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Memorial Monday

Memorial Monday — Remembering Des Plaines Firefighter Robert P. Coombs

Memorial Monday

Memorial Monday — Remembering Des Plaines Firefighter Robert P. Coombs

Incident Date:

April 26, 1962


Des Plaines Fire Department (IL)

Number of Line-of-Duty Deaths:


On the afternoon of Thursday, April 26, 1962, workers from the Santucci Construction Company were operating underground in a sanitary sewer at the intersection of River and Rand Roads in Des Plaines, Illinois. They were there to remove a bulkhead that had been used to seal off an old sewer line while the new one was being built. They were working 30 feet below the road surface, cleaning and flushing the sewer.

At around 1:30 pm, one of the workers ran into a nearby restaurant—pleading for the owner to call the fire department. Three of his co-workers were unconscious at the bottom of the sewer after being overcome by methane gas.  

The fire department arrived on the scene and Captain Fred Arndt and Firefighter Robert Coombs of the Des Plaines Fire Department went to work setting up rope rigging to hoist the construction workers from the confined space. Firefighters descended in the hole wearing their self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) with a 12-minute bottle.  Firefighter Coombs wrapped a rope around construction worker Daniel Fazio, who was then pulled to safety.  Coombs next secured a second construction worker, Joseph Miller, who was then pulled to the surface with help from the crowd above. After a third worker, Aurthur Olivero, was rescued, Captain Arndt and Lieutenant Robert Allen ascended from the shaft.

As Firefighter Coombs was on his way back to the surface, he alerted his crew that he was out of air and pulled off his facemask. Overcome by the methane gas, he fell to the bottom of the sewer, which was covered in a foot and a half of water. Mount Prospect Firefighter Robert Haberkamp went into the shaft and wrapped the rope around Coombs.  They pulled him to the surface, but as he neared the top of the hole the rope slipped, and he fell to the bottom again. Once more, the rope was secured around Coombs, and he was brought up to the street. He was transported to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Des Plaines firefighters Lieutenant Robert Allen and Captain Fred Arndt, and Mount Prospect Firefighter Robert Haberkamp were also examined at the local hospital for their exposure to the methane gas.

Construction workers Olivero, Fazio, and Miller were also transported to a nearby hospital. They would all recover from their illness.

Remembering Robert P. Coombs

Almost 50 years later, in June 2011, the Robert P. Coombs Memorial Rose Garden was dedicated. This service project was the vision of 16-year-old Eagle Scout Candidate Max Jacobs. Family members and colleagues of Robert Coombs along with community and scout leaders gathered for the ceremony on the grounds of Fire Station No. 3 on East Thacker Street to mark Robert’s service and sacrifice for his community.


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.