On February 11, 1998, at 10:24 PM, the Chicago Fire Department received a call from the occupant of a private residence at the rear of a commercial tire service center, stating there was a fire in the interior of the building. Above the parts room was a cockloft (unfinished area below the roof), where tires, Christmas decorations, and miscellaneous items were stored (believed to be the area of origin of the fire).
Firefighter Patrick King responded with Truck 45. At 10:28 PM, Engine 120 was the first company to arrive at the service center, with Engine 92 being the second company on the scene, then Truck 45, Truck 24, and Battalion 21. None of the firefighters reported seeing any fire or smoke, so one of the firefighters radioed back to dispatch to verify the address. The address was confirmed by dispatch, and at the same time a neighbor told the firefighters he saw fire at the rear of the building.
At approximately 10:30 PM, the owner of the business arrived to unlock the front door to the showroom. Approximately 8 to 10 firefighters from the first-arriving companies, including King and Lockhart, entered the showroom; some firefighters reported no smoke showing, others reported observing a light haze in the showroom, with the odor of a burning car. They opened the door to the service area, where black smoke covering the top one-third of ceiling space was encountered. They entered with a charged 1 3/4-inch hose line, which was connected to a 2 1/2-inch leadout line. The firefighters indicated that at no time did any them feel any excessive heat or see any fire.
At approximately 10:43 PM, the 8 to 10 firefighters and officers who were inside the building had advanced some 15 to 20 feet into the service area where thick black smoke was above them. At approximately 10:45 PM, without warning, hot gases that had accumulated along the 20- foot-high ceiling ignited, causing a backdraft situation. This created a pressure wave, knocking the firefighters off balance and to the floor. The firefighters became disoriented, could not find the hose, and were scrambling and yelling in an attempt to escape the inferno they had been caught in. Additionally, the molten polystyrene insulation from the ceiling area began falling down on them. One firefighter later reported that he could hear his fellow firefighters running into and knocking over things, yelling, and screaming, trying to escape from the burning structure. One firefighter dove through the office window to escape the burning building. The escape from the service area was complicated by the 20 cars stored in the service area, the intense heat, heavy black smoke, disorientation and panic from being trapped.
When the firefighters exited the burning structure, an immediate head count was taken, and it was discovered that King and Lockhart were missing. Rescue attempts by firefighters to reenter the structure were numerous but futile, as the entire service area became fully involved with fire, prohibiting entry and rescue the missing fire fighters. Within 30 minutes, the entire truss roof collapsed into the structure. Once the fire was extinguished, King and Lockhart were removed from the scene and transported to Little Company of Mary’s Hospital Emergency Room by Ambulance 27 and Ambulance 17. Lockhart was pronounced dead-on-arrival at 1:24 AM, while King was pronounced dead-on-arrival at 1:32 AM.