In 1958, a tragic fire consumed a large portion of a Chicago parochial elementary school, taking the lives of 92 students and three teachers.
In engaging prose Jones relates the engrossing story of the fast-moving fire that trapped numerous students in overcrowded classrooms. Many factors contributed to the high death toll. The fire spread throughout the building because wooden stairwells that lacked fire doors acted as chimneys to spread the blaze. The school’s two alarms did not sound until the fire had taken hold, partly because only the school principal was permitted to pull them. Many of the classrooms on the second floor had few windows, and those were almost out of reach of the young students. Transom windows over hallway doors quickly shattered in the heat, and the classrooms rapidly filled with thick smoke. The fire trucks were first sent to the wrong address, and then, when they arrived, most lacked ladders tall enough to reach the trapped students. The need to address many of these lapses formed the bedrock for subsequent fire codes. Using interviews with numerous survivors that provide a very personal view of the fire, this effort is especially thought-provoking. Many archival illustrations accompany the text, including photographs of the evidently mostly white student body, although the captions sometimes vary little from the narrative. Useful and detailed backmatter rounds out a fine presentation.
A riveting exploration of a tragic fire and the improvements in many schools that followed. (Nonfiction. 10-14)