Birthdate: October 14, 1847
Death Date: January 29, 1874
Plot Location: Section 36, Lot 87
The Devitt family included at least eight children, with one not living past three years. They benefited from the aid of a live-in servant, thanks to the thriving business at his father’s dry goods store. One record indicates George may have joined the Navy in 1864, and the 1870 census lists his job as seaman.
Prior to 1871 the city fire department consisted of a group of loosely organized and independent volunteer fire companies subsidized by the city. The different fire houses competed with each other and there were incidents like the one reported here with George and a rival crew in November of 1870. Efficiency and organization improved when the volunteers were replaced with or hired as fully-paid staff and municipal control was centralized in 1871.
His service record improved as a full-time employee and as rules and procedures became standardized. George’s last call was at 2:42 am on January 29, 1874 when Engine Company #3 responded to the 1200 block of Market Street, home of the newly renovated Olympia Theatre. Battling the blaze in the dark, he and another hoseman were killed when they were trapped beneath falling walls. About an hour after the wall fell, George was found, still alive, but he died at his home a short time later.
George was single and living with his widowed mother, but the other victim had a wife and children. The public was encouraged to contribute to a benevolence fund for the families of the dead and injured. St. John’s Catholic Church also raised money to thank the firemen for saving their buildings from the fire, as this story explains.
It was because of this tragedy that improvements were made throughout the fledgling department. Editorials were written criticizing the city for not having any kind of disability compensation benefit, and hearings were held about modernizing a more reliable fire alarm system and fixing the many malfunctioning alarm boxes.
George’s body was placed in a vault until the ground was no longer frozen and burial was made alongside his brother Henry. Over time a tree has grown until it has pushed against the marker.
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