Mike Corrigan was near the
front of the fire house when he heard
tapping on the window pane.
Outside was a man gesturing toward the south, steam
coming from his mouth as he spoke in the freezing
cold temperatures. Corrigan let Joe* inside and
got enough of his story to shout out, "The
Iroquois is on fire!"
Four of the firefighters on
hand at Engine Company 13 knew instantly that fire
at the Iroquois meant big trouble.
captain Jennings and
John Campion had all had discussions with
personnel at the Iroquois Theater about it being
inadequately equipped, and Jennings had talked about
it with battalion chief John
Engine 13 was first to reach
the Iroquois. During the engine's mad dash to
the scene, Corrigan drove chief Hannan's
buggy to the fire, with a stop at fire box #26
in front of the Sherman House Hotel to sound the
Newspaper reports about the
early alarms for the Iroquois Theater fire were
conflicting. By all accounts the first
alarm arrived at 3:30 and the official First Alarm,
from fire box #26 in front of the
Sherman House Hotel a half block from the
Iroquois Theater, sounded at 3:33.
What I have not yet ascertained to my satisfaction
is where the first still alarm came from. Was
it delivered to
Engine Company 13 by Joe or telephoned in from a cigar
store in the Real Estate building next to the
Iroquois? Wherever it came from it ended up in room 607 in City Hall, the department service center.
Thomas Noonan sent a ticket clerk,
Fred Brackenbush, to secure the Iroquois' cash
receipts at the
Best and Russell cigar store and there was court testimony about a call made
from the cigar store but it was not stated exactly
who made the call or when. Perhaps there were
dozens of still alarms but newspapers only reported
those mentioned during trial testimony, i.e., the
one from the stage worker at Engine House 13 and the
one from the cigar store at the corner of Randolph
and Dearborn in the
building (today known as the Delaware building).
According to court testimony,
1st assistant fire marshal Campion, whose office was at
Engine Company 13, didn't wait for a horse or buggy.
Campion had gone through the theater with business manager, Thomas Noonan, and
reminded him of the need to better equip the theater
for fire fighting.
When Campion heard the Iroquois was on fire, he ran
out the door of the fire house, down Dearborn
street, past the west side of the Iroquois, noting
there was smoke pouring from the roof, and was the
first fireman to enter the front hall of the
theater. He reported there was enough heat
that he felt certain the
fire had been going for longer than the three minutes that elapsed between the first still alarm and the First Alarm.
If Campion was right, and he certainly had the
experience chops to support his judgment, the delay
was while the stage workers tried to put out the
fire and Joe ran to the fire department.
In the fire department center
in room 607 in City Hall, incoming alarms were
translated and sent out to fire
houses as a "still alarm" (verbal
report received), followed a minute later
by a "First Alarm" (fire officially
followed nine minutes later by the "4-11 alarm"
(fire confirmed and four engines
sent). Nine minutes between the First Alarm
and the 4-11 alarm seems like a long time but I know
zip about fire alarms or fire fighting. Might be that the 4-11 was almost an
afterthought to make things official because every
uniform in the city was already at the scene.
Even Engine 6 was on hand, having come two miles from 514 Maxwell
street and arriving soon after Engine 13. Summoned by the First Alarm?
Ten minutes later, a fire ball hurled out into the auditorium and melted watch works, fixing the time of death for many
at 3:50 pm. The five minutes or so lost before
the still alarms would have given more people time
to exit the auditorium. The death count on the
stairwells might have been higher but the total
number of fatalities would certainly have been
Engine 13 fire house at
209 N. Dearborn covered the northern section
of the business district adjacent to the
South Water street market and was considered
one of the most important firehouses serving
In 1905 this was one of the houses cited by
then assistant fire marshal Horan as
inadequate for the needs of fire fighters.
Thirteen men slept on the poorly
ventilated 15’ x 25’ second floor, with six
horses in the stable below. When it rained,
the stable flooded. Edison officially
donated the electricity and unofficially
donated the light fixtures that firemen
begged or pilfered and installed themselves.
at the Iroquois
According to testimony by
numerous Iroquois employees, there were no fire alarms inside the
Iroquois Theater. Business manager
Noonan testified that during the weeks leading up to
the fire he and Campion,
as well as representatives of the building
department, discussed installing fire alarms at both
the Illinois and the Iroquois.
According to Noonan, and verified
by the municipal electrical department,
as of December 30, 1903, alarm-installation applications were not submitted.
Cigar store from which came a phoned in alarm was a
half block from Iroquois
Things to learn
Was there a telephone at the Iroquois?
What was the name of the stage worker
sent by Iroquois fireman
sound an alarm?
Did stage worker travel directly from
the stage to Engine House 13? (I don't
anticipate ever getting this answer.)
Biographical information about battalion
Engine 6 have been summoned in the First