Aurora Honors Firefighters Who Died On Duty 85 Years Ago

Bernie Tafoya
January 11, 2019 - 12:56 pm

CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- Three Aurora firefighters killed in the line of duty 85 years ago were remembered Friday at the location where they died. 

About three dozen firefighters, relatives of the dead firefighters and others stood at, what has been a vacant piece of land in downtown Aurora on Broadway since January 11, 1934.

That's when fire hit the three-story Woolworth's 5- and 10-cent store, killing three firefighters and injuring several others when a wall came down on them. 

Capt. Herbert Reiss, Capt. John Petersohn and firefighter Charles Hoffman were killed.

Aurora Fire Chief Gary Krienitz said a brief wreath-laying ceremony is held every year on this day, to remember the worst day in the Aurora Fire Department's history.

"It’s a terrible tragedy, a terrible reality of firefighting and we want to honor these men and their families," he said. 

Hoffman’s great-nephew Donald Wampach said, "they found him underneath the sidewalk out here the next day because the whole roof and everything caved in on ‘em."

WBBM Newsradio/Bernie Tafoya

Richard Reiss’ grandfather died in the fire, but it was something his family did not talk about. 

"We didn’t know any of the details. We just knew that it had happened," he said.

Clare Augustine’s grandfather was John Petersohn. She tells a similar story, that her family did not talk about the fire nor her grandfather's death. Augustine said most of what she learned about the fire was at the Aurora Fire Museum. 

"My grandmother kept a book of every article that was written. There’s little notes on how they were informed and that’s in the museum, so I saw that, but they never really talked about it," she said.

Bonnie Guyer, a granddaughter of Herbert Reiss said her grandson is making her proud by showing an interest in his great-grandfather's line of work. 

"My grandson has chosen to be in Fire Science so we’re excited that, hopefully, that he’ll choose that future, as well," she said. 

Aurora Fire Chief Gary Krienitz said nothing has been built on the site until now.

"Pretty soon this is going to be a nice area, a nice park with grass growing and flowers," he said. 

On Friday morning, firefighters placed a wreath on the wall of a next door building. That wall also holds a bronze plaque describing the fire and those who were killed that day.