From Phil Stenholm:

Another installment about History of Evanston Fire Department

Pat Gaynor, Marriage Counselor 

It was looking like another tough winter for the Evanston Fire Department in 1920, as the EFD battled four fires in a 24-hour period over Sunday and Monday, January 4th and 5th.

At 9:19 AM on Sunday, companies from Station # 1 responded to the C. M. Haugen residence at 1462 Oak Avenue and encountered a fire in the basement, caused when sparks from the furnace ignited woodwork. The companies knocked the blaze down fairly quickly and determined that the fire did not communicate further. Two hours later and just back in quarters from the previous alarm, Station # 1 companies responded to a report of a fire at the L. H. Kashgarian residence at 1423 Elmwood Avenue, after sparks from the chimney ignited the roof. Truck Co. 1 arrived and laddered the roof, and Engine Co. 1 quickly extinguished the blaze with an 1-1/2 inch line.

Early the next morning (Monday), Engine Co. 2 and Truck Co. 1 responded  to 904 Michigan Avenue, where sparks from an unattended fireplace in the second-floor apartment of C. W. Hopkins ignited nearby furniture and sent smoke throughout the structure. Truck Co. 1 safely evacuated all of the building’s residents and began ventilation efforts while Engine Co. 2 worked to extinguish the blaze, but not before the Hopkins apartment was gutted. While companies were at the Michigan Avenue alarm, Engine Co. 1 followed by Engine Co. 3 responded to a report of a fire at an apartment building owned by E. Pulfrey at 939 Ridge Court, after sparks from the chimney ignited the roof. Engine Co. 1 pulled a 35-foot ground ladder and placed it into position before leading out a 2-1/2 inch line with an 1-1/2 inch hose lead in an effort to contain the blaze to the roof. Unfortunately, the flames communicated to apartments on the second floor before they were finally contained. The total combined damage amount for the four fires that weekend was $11,500.    

Two weeks later, on Saturday night January 17th into Sunday morning January 18th, the EFD battled two working fires within twelve hours.

The first one was reported in the basement of the residence of Arabelle Outlaw at 1800 Dodge Avenue at 9:15 PM on Saturday. It was caused by an overheated furnace, and the flames worked their way up from the basement to the first and second floors. Engine Co. 1 and Truck Co. 1 eventually extinguished the blaze, but the house was a total loss. At 9 AM Sunday morning, Engine Co. 3 and Truck Co. 1 responded to a report of a fire at the residence of Professor N. E. Simonsen at 2243 Orrington Avenue, after sparks from the chimney ignited the roof. The fire communicated to a second floor bedroom before it could be extinguished by EFD crews.The total combined damage estimates from the Outlaw and Simonsen fires was $6,000.    

On Sunday, March 28, 1920, a tornado roared through Chicago and the northern suburbs.Twenty homes in the area of Central Street & Lincolnwood Drive in Evanston were destroyed or severely damaged, although there were no injuries reported. Meanwhile, in Wilmette, martial law was declared and two companies of Illinois militia were deployed after 100 structures were destroyed or severely damaged in the village’s central business district. 

On Sunday night, May 9, 1920, companies from Station # 1 responded to a barn fire at the Wilson farm at the end of Emerson Street at the North Shore Channel, probably the most isolated location in Evanston at that point in time There was no Emerson Street bridge over the canal in those days, and the nearest fire hydrant was 1,000 feet away from the property at Leland Avenue. Engine Co. 3 responded on a second alarm and provided an additional 2-1/2 inch line, but the flames claimed a second barn and many hogs and chickens before the blaze was finally extinguished. The farm’s horses and cows were saved by firefighters from Truck Co. 1.   

So finally it’s a quiet summer day, June 25, 1920, and Lt. Pat Gaynor is riding a streetcar en route home for a 12-hour furlough after a 24-hour tour of duty at Fire Station #3, where Gaynor is the assistant company officer. The veteran firefighter observes a commotion at the South Boulevard “L”station, where a large crowd has gathered and is standing and watching while a man — James McGowan — beats a woman — wife Laura McGowan — about the head with the butt end of a revolver. McGowan had first tried to shoot his wife, but the gun apparently jammed. No stranger to danger and trained to save lives no matter the personal risk, Lt. Gaynor leaped off the street car, ran to the “L” station, and single-handedly disarmed the man. Gaynor then protected the wife-beater from the the angry and suddenly very brave crowd that became a lynch-mob. Evanston police arrived and arrested James McGowan, while his wife was transported, unconscious, to St. Francis Hospital. She survived and the couple eventually reconciled their differences, and credit Lt. Gaynor with saving their marriage.       

In October 1920, the Evanston Fire Department became the 387th fire department in the nation to institute a two-platoon / 84-hour work-week schedule for its firemen. In order to implement the two-platoon schedule, the firefighting force was increased from 41 to 49, with 24 men on each shift, plus the chief. Fourteen men (seven on each platoon, with one man from each platoon assigned as the chief’s chauffeur / administrative assistant) were assigned to Truck Co. 1, twelve men each (six on each platoon) were assigned to Engine Co. 1 and Engine Co. 2, and ten men (five on each platoon) were assigned to Engine Co. 3.

Firemen now worked 24 hours on duty, followed by 24 hours off-duty, and the men were no longer permitted to take meal breaks at home, at a restaurant, or lunch counter, as the stable facilities in the city’s three firehouses were replaced with kitchens, pantries, and dining rooms. Firemen were permitted two weeks’ annual paid vacation leave, but no vacations were allowed between November and March. One man per company could be on vacation at any one time, but only one man per company could be absent for any reason on any given shift. Firemen absent due to illness weren’t paid for hours not worked, and would have to make up (pay-back) the lost day by working on a day off at a later time, a date to be determined by the company officer.

If a fireman absent due to illness on a given shift would result in the company running more than one man short, the absent firefighter would be replaced by a firefighter from the company’s opposite platoon, who would cover for the absence by working his day-off and receiving an alternate day-off, to be determined by the company officer at a later point in time when the company was back at full-strength. A firefighter could volunteer to work his day off, otherwise the company officer would select the replacement. .    

In addition to authorizing reduction of the work-week from 112 hours to 84 and hiring eight new firemen, the city council also approved a 25-35% pay raise for all members of the EFD in 1920. The Chief Fire Marshal’s annual salary was increased 25% to $3,000 (with an additional 20% increase to $3,600 in 1921), the assistant chief’s annual salary was increased from $1,530 to $2,100, and the annual salaries for a captain (company officer) and a lieutenant (assistant company officer) were elevated $510 per year to $1,980 and $1,920, respectively. The annual salaries for engineer and motor driver, assistant engineer and assistant motor driver, and fireman, were upped by $480 per year, to $1,890, $1,830, and $1,800, respectively.

Because Evanston’s three firehouses no longer had stable facilities, it was no longer possible to keep the 1895 Ahrens Metropolitan steamer and its 1901 four-wheeled hose wagon in reserve. Even though ex-EFD horses were pulling street department wagons and were available to be temporarily transferred back to the EFD when needed, there was no place to stable the horses at the fire stations, even for a short period of time. So the last two remaining EFD reserve horse drawn rigs were finally scrapped.