Archive for January 16th, 2021

Evanston Fire Department history – Part 1

From Phil Stenholm:

The Big Bang of the Evanston Fire Department

And in the beginning, there was the Pioneer Fire Company of Evanston… 

Evanston’s first fire company was the 63-man volunteer “Pioneer Fire Company of Evanston,” organized during the first week of January 1873, and accepted for service with the Village of Evanston at the Village Board meeting of January 7th.

The Pioneer Fire Company pre-dates ALL other organized fire-fighting outfits in Evanston. It even pre-dates the Evanston Fire Department itself! (The EFD was not officially and legally established by ordinance until May 1875).

The Pioneer Fire Company was formed in response to two big fires that occurred in Evanston in 1872.  

The first (and worst) blaze destroyed 18 businesses and residences in the Willard Block (located on the north side of Davis Street, between Sherman and Benson) in the early morning hours of Monday, October 14, 1872 (just over a year after the Great Chicago Fire). Despite heroic work by an ad hoc citizen “bucket brigade” (relaying water from a nearby well to a privately-owned 50-gallon hand-operated “garden pumper”), the conflagration was stopped only after Town Board President C. J. Gilbert ordered buildings at both ends of the block dismantled to remove potential fuel for the fire. The $49,300 in damage would stand as the highest loss from an Evanston fire until the Lincoln Avenue schoolhouse fire of March 1894.

Then on December 20th (a scant two months after the Willard Block fire), three residences on Hinman Avenue were destroyed by fire. Once again, a citizen “bucket brigade” could not stop the flames. However, within two weeks, Evanston would have a fire marshal, and an organized fire brigade.

Evanston’s first fire marshal was Colonel Wesley Brainerd.

A native of Rome, N. Y., Col. Brainerd was a prominent civil engineer and had been an officer in the Engineer Brigade of the Army of the Potomac during the Civil War. He was wounded by a sniper’s bullet while supervising deployment of a pontoon bridge over the Rappahannock River at the Battle of Fredericksburg in 1862. Although Col. Brainerd had no background as a firefighter (he was brought to Evanston to construct sidewalks), he was appointed the first Fire Marshal of the Village of Evanston on January 1, 1873. 

The Fire Marshal was primarily responsible for enforcing the new “Fire Limits” ordinance, but he also helped to organize the Pioneer Fire Company. Col. Brainerd resigned his post as Fire Marshal in June 1873, at which time he left Evanston to continue his career as a civil engineer. He died on August 19, 1910, at the age of 77. (His papers are in a special collection at the University of Tennessee). Pioneer Fire Company foreman and fire insurance agent Joseph Humphrey replaced Col. Brainerd as Fire Marshal in the Summer of 1873.

The first firehouse was the Evanston Village Hall (a two-story wood-frame structure, located at the southwest corner of Orrington Avenue and the south alley of Church Street). The first-floor was altered to accommodate the fire company, as the two front windows were removed and replaced with double-doors. A room was made available for company meetings, and a bell was purchased to alert the company’s members when there was a fire.

The Pioneer Fire Company’s first apparatus were a hand-drawn Babcock hook & ladder wagon equipped with a ladder, pike-poles, axes, buckets, and rope, and a hand-drawn Babcock double 50-gallon self-acting chemical-engine.

The Babcock chemical-engine was all the rage in 1872, as the new invention was demonstrated at universities, conventions, and state and county fairs. Since it was manufactured in Chicago, the Chicago Fire Department acquired several in the aftermath of its infamous fire. The Babcock chemical-engine was advertised as “a fire extinguisher on wheels” and that’s essentially what it was, providing up to 100 gallons of soda-acid fire suppression almost immediately upon arrival at a fire.

Chemical fire suppression was gradually replaced by the so-called “booster” system — a water tank & auxiliary pump with a pre-connected hose-lead — after its invention by Ahrens-Fox President Charles H. Fox in 1913, but chemical fire suppression was the main-stay “first responder” of the American fire service for more than 40 years.

Evanston’s chemical-engine was taken out of service and kept in “mothballs” for almost ten years after the high-pressure waterworks was placed in service in January 1875, before being converted into a horse-drawn apparatus and returning to front-line duty in 1884. The rig was refurbished in 1902 and remained in front-line service as the second-section of Truck Co. 1 until November 1917 nearly 45 years after it was built .   

Unlike the Babcock chemical-engine, the Babcock H&L was not converted to a hose-drawn rig, and so it was scrapped when Evanston’s hand-drawn fire fighting apparatus were replaced by horse-drawn apparatus in 1883.

The Pioneer Fire Company included many prominent citizens, including several Civil War heroes, a doctor, a judge, and a banker who would later serve as U. S. Secretary of the Treasury. Although a volunteer entity, membership in the Pioneer Fire Company was considered a privilege and an honor. Not everyone who applied for membership was accepted. The company held meetings at the village hall on the first Thursday evening of each month, and company officers scheduled occasional surprise “practice drills” for company members.

The first such drill was held at the Northwestern Gas Light & Coke Company (the “gasworks”) on February 22, 1873, as Pioneer Fire Company officers set tar on fire and waited for the company to respond. They responded all right, but it was reported in the Evanston Index that “some firemen are exceedingly bitter over going to a practice fire on such a cold day.” (Note that at the next monthly meeting, the fine for insubordination was doubled!).

Actual fires were rare during the years 1873-1874. However, the company did battle a major blaze at the M. Bates Iott furniture store plus seven adjacent businesses in the Judson Block (south side of Davis Street, west of Sherman) on October 15, 1873. Aggregate damage totaled $14,650. Although firefighters were able to salvage much of Iott’s property, some of the salvaged goods were stolen by looters. Because Evanston’s two police officers were also members of the Pioneer Fire Company, there was no law enforcement presence outside the store to protect the goods from opportunistic thieves. Subsequently, the Village Board of Trustees would mandate that Evanston police officers could not serve as firefighters.

A sophisticated high-pressure waterworks was placed in service in Evanston in January 1875. Christened the C. J. Gilbert Waterworks in honor of the esteemed Village Board President and leader of the so-called “Waterworks Party”, it was built by the Holly Company of Lockport, New York, at a cost of $111,241.68. The project was funded by the sale of municipal bonds in the amount of $83,850 approved by Evanston voters in the elections of 1873 and 1874, and special assessment taxes collected from property owners as water mains and fire hydrants were extended into the various neighborhoods of the village. Because of the cost, no town as small as Evanston had ever built a Holly high-pressure waterworks before.

The Holly Company’s high-pressure waterworks was a technological marvel. The engine house was constructed at the northeast corner of Lincoln Street & Michigan Avenue (later known as Sheridan Road), and the crib, intake pipes, and rotary strainer were located in Lake Michigan 500 feet off-shore. The high-pressure rotary pump, designed by Burdsall Holly, was capable of pumping 3,000,000 gallons of water every 24 hours for general residential use and allowed water-pressure in the mains to be increased two or three times above normal “residential pressure” in the event of a fire so that firefighters would require only direct pressure (or “plug pressure”) to extinguish a blaze. Steam fire engines were not needed. A larger Holly engine & pump capable of pumping 12,000,000 gallons per 24 hours was acquired and installed in 1897.

The Pioneer Fire Company was reorganized as a 30-man hose company and changed its name to Pioneer Hose Company No. 1 in December 1874, as Evanston’s new Holly high-pressure waterworks was about ready to be placed in service.

The Holly waterworks system was officially tested and accepted by the Village of Evanston on January 21, 1875, as firefighters from Pioneer Hose Company No. 1 manning hose lines with one-inch diameter nozzles were able to simultaneously throw four streams of water between 104 – 117 feet into the air (using direct-pressure from hydrants), and then using a single 1-1/2-inch diameter nozzle were able to throw a single stream 153-1/2 feet into the air. Then using a 1-3/4-inch diameter nozzle with a three-hose lead from three hydrants, they were able to throw a single stream of water 217 feet into the air. Water pressure was measured at 100-110 psi at the engine house on Lincoln Street, and at 80-90 psi at the hydrants located on Church Street and Davis Street more than a mile from the pumping station.

Unfortunately, increasing water pressure during fires eventually led to broken and collapsed water-mains sometimes DURING a fire!  Therefore, beginning in 1912 plug pressure was used only rarely. There also was a problem with anchor-ice sometimes clogging the intake pipes during the coldest days of winter, causing the high-pressure pump to be less-effective. 

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New engine for Evergreen Park (more)

Updated production photos of a new engine being built or Evergreen Park

E-ONE fire truck body being built

E-ONE photo

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New engine for Deerfield-Bannockburn FPD (more)


New engine for the Deerfield-Bannockburn FPD

  • Job Number: 34688
  • Chassis: Dash® CF
  • Body: Pumper
  • Actual Overall Height: 11? 5?
  • Engine: Detroit Diesel DD13
  • Horsepower: 505 hp
  • Front Suspension: TAK-4® Independent Front Suspension
  • Rear Suspension: Air
  • Electrical System: Command Zone™
  • Foam System: Husky™ 12
  • Pump: Pierce PUC™ Midship
  • Pump GPM: 1,250 gmp
  • Tank: Water/Foam
  • Tank Size: 750 gallons
Pierce Dash CF PUC engine

Pierce composite

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