From Phil Stenholm:

Another installment about History of Evanston Fire Department


By 1970, Evanston’s population stood at a robust 80,113, up slightly from 1960 (79,383). The next ten years, however, would see a steady decline in population. Evanston’s 1980 census counted 73,706 residents, down nearly 10% from 1970, and back to a population total not seen in Evanston since 1950. Evanston’s population has remained constant at just under 75,000 since 1980.

Evanston incurred three major fires over the first four months of 1970 that together caused more than $2 million in damage. The first one was at the Rolled Steel Corporation plant at 2100 Greenwood Street on a frigid day in January. The fire was caused by an out-of-control furnace that ignited a rolling mill. Station # 1 and Station # 4 companies responded on the initial alarm, with Truck 22 and Engine 25 dispatched on the second alarm about 30 minutes later to provide additional manpower, as companies were rotated in & out of the very hot interior.

Because of the value of the equipment and stock destroyed in the fire, the loss was estimated $1.4 million, the second highest loss from fire in Evanston’s history up to that point in time. However, other than the very high dollar loss, the fire itself wasn’t spectacular. Only Engine 21 and Engine 24 led-out and pumped during the course of the fire, with the other companies engaged in extensive ventilation and salvage work,

At about 8 PM on the cold, windy night of Sunday, March 10, 1970, the Evanston Fire Department responded to a report of a fire at the Hines Lumber yard at 1613 Church St. Companies from Station #1 were on scene within three minutes followed by Engine 24 a minute later, but the flames had already gained considerable headway by the time crews arrived.

Upon arrival, F-2 immediately ordered a second alarm that brought Engine 23 and Engine 25 to the  fire, followed a minute later by a mutual-aid request for two Skokie engines, a Wilmette engine, and a full Code 10 (call-back of all off-duty Evanston firefighters). Squad 21 led out two 1-1/2 inch pre-connects initially to try and knock the fire down, but there was just too much fuel and too much wind. Squad 21 then switched to its deluge turret nozzle, with Engine 21 supplying Squad 21’s master stream after hooking up to the hydrant at the southeast corner of Church & Florence. Engine 21 also led out additional 2-1/2 inch hand-lines.

Truck 21 took a position in the parking lot of the business to the east of the lumber yard and extended its aerial ladder almost immediately after arriving. Engine 24 took the hydrant at Church & Ashland and supplied Truck 21’s elevated master-stream. Engine 25 grabbed the hydrant at the northeast corner of Church & Darrow and led out 2-1/2 inch lines that supplied a monitor placed atop the elevated C&NW RR Mayfair Division freight tracks located on the west side of the lumber yard.

Skokie Engine 2 pulled up across the street from the lumber yard and connected to the hydrant on the south side of Church Street, leading-out multiple 2-1/2 inch hand lines manned by personnel from Skokie FD Engine 2 and Squad-Engine 1. Wilmette Engine 206 backed-down Florence Avenue from Davis Street and dropped two loads of 2-1/2 inch line before taking the hydrant at Davis & Florence. A load of 2-1/2 inch line from Engine 23 was connected to Engine 21, but Engine 23 did not pump at the fire. 

Engine 22 and Truck 22 responded to the fire once off-duty firefighters began to arrive and placed the two reserve engines and the reserve truck into service, and were assigned to protect exposures to the west of the Mayfair tracks. It was essentially a big bonfire, as lumber, sheds, and the company office were destroyed. Damage was estimated at $545,00, the fourth highest loss from fire in Evanston’s history, behind only the American Hospital Supply Corporation fire (1963), the Northwestern University Technological Institute fire (1940), and the Rolled Steel Corporation fire (January 1970).

Just a few days after the lumber yard fire, the EFD battled a stubborn blaze at the world-famous Northwestern University Traffic Institute (NUTI) at 1802 Hinman Ave. Founded in 1933 by Evanston Police Lt. Frank Kreml in partnership with Northwestern University, NUTI was located in a large 19th century wood-frame mansion just south of the campus. The institute offered college-level courses in accident investigation, accident prevention, and traffic enforcement strategy. Its curriculum was eventually expanded to include all aspects of police science, including administration and management. Future police chiefs from all over the world attended NUTI.

Companies from Station # 1 arrived first, with Chief Breitzman ordering a second alarm that brought an additional engine company and an additional truck company to the scene. The fire was ensconced somewhere deep within the bowels of the venerable structure, such that extensive probing, pulling of ceiling, and opening up walls was required just to locate the seat of the blaze. It was an all-day operation that initially involved surgical roof ventilation and a lot of salvage work by the truck companies, before firemen were ordered out of building as the fight went defensive. The historic structure was gutted, with the loss estimated at $130,000.

Capt. Ted Bierchen (21 years of service), Capt. Dan Lorden (24 years of service), and Capt. Dave Tesnow (24 years of service) retired in 1970. Firemen Michael Lass, Jim Mersch Jr, and Joe Burton were promoted to captain on December 1st. Capt. Burton joined Capt. Sanders “Sam” Hicks (promoted in 1963) and Capt. Don Searles (promoted in 1965) as one of the EFD’s first three African American captains. New firefighters hired in 1970 were Phil Schmidt, Ed Galloway, Johnny King, and John Munro.

The EFD battled two significant fires in apartment buildings in late 1970 / early 1971. The first one occurred in December 1970, at 1003 Hinman Avenue in southeast Evanston. This apartment building was one of many similar multi-family residential structures that were constructed in Evanston and Rogers Park during the North Shore’s so-called “million dollar a month building boom” of 1918-23. The fire started in one of the apartments on the first floor, and then communicated to the other units. All of the occupants were safely evacuated. The aggregate loss to the building and contents was estimated at $85,000.

The second fire occurred on a bitter cold day in January 1971, in a large wood frame rooming house occupied by Northwestern University students at 2010 Sherman Ave. Firemen spent more than an hour pulling ceiling and opening up walls, before being ordered to evacuate and take defensive positions after interior conditions  worsened. A call-back of off-duty personnel allowed fresh crews to relieve nearly-frozen ice-encrusted firefighters manning exterior hose lines. The exhausted men were then piled into EFD station wagons like cordwood to be transported back to Station # 1 to thaw out. The loss from this fire was estimated at $90,000.