remember the sacrifice of firefighters who died in the line of duty before the National Memorial was created in 1981. On the last Monday of every month, a firefighter, or groups of firefighters, will be remembered as we share information about these firefighters and their sacrifice.