Firefighter Michael Forchione

On February 1, 1985, three Chicago Fire Department firefighters died in the line of duty at an arson fire on N. Milwaukee Ave. Captain Daniel Nockels, Firefighter Michael Forchione, and Firefighter Michael Talley, all of Hook and Ladder 58, were trying to ventilate the roof of the burning building when the structure collapsed beneath them. The three-story building housed an electronics store and a number of apartments.

The Chicago Fire Department received the first alarm for the fire at 3:45 AM, and Hook and Ladder 58 was the second apparatus on the scene. Because firefighters from the first responding unit were already ventilating the building on the front portion of the roof, Nockels, Forchione, Talley, and Firefighter Sam Lasko, climbed up onto the back of the roof to ventilate the rear of the building. A short time later, at 4:02 AM, the roof collapsed, just as the incident commander was about to call in a 2-11 alarm to bring more firefighters to the scene. Nockels, Forchione, and Talley fell with the debris into the burning building, but a firefighter on a ladder was able to grab Lasko and pull him to safety. Lasko suffered severe burns on his face and legs, but the firefighters on the front portion of the roof escaped injury. A subsequent 3-11 alarm brought a total of 125 firefighters and 24 apparatus to the scene, as firefighters continued to battle the blaze until after 6 AM. The bodies of two of the firefighters were found shortly thereafter, but the body of the final firefighter was not recovered until that afternoon.

The investigation into the fire included members of the Chicago Police Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. While being questioned by Chicago detectives, the owner of the electronics store alleged that he had hired another man to set fire to the building in an attempt to claim the insurance money for the store. Investigators found that the store owner had recently filed for bankruptcy, and also discovered two cases of the same accelerant used to start the fire in the house of the alleged hired arsonist. Both men were charged with aggravated arson, but the alleged hired arsonist was released after a criminal court determined that police had obtained a confession from him illegally. In November 1986, the store owner was convicted of arson and murder for the deaths of the three firefighters.

A joint funeral service for the three firefighters was held at Holy Name Cathedral on February 5, along with three separate wakes. More than 2,000 firefighters and emergency personnel participated in the funeral procession. The three firefighters were further memorialized in October 1985, when a mural was created in their honor near a Firefighters’ Memorial Park at the intersection of Milwaukee and Kimball Avenues in Chicago.