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.