Archive for January 19th, 2021

New ambulance remount for Huntley FPD

From the Huntley Fire Protection District Facebook page:

Members of the apparatus committee traveled to Rock Rapids Iowa Thursday to take possession of station two’s new ambulance. Arrow Ambulance specializes in remounting new chassis to existing work boxes which saves the fire district a substantial amount compared to buying an all new ambulance. To learn more about the benefits of remounting follow the link.

Huntley FPD Type 1 ambulance

Huntley FPD photo

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New engine for Lemont FPD (more)

From Bill Schreiber:

Lemont FPD Rosenbauer Commander cab update

fire engine being built for the Lemont FPD

Rosenbauer photo

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Evanston Fire Department history – Part 2

More Evanston Fire Department history from Phil Stenholm:

On May 2, 1875, the EFD responded to an early-morning blaze at the First Presbyterian Church at Lake & Chicago  Although firemen arrived promptly, the structure was lost, mainly because of a communication mix-up between firefighters at the scene and the engineer on duty at the Waterworks engine-house. Firefighters believed water-pressure was being increased when they heard what they thought was an acknowledgment from the Waterworks engineer (it was actually a whistle from a C&NW RR train), so by the time a messenger was sent on horseback to the engine-house, the church was destroyed.

Later that month, a telegraph connection was established between the village hall and the Waterworks. Even with improved communication (telephones replaced the telegraph in the 1880s), the fire at the First Presbyterian Church was not to be the only instance where poor communication between firefighters and a Waterworks engineer would give a black eye to the EFD. Meanwhile, the First Presbyterian Church was rebuilt on the same site, only to be destroyed by fire again in February 1894.

The Evanston Fire Department was legally established by ordinance on May 25, 1875 and took effect on May 29th, once it was published in the newspaper. The ordinance was only a technicality, however, as the origin of the fire department certainly was January 7, 1873, the night the Village Board of Trustees accepted the Pioneer Fire Company for service. 

The C. J. Gilbert Hose Company was organized in January 1875 and after a six-month period of evaluation was accepted for service by the village board in August 1875, joining Pioneer Hose Company No. 1 as one of Evanston’s two volunteer hose companies.

The Pioneers and the Gilberts were each assigned one hand-drawn, two-wheeled, one-axle hose cart (one built by Silsby, the other by G. W. Hannis), 1000 feet of 2-1/2 inch hose, an assortment of nozzles, related tools and equipment. Gilbert Hose Company foreman William Gamble, a local grocer, served as village Fire Marshal from November 1876 to May 1878. Pioneer Fire Company foreman (and butcher) W. R. “Bob” Bailey served as Fire Marshal from May 1878 to July 1883. Bailey’s Meat Market & Ice House was one of the shops destroyed in the Willard Block fire of 1872.

From January 1875 to April 1881, the Evanston Fire Department consisted of just the two volunteer hose companies. All of the apparatus, equipment, and gear were owned by the village. Both companies maintained their apparatus and held their respective monthly meetings on the first floor of the village hall. Each company gave its own Firemen’s Ball each year, the Pioneers on St. Patrick’s Day, and the Gilberts on New Year’s Eve. Which was the better party has been lost to antiquity.

Company officers included the foreman who was the company commander, a 1st assistant foreman, a 2nd assistant foreman, a 3rd assistant foreman, a secretary, and a treasurer. All company officers were elected annually by the members of the company, and new members were allowed to join only after receiving the approval of company members. Most of the members of the two companies were Evanston merchants or their employees.

Pioneer Hose Company, No. 1 was considered one of the elite hose companies in Illinois, and frequently competed in musters with other fire companies. The Pioneers had fancy uniforms featuring navy blue caps, red flannel shirts with black trim and a number “1” on the front, and black belts with white trim. They took their pick of new equipment acquired by the village, and usually got their “man” installed as the village fire marshal. Conversely, the C. J. Gilbert Hose Company, formed by a cadre of renegade outcasts from the Pioneer Fire Company, did NOT participate in state musters, did NOT have fancy uniforms, and were considered the “poor step-brothers” of the EFD.

As in many volunteer fire departments of the day, Evanston’s two hose companies were friendly rivals, and each enjoyed nothing better than blasting the other with water after extinguishing a “good fire.” They also would race each other to be first on scene, first with water on the fire, and first to extinguish the flames. Unfortunately, the Village Board of Trustees would sometimes play one company off against the other, by appointing one company’s foreman as the village fire marshal, or by distributing new equipment to one company but not to the other. And the Gilberts were usually the ones that got the short end of the pike pole.

Although fires in Evanston were rare, and big fires even more rare, the Pioneers and the Gilberts did have their moments, especially during the night of January 2, 1879. At 9 PM, firefighters responded in bitter cold (supposedly minus-20 degrees) to a report of a fire at Dempster Hall dormitory on the campus of Northwestern University. Constructed in 1854, Dempster Hall was one of the oldest structures in the village. Three hours later, the vacant residence hall stood gutted, and firefighters were frozen and exhausted. students were on Christmas Vacation at the time.

There was no rest for the weary, however, as the Pioneers and the Gilberts responded to another reported fire at 2 AM, this time at the Northwestern Gas Light & Coke Company (the “gasworks”) at Clark & Maple. Coal sheds, several tons of coal, and 20 barrels of tar were destroyed before firefighters quelled the conflagration. The companies then turned the hose streams on each other. Fortunately, today’s Evanston firefighters are not so childish…

Two more significant fires occurred during early 1879, both on the West Ridge in the vicinity of Church & Wesley. The first destroyed the home of Northwestern University Professor Kistler — where firefighters lost the house but saved the furniture and library, and the other destroyed the palatial domicile of real estate king Charles Browne, the founder of North Evanston, although firemen once again saved the furniture and library, as well as two nearby homes. The fires of ‘79 caused much agitation within the EFD, as both companies demanded some form of financial compensation, as well as additional equipment (play-pipes and hose) and clothing (coats, gloves, and boots) from the village trustees.

The village board did subsequently acquire coats, gloves, and boots, but not enough for both of the companies. The trustees gave EFD Chief Bob Bailey, one-time foreman of Pioneer Hose Company No. 1, the job of allocating the gear, and (surprise!) all of it went to the Pioneers. As one might imagine, the Gilberts were not happy campers. The trustees then acquired a new play-pipe, and this time the Pioneers offered to stage a muster with the Gilberts at the town picnic on July 4th, with the winner to take possession of the new appliance. The Gilberts refused, probably because they did not want to establish the precedent of competing with the Pioneers for gear and equipment, so the Pioneers kept the play-pipe.

By failing to compete with the Pioneers at the picnic however, the Gilberts became a town joke. In an attempt to restore their dignity, the Gilberts challenged the Pioneers to a muster later that summer. The two companies agreed to meet (or “muster”) on the afternoon of August 21, 1879.

Several hundred enthusiastic spectators lined University Place on a very hot summer Thursday afternoon. Gambling was rampant, with several side-wagers amongst the firemen themselves. Despite completing the run in 63.5 seconds  and besting their own state record, the Pioneers were disqualified by the judges on a technicality. The Gilberts were awarded the upset victory. The Pioneers protested, claiming the local judges either did not understand state tournament rules, had been bribed, or both, but the Gilbert victory stood.

On December 31, 1880 (New Year’s Eve), the Pioneers and Gilberts engaged in a far more difficult contest, the second blaze to strike the opulent home of prominent village resident John H. Kedzie in seven years. As was often the case in cold weather, many firemen missed the alarm because they couldn’t hear the fire-bell with their windows closed. Those who did respond fought a long, hard battle against flames buried within the walls of the home, saving the furniture, but ultimately losing the house. Harry Housel, one of the members of Pioneer Hose Company No. 1, contracted a respiratory infection either during or shortly after this fire, an infection that eventually lead to his death by “consumption” (tuberculosis) at the age of 24 in April 1882, after the Pioneer Hose Company had disbanded.

The Kedzie fire seemed to light a fuse inside the fire companies, leading once again to demands for financial compensation and improved clothing and equipment for Evanston’s firefighters. After their pleas were ignored, the two hose companies resigned en masse on May 23, 1881. The era of volunteer firefighting in Evanston would end with a whimper.

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