Archive for February 23rd, 2013

Palatine LODD Anniversary

Today marks the anniversary of the 1973 fire in Palatine that claimed the lives of three firefighters.

The Daily Herald has an article about the tragic event with photos from John Tobin and a short video with John.

Once the burning Ben Franklin five-and-dime store in downtown Palatine began to breathe in and out — the intensifying pressure preparing to blow out the windows and cave in the roof — that was the unmistakable sign for everyone to pull out.

But word quickly spread among the firemen that three of their brothers were unaware how dangerous the situation had grown.

Volunteer firefighters Warren Ahlgrim, Richard Freeman and John Wilson died in the Feb. 23, 1973, fire, their emptied air packs no match against a seemingly innocuous basement filled with few flames but plenty of carbon monoxide.

“Everyone wanted to save Johnny’s store, and nobody realized what kind of danger they were in,” former Palatine firefighter George Palmer said. “They were good at eating smoke, but had they not had their air packs, they probably would have come out sooner. It was the brave thing to do. But in retrospect, they shouldn’t have gone in.”

The main floor was smokey but clear of flames. Firefighter John Wilson, 40, owned the store and figured the furnace was the likely culprit.

He led Richard “Dick” Freeman, 25, and Warren “Auggie” Ahlgrim, 32, through the building he knew so well. To access the basement, they had to make their way through the long, narrow structure to a set of interior stairs.

Each man was equipped with an air pack. Based on the atmosphere, lung capacity and exertion, their oxygen might last anywhere from about 10 to 20 minutes.

At one point, Wilson came upstairs and got another line from Tobin’s dad, saying the fire was pretty much snuffed. That was the last time anyone saw him alive, as the fire, in fact, had spread.

Tobin and high school classmate Rick Cartwright both had their cameras at the scene and captured gut-wrenching shots of firefighter Howie Freeman working to put out the blaze, and later being held back from trying to rescue his son.

Crews eventually removed the bodies once the structure was safe enough to enter.

“We all stood there silently and respectfully while each of them were loaded into the ambulances,” said Tobin, who recently wrote a book about the fire. “The whole town was affected. I know I’ve never been the same.”

The entire article can be found HERE.

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