Archive for March 23rd, 2021

Still & Box Alarm fire in Chicago, 3-21-21

This from Eric Haak:

Here are a few images of a still & box alarm in Chicago’s 5th Battalion on Sunday morning (3/21). The building was vacant.

flames blow out of a house at night

Eric Haak photo

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As seen around … Chicago

This from @chicagoland_fire_photos on instagram:

This was a visit to Engine 115 about 3 days before their new house opened

single engine firehouse in Chicago

chicagoland_fire_photos on instagram

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Palatine Fire Department news

Palatine Fire Department press release

click to download

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Evanston Fire Department History – Part 15

Another installment about History of Evanston Fire Department


In March 1906, the Evanston Fire Department took delivery of a new American LaFrance “Metropolitan” 700-GPM second-size steam fire engine with a three-horse hitch. It was the first apparatus acquired by the EFD that required more than two horses to pull it, and it cost $5,500, plus $250 for a new horse that was added to the two already assigned to Engine 1. The new Metropolitan steamer was heavier and more-powerful than the Ahrens Metropolitan 600-GPM second-size steamer with a two-horse hitch that had been in service with the EFD since 1895. 

The plan was for the older Ahrens Metropolitan steamer to be sent to the American LaFrance factory in Elmira, NY, for a complete overhaul, after-which it would be returned to Evanston and placed into service at Station # 2. However, the Evanston City Council declined to appropriate funds to purchase two additional horses and hire additional manpower that would be needed in order to place the second steamer into front-line service, so while the older steamer was indeed moved into Station # 2 after it came back from Elmira, it was kept in reserve status for several years until such time as more horses could be purchased and additional manpower could be hired. 

The Metropolitan was the most-popular steam fire engine of the day, and while Evanston’s new Metropolitan steamer was built by American-LaFrance, the EFD’s older Metropolitan steamer was built by the Ahrens Manufacturing Company of Cincinnati, OH. The Metropolitan was invented in the 1890’s by Chris Ahrens, founder of the Ahrens Manufacturing Company, and along with Button, Clapp & Jones, and Silsby, Ahrens was one of four steam fire engine companies that merged to form the American Fire Engine Company (AFEC) in 1891. This was the era of monopolies and trusts, and the purpose of establishing AFEC was to reduce or maybe even eventually eliminate competition, consolidate the sales force, and maximize profits. Although each of the four companies maintained their own separate corporate identity, AFEC production facilities were located at the Ahrens Manufacturing Company plant in Cincinnati and at the Silsby Manufacturing Company plant in Seneca Falls, NY. However, because the other two major steam fire engine manufacturers of the day — Amoskeag and LaFrance  — did not participate in the merger, the overall benefit of the AFEC consolidation was minimal.

While there were four steam fire engine manufactures under the AFEC umbrella, Ahrens was by far the biggest and most-successful. Ahrens built its Metropolitan steamer in various sizes, and it was sold to fire departments — including the Evanston F. D. — across the country throughout the 1890s. Ahrens also manufactured the radical / eccentric, overly-heavy, and not very successful “Columbian,” which was built for and displayed at the World’s Columbian Exposition at Jackson Park in Chicago in 1893. The Columbian featured both a standard steam engine AND a hose supply-bed on the same rig. The common practice at the time the Columbian was being introduced and marketed was for an engine company to operate with a steam fire engine and a hose cart running as separate rigs, and unfortunately for Ahrens, most fire chiefs at that time just could not see the advantage of combining the two functions in one apparatus.

While the American Fire Engine Company was attempting to establish itself as the “big dog” in the world of steam fire engines, the LaFrance Fire Engine Company was busy acquiring patents for both the Hayes and the Babcock aerial-ladders, the two most popular aerial-ladder designs of the 19th century, effectively giving LaFrance control over the manufacture of all aerial-ladder trucks built in the U. S.  It was not until 1900 — when the American Fire Engine Company merged with LaFrance, Amoskeag, and a number of other manufacturers of firefighting equipment and apparatus such as the Rumsey Company, Gleason & Bailey, the Charles T. Holloway Company, and the Macomber Fire Extinguisher Company to form the International Fire Engine Company, that the trust was fully established.

The International Fire Engine Company name was changed to American-LaFrance Fire Engine Company as all production moved to the LaFrance plant in Elmira, NY, in 1904, but just as with AFEC ten years earlier, post-merger profits were not as great as had been anticipated, in part thanks to a new kid on the block.

The Seagrave Corporation was located in Columbus, OH, and while Seagrave did not build steam fire engines, it did manufacture first-rate horse-drawn chemical engines and hook & ladder trucks, as well as the very popular “combination truck,” so-called because it combined a chemical engine and a hook & ladder truck in one apparatus. Seagrave combination trucks were in service with fire departments across the U. S., and then beginning in 1900, Seagrave started manufacturing horse-dawn aerial-ladder trucks that competed successfully with the American-LaFrance aerial-ladder truck.

Meanwhile, tired of living the life of a retired independently wealthy squire, Chris Ahrens rediscovered his latent entrepreneurial spirit and sold his share in American-LaFrance in 1904. Together with sons John and Fred and son-in-law and Cincinnati Fire Chief Charles H. Fox, formed a new company called the Ahrens Fire Engine Company at the old Ahrens Manufacturing Company plant in Cincinnati. The company’s name was changed to the Ahrens-Fox Fire Engine Company in 1908 when Charles Fox became company president, and it quickly became the # 2 steam fire engine manufacturer and American-LaFrance’s chief competitor in the area of steam fire engines. But it wasn’t easy.

Because American-LaFrance retained all patents held by the various companies that formed ALF — including the Metropolitan patent originally filed by Chris Ahrens in the 1890s  — Ahrens-Fox could not build the Metropolitan. And so instead, Chris Ahrens invented, developed, and built a completely new steam fire engine called the “Continental” that did not infringe on any existing patents, and in fact the Ahrens-Fox Continental sold very well, and might even have eventually matched or even exceeded American-LaFrance’s Metropolitan in sales, except the steam fire engine era came to a rather abrupt end in 1915.

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