Excerpts from the ChicagoSunTimes.com:

Before computers and GPS, there was Kenneth F. Little.

Mr. Little, 84, who died Friday in Glenview, was a senior fire-alarm operator with the Chicago Fire Department. It was said that he knew every street, alley, and shortcut in the city, helping him get engines to fires faster.  

In a 36-year career, he saved lives, former Chicago Fire Commissioner James Joyce said. “He had a second sense for what fire companies were closest. He was amazing, just one of a kind.”

Little co-authored six books on Chicago Fire Department history and helped found the Fire Museum of Greater Chicago, which has a library named in his honor.

After a 1957 fire raged through the Chicago City Council chambers, he received a commendation for staying at his post, as he and dispatchers worked above in the old Fire Alarm Office.

His ingenuity once helped save a famed Chicago German tap and restaurant, Schulien’s at 2100 W. Irving Park Rd., according to his son Philip Little, president of the fire museum. He’d heard a radio message about a Snorkel squad heading back to quarters after a fire. Minutes later, a call came in about flames at Schulien’s.

“He thinks for a second, if they’re going back to quarters, they have to be going down Western Avenue,” Philip Little said.

He contacted that squad instead of the fire companies that normally would have been called, and found it was at Irving and Western. Those firefighters got to the restaurant in just 30 seconds and quickly put out the fire.

Growing up in Old Town, young Ken Little used to hang around a firehouse at North and Hudson, listening to radio calls.   When he got a little older, he took buses, streetcars and the L to visit every city firehouse. He also rode the bus from one end of the city to the other on Western, the city’s longest street. He got out and walked to learn shortcuts and one-way streets. Eventually, he studied the layout of factories so he could warn firefighters about toxic chemicals in basements.

If the fire radio was quiet, he and other dispatchers would quiz each other on the names of every bar and grocery store on Western Avenue from Howard to 119th Street, a skill that made him a popular guest on overnight radio shows hosted by Eddie Schwartz.

When Ken joined the Chicago Fire Alarm Office in 1957, fire companies were dispatched from city hall and another office at 63rd and Wentworth. Some calls came in from thousands of the red, free-standing fire-alarm boxes scattered around the city dating to the days when people didn’t have phones.

He knew old-timers who were on duty the day of the 1903 Iroquois Theater fire that killed more than 600, as well as the 1910 Chicago Stockyards fire that killed 22 firefighters, the single biggest such loss until the 9/11 attacks. He knew a fire-alarm operator who, in 1929, drove police officers to investigate a shooting on Clark Street that became known as the St. Valentine’s Day massacre. And, he knew slide-down fire poles were invented in Chicago, according to Philip Little.  

During the Blizzard of ’67, he stayed in the office for 36 hours. “They couldn’t get out, and no one could get in,” his son said.

He taught history at Wright College. He enjoyed the jazz of Errol Garner. And he collected coins and Tootsietoys. A Tootsietoy firetruck will be tucked in his casket.

He and his wife Alice, who died in 1986, had 10 children, including triplets. In addition to his son Philip, he is survived by daughters Anna, Rita, and Mary Ellen, sons Kenneth, Robert, Stephen, Richard, and Raymond and four grandchildren. His son Thomas died before him.

A funeral Mass is planned for 10:30 a.m. Tuesday at the church he attended growing up, St. Michael’s, 1633 N. Cleveland Ave.

thanks Dan