Incident Summary

On October 26, 1981, Firefighters Jerome Srejma and Gary Michalek of the Pleasantview Fire Protection District died in the line of duty while fighting a fire at the Key West Restaurant in Countryside, Illinois. Srejma, a six year veteran firefighter, and Michalek, who had been with the department for less than one year, were paid-on-call volunteers on duty when the alarm came in, and were among the first firefighters to arrive on-scene.

Srejma and Michalek entered the restaurant wearing SCBA masks shortly before 5 AM in an effort to locate and extinguish the fire, which was mainly burning behind the walls and above the ceilings. They became disoriented in the dense smoke and were unable to find their way out of the restaurant before running out of air. Even after they were reported missing, it took fellow firefighters nearly thirty minutes to locate their bodies in the thick smoke. The collapse of the restaurant’s roof further complicated rescue efforts and sent two other firefighters to the hospital with injuries. Srejma and Michalek were rushed to Community Memorial General Hospital in LaGrange, where they were pronounced dead.

In the end, it took firefighters from nearly ten different communities more than three hours to extinguish the 3-11 alarm fire. Four days after the fire, Srejma and Michalek were remembered during separate funeral services that were attended by hundreds of firefighters from throughout the Chicagoland area.

information from the Illinois Fire Service Institute

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