This from Phil Stenholm:

100 years ago today…

On the evening of February 23, 1914, the Evanston Fire Department responded to one of the worst fires in the city‘s history (up until that point in time), a spectacular blaze at Heck Hall dormitory on the lakefront campus of Garrett Bible Institute.

Several thousand spectators gathered as the top floor was engulfed in flames, with embers falling as far away as Dempster Street. Fire fighters led 92 students to safety, getting the students and themselves out of the building just before the upper floors collapsed, with charged hose-lines left behind under the rubble. The EFD‘s three-year old automobile pumper (Motor Engine No. 1 – a 1911 Robinson “Jumbo” 750 GPM TCP) broke down with a damaged transmission while en route to the fire, so there wasn’t much chance to control the blaze anyway.

The Evanston F. D. requested help from the Chicago Fire Department, and two CFD companies (Engine Co. 79 & Engine Co. 102) responded to the scene. Engine Co. 102 was operating with the CFD‘s first gasoline-powered automobile fire engine (a 1912 Webb 650 GPM combination pumper), but even with the assistance of the big city boys, Heck Hall was completely destroyed, with the loss estimated at $50,000.

To all appearances, the eight-year tenure of Evanston Fire Chief S. C. “Carl” Harrison Jr had been characterized by innovation and modernization, with implementation of a formal training program, a 20% increase in the fire fighting force, and the acquisition of a more-powerful steam fire engine, an aerial-ladder truck, an automobile triple-combination pumper, and a “Lung Motor” (mechanical resucitator). But the Harrison regime was also seen by Evanston Mayor James Smart as increasingly erratic and eccentric. After an uncharacteristically poor performance by the Evanston Fire Department at the Heck Hall dormitory fire, Mayor Smart abruptly fired Harrison.

A few days later, Harrison announced he was running for alderman of the 4th ward against Smart political ally James Turnock. This announcement precipitated a ferocious editorial in the *Evanston Press* by publisher Albert Bowman, accusing Harrison of alcoholism. Harrison lost the election, and swore out a complaint against Bowman for “criminal libel.” Meanwhile, Carl Harrison’s father (Justice of the Peace and former EFD Chief Sam Harrison) was working behind the scenes in an attempt to influence new Mayor Harry Pearsons to reinstate his son as Chief. (Pearsons declined). The criminal libel charge against Albert Bowman was later dismissed by a Cook County grand jury.

Carl Harrison was replaced by Albert Hofstetter, and he would serve as Chief for more than 36 years, until his death at the age of 70 in September 1950. Hofstetter joined the Fire Department in 1901, and was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant at the age of 23 in February 1903. He was promoted to Captain on March 14, 1914, and two HOURS later was appointed “Chief” by Mayor Smart. So Hofstetter’s two-hour tenure as “Captain” was followed by 36+ years as Chief (spanning World War I, the Roaring 20’s, the Great Depression, WWII, and the onset of the Korean War). His 49 years as a member of the Evanston Fire Department is the all-time record for length of service with the EFD.