Archive for February 14th, 2022

Evanston Fire Department history Part 61

From Phil Stenholm:

Another installment about History of Evanston Fire Department


NBFU ’59

The National Board of Fire Underwriters (NBFU) conducted an inspection of the Evanston Fire Department in 1959, the first since 1935. The EFD received a rating of “class 3” from the NBFU, the same grade it received in 1935. Among Chicago-area fire departments, only the Chicago FD was rated higher than “class 3,” having long held an NBFU “class 2” rating. The Evanston FD and the Oak Park FD were the only Chicago-area suburban fire departments rated “class 3” by the NBFU as of 1959. However, by 1971, the Skokie FD had been upgraded to “class 2,” and the Winnetka FD had been upgraded to “class 3.”

Recommendations offered to the Evanston Fire Department by the NBFU in its 1959 inspection report included establishing an additional engine company at Station # 1 to replace the relocated Engine 25, restoring pre-1957 staffing so that five men would be assigned each shift to companies at Station # 1 and four men would be assigned each shift to companies at the other four stations, mandatory annual physical examinations for all firemen over age 55, mandatory retirement at age 62, and making the chief fire marshal a civil service position rather than a political appointment.

The only NBFU recommendation implemented by the EFD was a mandatory annual physical exam for all firemen over age 55. As to placing an additional engine company in service at Station # 1 to replace the relocated Engine Co. 25, Squad 21 was placed back into front-line service and staffed as a company at Station # 1 in 1963, and the squad’s 1952 Pirsch did have a 1,000-GPM pump, a 100-gallon water tank, and a booster line, but it was not considered to be an engine company because the rig had no hosebed and thus could not carry a standard engine company hose load.

The iconic Gamewell Fire Alarm Telegraph boxes located on many Evanston street corners and in front of schools and hospitals were replaced in 1959 by a network of 80 police / fire emergency telephones manufactured by Western Electric that were connected directly to the city’s police / fire communication center. The Gamewell Fire Alarm Telegraph system had been in service in Evanston since 1895, but the new emergency telephones would permit an individual to advise the police / fire communication operator of the specific nature of an emergency, so that appropriate assistance could be dispatched without delay.

Each emergency telephone was enclosed in a bright red box with reflective lettering. Once they were placed into service, an EFD engine company would no longer have to respond to “check the box” after a fire alarm box pull. If an emergency telephone was lifted off the hook with no voice on the other end, the closest police officer would be dispatched to check what was called a “cold box.” The EFD would only respond if a citizen reported a fire or needed an inhalator. The telephones also provided police officers and firefighters with a method to call headquarters if a radio transmission was inadvisable or impossible.

Capt. Jim Wheeler (a future chief) and Capt. Willard Thiel (the EFD’s training officer) were promoted to assistant chief and firemen Dan Lorden and Ed Pettinger were promoted to captain in 1959, as Assistant Chief Jim Mersch retired after 23 years of service, and Capt. Joe Schumer resigned. The four new firemen hired in 1958-59 were Edward “Ted” Riley and LeRoy “Charlie” Rohrer (June 1958), Leonard Conrad (September 1958), and Ken Hatfield (March 1959). Len Conrad was promoted to captain in 1964 after only five years on the job, and he would become the EFD’s first “medical officer” in 1978.

Inhalators were assigned to all five EFD engine companies in 1959, so Squad 21 was no longer the city-wide inhalator unit, and now only responded to special rescue calls, and to fires when requested by a chief officer. A fire equipment mechanic normally operated Squad 21 when it was needed. The EFD averaged only about 100 inhalator calls per year (about two per week) throughout the 1950’s, but by 1965 the number of inhalator calls would increase to about one per day, and to two or three per day by the time the EFD’s paramedic MICU ambulance service was established in 1976.

Both F-1 (Chief Geishecker’s 1957 Ford station wagon) and F-2 (the platoon commander’s 1956 Chevrolet station wagon) were equipped with a stretcher and a first-aid kit in 1959, just like the police station-wagon patrol-ambulances. However, the EFD station wagons were strictly back-up ambulances, and were dispatched only if no police ambulances were available. F-1 was replaced with a new Ford station wagon in 1962, and F-2 was replaced with a new Plymouth station wagon in 1963.

The Scott Funeral Home offered to donate a Cadillac ambulance (ex-hearse) to the Evanston Fire Department in 1959, but the city manager politely declined the offer. The police department was providing ambulance service backed-up by two EFD stretcher-equipped station-wagons, and placing a Cadillac ambulance into service would have required either hiring more firemen (definitely not going to happen) or taking Truck Co. 23 out of service (considered inadvisable at the time). Spurned by its hometown fire department, the funeral home donated the ambulance to the Skokie Fire Department instead.

George and Effie Dye were killed in a house fire at 1803 Hartrey Avenue in 1959. Companies from Station # 1 and Station # 5 responded to the alarm and were on the scene within four minutes, but were unable to save the couple. Evanston routinely averaged one or two deaths from fire every year, but this was the first time more than one person died in the same fire in Evanston since firemen George Stiles and William Craig were killed at the Mark Manufacturing Company fire in 1905. The Dye’s residence on Hartrey was located along the imaginary line connecting Church & Fowler to Foster & Grey that was the furthest distance from an Evanston fire station, albeit within the NBFU standards of the day.

In November 1959, the Davis Furniture store at 721 Main Street was gutted by a fire, resulting in a $155,000 loss. Three engine companies, two truck companies, Squad 21, and several cross-trained police officers were on the scene and working within the first few minutes. Engine 25 and Truck 23 transferred to Station # 1, and then Engine 25 and Squad 22 (the high-pressure / hose truck) responded after the fight went defensive. Engine 23 and Engine 28 (ex-E24) were ordered to the fire to pump water for master-streams after off duty firemen arrived and staffed the three reserve engines. Off-duty men not staffing reserve apparatus were shuttled to the fire from their respective stations via CD pick-up truck.

Fire Prevention Bureau Capt. George Croll died after a lengthy illness in January 1960, and Fireman Art Windelborn retired in 1961 after 33 years of service. Fireman William Lapworth was promoted to captain, and Bob Schwarz, Richard Beucus, and William Lemieux were hired. Bob Schwarz was a charter member of the EFD’s elite “arson squad” (the FPB’s fire investigation unit) that was established in 1975.

A mysterious explosion heavily damaged the North Shore Overall uniform store at 1818 Dempster Street in May 1961. It wasn’t a major fire and there were no injuries because it happened when the store was closed, but the blast caused a hefty $107,000 damage to the store. The EFD’s Fire Prevention Bureau did not have the necessary expertise at that time to investigate the incident, so the Illinois State Fire Marshal was requested to conduct the investigation.

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new ambulance for Fox River Grove FD

From the Foster Coach Sales website:

Fox River Grove Fire Department

new ambulance for the Fox River Grove FD

Foster Coach Sales photo

new ambulance for the Fox River Grove FD

Foster Coach Sales photos

thanks Martin

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