Phelim O’Toole is best known for saving the lives of 12 women in the Southern Hotel Fire of 1877. There were 21 others who perished.

O’Toole demonstrated his bravery again at a fire at the St. Louis courthouse. From the courthouse dome, he dangled on a rope while extinguishing the fire through a hole he had chopped in the roof. 

O’Toole died on this day in 1880 when a fire extinguisher exploded and killed him while he was putting out a fire in a vacant house. More than 20,000 St. Louis citizens mourned his passing.

In keeping the hero’s memory alive, the St. Louis Fire Department christened their Fire Marine Rescue Unit´s fireboat the “Phelim O´Toole.”

This post was contributed by Ross Malone. A historian and a retired school teacher, Ross has authored many books about Missouri’s history, weird facts, and folk tales. He has also written children’s historical fiction. Visit his website, and buy his books in the Missouri Life store.

Photo credit: [John J. Buse Collection, S1083. S1083_1984. The State Historical Society of Missouri, Photograph Collection.