On Feb 1, 1985, Chicago set a new record for low temperatures, recording Fahrenheit temps of 14 below zero at O’Hare Airport. While the temps in Chicago were hitting their lowest levels ever, firemen and police from across the northwest side were battling a 3-11 alarm fire at 2847 N Milwaukee Avenue, currently the site of Giordano’s Pizza. The fire began inside Vicstar Electronics, a business on the first floor, but endangered the lives of the family above, on the second floor. The family escaped the fire by jumping to the roof of the building next door.
The freezing temperatures hampered the effectiveness of the water, turning it to ice almost immediately. Four firefighters from Truck 58, Capt Dan Nockels, and Firefighters Michael Forchione, Michael Talley, and Sam Lasco were on the roof of the building preparing to create ventilation when the roof collapsed. Nockels, Forchione and Talley fell with the roof and were killed. Lasco was able to jump to safety, but was badly injured.
Jang Bae, the owner of the electronics store, is serving 70 years for arson and murder. Charges against his accomplice, Suk Kim, were dropped in 1986 after the court ruled that police had obtained his confession illegally.
In the months after the fire, the Chicago Police 14th District Neighborhood Relations Director, Officer Phil Greco, worked with civic and business groups in Logan Square and Avondale to create a tribute to the men who gave their lives on that record cold morning, as well as all the men and women who have, and continue to, face these risks in order to protect the city.
The empty, city-owned lot at Kimball and Diversey was identified as an ideal location for a tribute. The empty lot had become an eyesore and a congregation spot for eyesores. Creating the memorial not only served as a tribute to the heroes who had been killed, it also created a family-friendly area in a neighborhood that was experiencing a few rough edges. The Milwaukee-Diversey Chamber of Commerce, headed by Animal Kingdom owner Bernie Hoffman, raised money for the memorial park and for the families of the firefighters. The Department of Streets and Sanitation donated time and materials to transform the empty lot into a park. The flame-shaped rock on which the memorial plaque rests is actually the re-purposed tip of a traffic median that had originally been the base of a traffic light.
The mural was created by local artist Jose Berrios and his crew, Creatin Blastin Art. In 2000, the brick wall of the adjoining bank needed to be rebuilt. The mural was removed in order to save the wall, but after several weeks, arrangements were made to re-introduce the mural into the park, mounted on its own posts away from the building.
The video below was recorded at the ceremony where Mayor Harold Washington dedicated Firefighters Memorial Park. The speeches at the ceremony tell much of the story of the neighbors who created this tribute.