Thomas Andrew O'Leary  

 1860  -  December 24, 1908 at age 48  


Born :   in New Port, Monmouthshire, England                
Entered Fire Department :
September 1895 
Duty :
Fire Chief of the Houston Fire Department 
Buried :
Glenwood Cemetery, Section West Avenue 

Thomas O’Leary lost his life while he and his men were trying to extinguish a blaze in a railroad boxcar loaded with fireworks. The fire took place on the afternoon of November 22, 1908, in the Houston Belt Terminal Railroad switching yard located east of downtown. The fire started when a switch engine kicked another boxcar into a boxcar loaded with the fireworks. The collision of the two boxcars caused an explosion and the ensuing fire. Chief O’Leary was directing his men with little or no concern about the exploded boxcar because the explosion blew the roof of the car, thus minimizing its danger. The main concern was the possibility of the fire reaching the other rail cars, however, unknown to the fire fighters, large shells for aerial fireworks were on board the boxcar. Those who investigated the accident believed that one or more of the shells exploded in the end of the car where Chief O’Leary stood. The Chief took the full brunt of the blast. Five other fire fighters were injured and taken to Saint Joseph Hospital, along with Chief O’Leary. The Chief fought courageously for his life until December 24, 1908, when he lost his final battle.

Tom O’Leary volunteered with Stonewall 3 Company until the City of Houston hired full time Fire Fighters to take the place of the volunteers. When this happened O’Leary, joined the ranks of the paid department.

Update: March 2003

Chief O'Leary's grave was never marked with a headstone. His wife is buried next to him, she died in the 1930's, her grave was not marked as well.  When the Pension Office Memorial Wall Committee, obtained headstones for those line of duty death fire fighter who were in unmarked graves, the headstone for Chief O'Leary was taken to Glennwood Cemetery to be place on his grave. Duke Jahnke and Butch Edmonds were told by the people at Glennwood, because there were maintance dues owed the headstone could not be placed on the grave. Late last year I had began to going to the Glennwood office for research purposes and had talked to the general manager of Glennwood several times about the headstone. The first time I went in there I discussed the problem with him so that I could get and idea what to do to solve the problem. The next time I went in to research he told me that the problem was solved and the headstone was place on the gravesite. Problem solved !  


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