Palatine honors three firefighters killed in 1973 Ben Franklin fire

It's been 48 years since three volunteer firefighters lost their lives battling a blaze in a downtown Palatine store, but the tragedy still resonates with the community and weighs heavy on its first responders.

And so firefighters, village leaders, community members and family of the fallen gathered Tuesday morning at the Palatine Firefighters Memorial to pay tribute to volunteer firefighters Warren “Auggie” Ahlgrim, 32, John Wilson, 40, and Richard Freeman, 25, and honor their ultimate sacrifice.

The three volunteers died Feb. 23, 1973, while fighting a fire in the basement of the Ben Franklin store at 36 N. Broadway St.

Wilson, who owned the store, believed the furnace was the source of the fire and led Freeman and Ahlgrim through the long, narrow structure to a set of interior stairs that would take them to the basement. Each was equipped with an air pack that was expected to last 10 to 20 minutes.

At one point, fellow firefighters said, Wilson came upstairs and told his colleagues the fire was pretty much snuffed. That was the last time anyone saw him alive, as the fire, in fact, had spread.

The tragedy became the main catalyst in converting the volunteer fire service to a full-time, professional department.

The ceremony Tuesday featured an honor guard procession from nearby Fire Station 85, followed by the tolling of bells in the firefighters' memory and the laying of a wreath at the memorial.

  Palatine on Tuesday recognized the sacrifice of three volunteer firefighters who died in the line of duty in the Ben Franklin store fire Feb. 23, 1973. Mark Welsh/
  Rose Ahlgrim, center, pays tribute to her husband, Warren "Augie" Ahlgrim, during a ceremony Tuesday honoring him and two other firefighters killed battling the Ben Franklin store fire on Feb. 23, 1973. To her left is retired fire Lt. Bill Noland, who also fought the blaze that day, and on her right is her son, Dan Ahlgrim. Mark Welsh/
  Retired Palatine fire Lt. Bill Noland consoles Rose Ahlgrim, widow of Warren “Auggie” Ahlgrim, at Tuesday's memorial ceremony. Mark Welsh/
Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.