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Local 281 Retrofits Fire Sprinkler System at Mission of Our Lady of the Angels

Local 281 Retrofits Fire Sprinkler System at Mission of Our Lady of the Angels

Pictured at the dedication ceremony is Local 281 Business Manager Tom Collins with representatives from the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels and the Chicago Fire Department.


On December 1, 1958, tragedy occurred at Our Lady of the Angels School when it caught fire, killing 92 children and three nuns. This devastating fire is remembered as one of the worst school fires in U.S. history and one of Chicago’s greatest tragedies. As a result of this fire, new fire codes were enacted in the City of Chicago and many other cities across the U.S. to ensure a tragedy like this would never happen again.

In 1960, a new school was built on the same site where the fire occurred and remained a Chicago Archdiocese school until 1999. Recently, the school has reopened as Mission of Our Lady of the Angels and is housing a food pantry, day care center, and afterschool programs. Joe Albergo, a retired Instructor of Plumbers Local 130, Chicago, IL, is a volunteer at Mission of Our Lady of the Angels and brought to the attention of Tom Collins, Business Manager of Sprinkler Fitters Local 281, Chicago, IL, that the building that was rebuilt in 1960 did not have an automatic fire sprinkler system. Brother Collins was in utter disbelief at this news, so he decided to take action.

Brother Collins visited the school in September of 2019 to check out the situation. He said, “It is a four-story building that only had fire sprinklers in the basement. There were no fire sprinklers or standpipe in the majority of the
building. Local 281 members pledged to do everything in their power to correct this deplorable situation.”

Local 281 signatory contractor United States Alliance (USA) Fire Protection and Local 281 donated the design and materials to retrofit the building with a life-saving automatic fire sprinkler system, to allow the mission to serve its community safely. To protect the property and lives of the volunteers and community they serve, members of Local 281 also provided the
labor to install the new fire sprinkler system. Several trades, including plumbers and pipefitters, volunteered labor and donated material to the mission as well.

The design, materials, and labor have a value of $400,000—provided 100 percent free of charge for the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels. The new fire sprinkler system follows NFPA 13 and the City of Chicago Fire Codes. Brother Collins said, “Local 281 and its signatory contractors agree that this was the least we could do to honor the memory of the 92 children and three nuns who perished, the many injured, and the hundreds of families who lost loved ones and neighbors.”

On October 7, 2020, during Fire Prevention Week, officials from the Chicago Fire Department joined members of Local 281 and USA Fire Protection at a ceremony to dedicate the newly sprinklered building. Chicago Fire Commissioner Richard C. Ford II delivered remarks at the dedication ceremony, stating, “We thank everyone who worked to bring this project to fruition, making the building safer for everyone at the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels.” Bishop-elect Bob Lombardo is the founder and director of the mission. He and the nuns who work at the mission were also present at the dedication ceremony. “We are very grateful for the amazing support from Sprinkler Fitters Local 281 and all of its affiliate organizations,” Lombardo said. “We are grateful to honor the students and the sisters who died here in 1958 by equipping the building with the best and most up-to-date fire prevention equipment via the best installers.”

What may seem like a routine installation of fire safety equipment is a momentous step for a building that replaced the site of the 1958 fire. Without Local 281 and USA Fire Protection, the mission would not pass today’s stricter fire codes, risking the ability to repurpose the former school building into a new outreach center.