From Phil Stenholm:

Another installment about the History of the Evanston Fire Department



With Evanston Fire Department (EFD) minimum shift staffing officially reduced to 26 in 1980, placing the third MICU ambulance into front-line service while also maintaining five three-man engine companies, two three-man truck companies, and two two-man MICU ambulances (plus the shift commander) would not be possible. Therefore, two paramedics were assigned to Truck Co. 21 each shift so that Truck 21 could be the “jump company” for Ambulance 3, staffing the ambulance if a third ambulance was needed. However, because Truck Co. 21 had to be in quarters in order to staff A-3 – AND – Truck Co. 22 had to be in service to provide truck coverage for the city while Truck 21 was manning A-3, the third ambulance could not always be staffed when it was needed.

As a result, City Manager Ed Martin recommended that Truck 21 and Ambulance 3 be relocated from Station # 1 to Station # 3, with the two paramedics assigned to Truck Co. 21 assigned to Ambulance 3 full-time, and with the three firefighters from Engine Co. 23 and the driver of Truck 21 forming a four-man “quint company” that would operate with Truck 21’s 1,250-GPM / 300-gallon / 100-foot RMA quint. When available, Ambulance 3 would follow the quint to any fire in Station # 3’s first-due area to provide a fifth and sixth firefighter to help make full use of the rig’s capabilities, but otherwise Ambulance 3 would be a full-time MICU ambulance 24/7.

However, by this time it had become very apparent that the quint had two major design flaws. The first was that because the truck had only one rear axle instead of two, if the 300-gallon tank was filled with water, the rear axle could collapse. This happened twice. Also, because the rig had only one outrigger jack on each side, the aerial ladder could not be extended at certain angles without the truck tipping over. This never happened, but it was understood that it could happen if the truck wasn’t perfectly positioned at a certain angle in just the right way. As a result, the plan to move Truck 21 to Station # 3 and place a four-man quint company in service, with Ambulance 3 staffed with two paramedics, was dropped, mainly because the quint could not carry water.  

During the years 1981-84, EFD front-line pumpers underwent major refurbishment. Because of the large-diameter supply hose added to EFD pumpers in 1977-78, the hose beds as originally designed were not particularly useful. Therefore, the bodies were reconfigured, with the factory-installed top-mounted booster reels removed and replaced with a transverse hose tray for 1-1/2 inch attack line located atop the pump panel. This provided more room for larger diameter hose in the bed. Also, the turret nozzles temporarily installed in 1978 were made permanent. In addition, enclosed cabinets were installed on the side of the rigs so that SCBA gear could be better protected from the elements, instead of just being hung by straps on the side of the rigs.

After the pumpers were refurbished, the same company converted the EFD’s 1979 Chevrolet utility van into a “command van” (the new F-2), replacing the shift commander’s 1979 Chevrolet station, which was then reassigned to the Medical Officer (F-22). Also, in 1982 a used, 1968 Pirsch / GMC tractor (ex-Aurora, Colorado) was purchased for the reserve truck at Station # 3. This tractor replaced the 1952 Pirsch tractor (refurbished in 1969), pulling the 1952 Pirsch TDA (also refurbished in 1969).

In addition, the box on the 1976 Chevrolet MICU (Ambulance 3) was remounted on a new Chevrolet chassis in 1982, and new Ford MICU ambulances were acquired in 1984 (Ambulance 1) and 1986 (Ambulance 2). One of the two 1980 Ford MICU ambulances was placed into reserve as Ambulance 4 in 1984 replacing the 1975 Dodge van ambulance (the original Ambulance 1 and the EFD’s reserve MICU since 1980), and the other was taken out of service in 1986 and was converted into the EFD’s mobile air cascade known as “Airwolf.” With the exception of the shift commander’s Chevy command van and the medical officer’s Chevy station wagon, EFD staff cars were now unmarked sedans leased from rental car companies.

In late 1983, the EFD took delivery of a new 1,250-GPM / 500-gallon pumper, built by Welch on a Spartan chassis. The pumper cost $114.586.39, but because it was acquired by means of a federal grant, half of the cost was paid by the federal government. However, the grant stipulated that the apparatus be placed at Fire Station # 2, so the 1979 Pirsch 1,250 / 750 pumper that had been Engine 22 since April 1979 was moved to Station # 1 and became the new Engine 21. The 1968 Pirsch 1,250 / 300 TCP that had been running as Engine 21 since 1968 was placed into reserve at this time, and the two remaining 1952 Pirsch pumpers were junked.

In 1986, the 1968 Pirsch pumper was dismantled and its stellar 1,250-GPM pump was sent to Appleton, Wisconsin, where it was installed in a new pumper being built by the Pierce Manufacturing Company for the EFD. This was Evanston’s first Pierce rig, and it was a high-priority rush job, because the EFD needed a pumper equipped with a foam tank ASAP to provide stand-by at the city waterworks parking lot at Lincoln & Sheridan for medical helicopters landing with patients or organs destined for Evanston Hospital. The Pierce Dash 1,250 / 500 / 30 pumper arrived in April 1987 and became the new Engine 23 at Fire Station # 3, with the 1974 Howe 1,000 / 300 pumper being placed into reserve. 

At 2:45 PM on the afternoon of Monday, July 22, 1985, the Evanston Fire Department responded to a report of a fire at a duplex at 1927 Jackson Ave. It was thought to be a “routine” house fire, like hundreds of others fought by the EFD over the years. Shift Commander Joe Planos was already on the road and arrived a minute after the call was dispatched, reporting smoke showing from the residence. While he was waiting for the first-due companies to arrive, Capt. Planos was advised by neighbors that an infant might be in the house. Planos directed the first arriving company to commence search & rescue efforts immediately.

Truck Co. 21 arrived first, parking directly in front of the house. The truck company was staffed by three firefighters cross-trained as paramedics, Joe Hayes, Marty Leoni, and James Edwards, and the crew went to the rear of the residence and made entry into an enclosed back porch. Meanwhile, Engine Co. 21 (Capt. Ken Dohm and crew) and Engine Co. 23 (Capt. Ward Cook and crew) arrived, and the two engine companies led-out hand-lines from Engine 21, attacking the fire through the front door. As Truck Co. 21 made its way up a rear stairway to the second floor, an apparent “backdraft” explosion in the 1st floor apartment blew-out the back door and sent a fireball up the stairway.

Acting Captain Hayes, standing at the foot of the stairs, and truckman Edwards, halfway up the stairway, were able to side-step the flames. Marty Leoni, already up on the 2nd floor landing, could not escape, and was trapped. Hayes called for Leoni to jump, but he chose instead to break down the door and force-entry into the 2nd floor apartment, probably with the intention of escaping out a second-floor window. However, upon entering the flat he was attacked by a guard dog. Hayes attempted to make his way up the stairway to assist his stricken comrade, but was driven back by fire, suffering serious burns to his hands and face in the process.

By this point, the rear stairway was engulfed in flames. Acting Capt. Hayes’ portable radio was damaged by the fire, and so the two engine companies operating hand-lines in the front of the residence were initially unaware that a firefighter was trapped. However, once they were advised and the hose lines were brought to the rear of the house, the flames had communicated into the second floor interior and the residence was fully-involved in fire. All on duty EFD personnel, as well as units from Wilmette, Skokie, and Winnetka, were called to the scene to assist with the rescue efforts, but they proved unsuccessful. Marty Leoni died in the second floor apartment before he could be located. He was 28 years old and had joined the EFD in January 1981.

It was later learned that the infant who was believed to be in the house when firefighters arrived had already been driven to the hospital by his distraught mother accompanied by other family members – BEFORE – the EFD was even notified of the fire. It seems the infant’s five-year old brother had been playing with a cigarette lighter, and in doing so, unintentionally set his little brother’s bedding on fire while the child was asleep in the crib. Everyone in the house at the time the fire started was at the hospital by the time firefighters arrived.

Subsequent to this fire, three engine companies would be dispatched to all Evanston fire calls (known in EFD parlance as a “general alarm”), even before a working fire could be confirmed. It was understood that if three engine companies had responded initially to the Jackson fire instead of two, one of the engines would have reported to the rear alley and would have been available to lead-out a hand-line that would have backed-up the truck company operating in the rear of the residence.

With the tragic death of Marty Leoni, the EFD suffered its first “killed in action” fatality since December 1905, when firemen George Stiles and William Craig were killed at the Mark Manufacturing Company fire. Subsequent to Marty Leoni’s death, the “Fallen Fire Fighters Memorial” — a monument to Evanston’s fallen firefighters — was built by members of IAFF Local 742 at Firemen’s Park at Simpson & Maple, being officially dedicated on July 23, 1993. While building the monument, off-duty firefighters were approached by an eight-year old child on a bike. He had no hands, because they had been lost to fire some eight years earlier. The boy was the infant Marty Leoni had been trying to rescue that day in 1985. 

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