Archive for February 10th, 2022

Evanston Fire Department history Part 60

From Phil Stenholm:

Another installment about History of Evanston Fire Department


A fire was reported at the Foster Elementary School at 2010 Dewey Avenue in the early-evening hours of Tuesday, October 28, 1958. Engine Co. 23 arrived first and led-out a 1-1/2 inch pre-connect. Engine 25 provided a supply line for Engine 23 and also laid a dry 2-1/2 inch line as a back-up, before grabbing a hydrant. Engine Co. 25 pulled another 1-1/2 inch pre-connect off Engine 23, and Truck Co. 23 assisted the engine companies locating the seat of the blaze. Cross-trained police officers assisted with positioning ladders to the second floor and dragging hose lines, and prepared to man Engine 25’s back-up 2-1/2 inch hand-line.

The fire was located in the attic in the school’s older section, and crews from Engine 23, Engine 25, and Truck 23 unsuccessfully attacked the fire from below. A second alarm was ordered by F-2, followed quickly by a third alarm. Engine 21, Truck 21, and Squad 21 (driven by the mechanic) responded on the second alarm, and Engine 24 and Truck 22 responded on the third alarm. Engine 22 transferred (changed quarters) to Station # 1. 

Engine 21 and Truck 21 pulled into the west alley, and Engine 24 laid a supply line for Engine 21 and a dry 2-1/2 inch line as a back-up, before taking a hydrant. Crews from Engine  Co. 21 and Engine Co. 24 pulled hand lines off Engine 21 on the west side (rear) of the school. Truck Co. 22 assisted Engine 21 and Engine 24 and did some salvage work. Truck 21’s main was extended to the roof immediately upon arrival, and the company initiated vertical ventilation.

Dewey Avenue was a through-street at that time, so Squad 21 was parked on Dewey north of Foster, with the mechanic preparing the squad’s four “night sun” floodlights for operation. Chief Geishecker (F-1) arrived from home and immediately ordered a full Code 10 (call-back of both of the off-duty platoons). As soon as the first reserve engine was placed in service, Engine Co. 22 was ordered to the fire to supply an elevated master stream atop Truck 21 on the west side of the school. Squad 22 was driven to the scene in case its high-pressure turret was needed.

Ultimately, all three reserve engines were placed into service. Two of the pumpers were sent to Station # 1 to provide coverage for the rest of the city, while Engine 27 (ex-E23) responded to the fire directly from Station # 3 and supplied Truck 23’s elevated master stream on the east side of the school. Additional firemen arriving from home were picked-up at their respective stations and shuttled to the scene in the CD pick-up truck. About 90 men were eventually put to work at the fire, allowing crews to rotate periodically.              

The flames had gained considerable headway by the time Chief Geishecker arrived, and not wanting to see a repeat of the Boltwood School fire debacle of 1927, he requested mutual aid from the Chicago Fire Department. Something may have been lost in the translation, however, because six Chicago FD engine companies and the Chicago Civil Defense Fire & Rescue Service were dispatched, only to find out once they arrived that they were requested as a precaution, and actually weren’t immediately needed. The Chicago FD companies returned to quarters, but the CCDFRS crews remained on the scene for a while.     

Foster School sustained significant fire damage to its roof and attic, some fire and smoke damage on the second floor, and extensive water damage on the first and second floors and basement, but it was not destroyed. This was NOT another Boltwood School fire! Students were temporarily transferred to other Evanston elementary schools for the balance of the school year, but the damage was repaired in time for the start of school the following September. However, the $325,000 loss resulting from this blaze was the second-highest dollar-loss resulting from a fire in Evanston’s history up to that point in time, second only to the Northwestern University Technological Institute fire in 1940.

The Foster School fire was the last time the Chicago FD responded on a mutual-aid mission into Evanston. The EFD would henceforth call upon suburban fire departments – usually Wilmette and/or Skokie — when assistance was needed, as the Wilmette FD became a 100% professional fire department in 1958, and new Skokie FD Chief Raymond Redick came over from the Chicago Fire Insurance Patrol in 1959 and transformed what had been a somewhat disorganized outfit into a first-rate fire department. The Skokie Civil Defense Fire & Rescue corps (using the radio call-sign “Squad 26” when responding into Evanston) provided valuable manpower and fireground support at many Evanston fires post-1959 as well.   

While the Chicago Fire Department did not respond into Evanston again after the Foster School fire, the Chicago Civil Defense Fire & Rescue Service did respond into Evanston one more time, in September 1959, after a number of trees were blown down in a late-night microburst that also knocked-out power across the city. Three squads from the CCDFRS assisted the EFD throughout the night and into the next morning, using  winches and chain saws to remove and then cut-up dozens of downed trees that were blocking Evanston streets.

The EFD’s Training Bureau was officially established on November 1, 1958, three days after the Foster School fire. Capt. Willard Thiel was appointed the first “training officer.” Previously, each platoon had its own drillmaster who was responsible for supervising the training of members of that platoon, but Capt. Thiel would be responsible for training all three platoons, as well as police officers. The Training Bureau was based at Station # 1, and besides being in charge of training, Capt. Thiel also was responsible for supervising the EFD repair shop and the fire equipment mechanics.

Creating the training officer position and transferring the fire equipment mechanics to the Training Bureau cut maximum shift staffing on each platoon from 32 to 31 and minimum shift staffing from 29 to 28, as Engine 21 was no longer staffed with a four-man crew each shift. Truck Co. 21 (the “high-value district” truck) still operated at all times with four men, but the other seven companies were usually staffed with three men. The three extra men on each shift were assigned to Engine 21, Truck 22, and/or Engine 25 when they weren’t covering for a fireman absent due to vacation, sick call, or a work-related injury, but it was rare when one of the extra men was actually available to ride as the fourth man on a rig.   

In addition to the establishment of the Training Bureau, the EFD’s Fire Prevention Bureau was upgraded in 1958, as captains replaced firemen as FPB inspectors, and a civilian clerk-typist / administrative assistant was hired (Catherine Leahy the first year, then Margaret Wood, and then Eleanor Franzen). Capt. Ed Fahrbach was promoted to assistant chief and replaced Chief Geishecker as a platoon commander, and firemen John Becker, George Croll, George Neuhaus, and Lou Peters were promoted to captain.

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Northwest Homer FPD history

This from Mike Summa or #TBT:

For TBT-This was the NorthWest Homer FPD’s Brush 1718, a 1982 AMC/Jeep 4×4 75/75.
Mike Summa
Northwest Homer FPD history

Mike Summa photo

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