Posts Tagged Chicago Fire Commissionner Robert J Quinn

Chicago Fire Department history

Excerpts from chicagoandcookcountycemetaries.com:

The Battered Helmet

Chicago FD Commissioner Robert J Quinn

Fire Commissioner Robert J. Quinn is interviewed in front of Montgomery Ward and Co. on State Street on March 29, 1968. (Michael Budrys, Chicago Tribune)

Born in Chicago 12 May 1905, he was Nellie O’Boyle’s son. He began his career in the 1928 Chicago Fire Department candidate class.  He served in the Navy in World War II and was decorated for heroism during a three-day battle against a fire on a tanker loaded with aviation fuel. He then served just shy of 50 years with the Chicago Fire Department.

He proudly wore a battered helmet, and in a 1971 interview  said “I wouldn’t trade it for a solid gold one. I have worn that helmet since it was given to me the first day I entered the fire academy as a recruit. It was my good luck charm.”

His name was Robert J. Quinn, the fire commissioner of the Chicago Department between 1957 and 1978. He has been called an innovator and a leader.

He was named commissioner In March 1957 by Mayor Richard J. Daley replacing Anthony J. Mulleny. Quinn’s solid reign over the Chicago Fire Department corresponded with Daley’s hold on the city.  At the Chicago Fire Alarm Office, he was simply known by his radio signature of 2-1-3.

Quinn was a hero early on. In 1934, he climbed eight stories to rescue three from a fire in a Loop building. The same year, he put a 200-pound woman over his shoulder and, with her clothing on fire, leaped 4 feet to an adjoining building.

IMG_0374-Edit-496x600As commissioner, Quinn presided over dozens of Chicago’s worst fires — including the horrific Our Lady of the Angels school fire,  on December 1 1958, the Hubbard Street fire in 1961 in which nine firefighters died, the original McCormick Place fire in 1967, the blizzard of 1967, the 1968 Mickelberry Sausage factory explosion, and the 1968 West Side riot fires.

Quinn was a builder. In two decades Commissioner Quinn opened 36 large new fire stations and in 1957, he ordered the installation of radios in all fire apparatus.  That enabled the fire alarm office to dispatch companies from one assignment to another, and allowed the fire companies to leave their stations to inspect buildings, drill, replenish fuel and supplies, yet stay in service via radio.

bigjohnQuinn supervised the construction of huge water cannon deluge units known as “Big Mo” and “Big John” He acquired helicopters that gave fire chiefs a bird’s-eye view of a blaze and established a photographic unit

The old Drill School was replaced in 1961 by the modern Fire Academy Street. In 1871, on this same site,  Catherine O’Leary’s barn then at 137 Dekoven,  housed her cow who  supposedly knocked over a kerosene lamp causing the Chicago Fire.academy

Quinn introduced new bureaus and services such as  Air Sea Rescue which utilized helicopters and boats, manned by firefighter pilots and scuba divers The photography section was formed so fires could be documented and studied. The Bureau of Fire Investigation was formed with increased building inspections and education. The 911 emergency phone number to call fire, police, and ambulance service, was inaugurated in September, 1976.

img955-700He famously opposed switching from limousine ambulances to the boxy, modern vehicles, “apparently on the theory that a Chicagoan would rather die in style than be saved in the back of a panel truck,” the Tribune noted.   However, the  Emergency Medical Service (EMS) grew from 16 Cadillac ambulances in 1957 to 43 modular vans by 1977. 

 

snorkel1His biggest legacy however might be his title as “the Father of the Snorkel.” In 1958 he took notice of  tree trimmers using an aerial platform . He then was instrumental in adapting the odd-looking hydraulic aerial work platform for the fire service . “A fireman in a crow’s nest at the top of the tower directs the stream and gets his orders from below by observers using a walkie-talkie radio,” the Tribune reported. The Snorkel revolutionized urban firefighting and enabled firefighters to stand firmly on a flat platform instead of precariously clinging to the top rungs of a ladder

That first Snorkel G-145 on a 1958 GMC chassis was put into service at Engine 1’s house 419 S. Wells St. on October 14 1958. It was used to fight the Our Lady of the Angels fire less than two months later. It was originally called Water Tower 4 along with three other 1920’s Seagrave water towers. On May 1 1959, and once the Snorkel proved itself, the name was changed to Snorkel Co. 1 (6-6-1). The original Snorkel was used by the fire department for roughly 10 years.

sirenHe was not without controversy, when the White Sox clinched the American League pennant with a late-night victory on September 22 1959, Quinn set off the city’s air-raid sirens at 10:30 PM scaring the daylights out of many citizens.  “If the Sox ever win another pennant, I’ll do it again,” Quinn once remarked. The Chicago Tribune reported that some Chicagoan’s knelt in prayer thinking that we were under atomic attack while others fled into the streets in their night clothes.

Ashland869a

 

In 1978, Robert J. Quinn retired after leading the department for 21 years with service just months shy of serving fifty years.  Robert J. Quinn, died on jan 18, 1979 in Naples Florida while on vacation and visiting friends. He was 73 years old,

He rests now in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery Lot 14 Block 2 Section 3. Thank you for your service.stone

Thank you for your service.

 

thanks Scott

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Chicago Fire Department history

This from Austin Lawler:

Good Morning,

I came across another gem from the Vintage Tribune Instagram account, about the CFD. I find it interesting that Quinn was out there to start the race, which is pretty neat. Anyway hope you enjoy.

 
Austin
Chicago Fire Department history

Chicago Fire Commissioner Robert Quinn, left, blows the whistle to start rookie firemen on a marathon from Devon and Cicero Avenues to Lake Michigan on June 23, 1967. After six miles the field of runners had been reduced by a few dropouts. Photo by Harold Norman.

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Vintage Chicago 5-11 Alarm fire, 4-26-62

This from Eric Haak:

Here are a few images from Thursday, April 26, 1962. The fire was a 5-11 +1 special at 2710 S. Throop St. The building was owned by the National Plywood Company and sat on the eventual path of the Stevenson Expressway. During the early 1960’s, there were several large arson fires in buildings that were scheduled to be demolished to make way for the Dan Ryan and Stevenson. I don’t know if this was the result of arson but the expressway would be built very soon after. Also, it is interesting to note that this was literally a block south of Engine 28’s current house which would be constructed a year or so later. Still time is recorded as being 1:36 in the afternoon.

Vintage 5-11 Alarm fire in Chicago 4/26/62

Eric Haak collection, photographer unknown

Vintage 5-11 Alarm fire in Chicago 4/26/62

Eric Haak collection, photographer unknown

Vintage 5-11 Alarm fire in Chicago 4/26/62

Eric Haak collection, photographer unknown

Vintage 5-11 Alarm fire in Chicago 4/26/62

Eric Haak collection, photographer unknown

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Vintage Chicago 5-11 Alarm fire, 6-24-66

This from Eric Haak:

The following images were taken just after noon on June 24, 1966. The fire was in the Western Lumber Company yard at 2732 W. Madison Street and was a 5-11 +2 specials. One of the great things about these old images is that they show what many of these areas once looked like. The wider angle views show Madison looking west just before California. A few years later, this area would be decimated by the 1968 riots. The other nice thing about this series of images is that it shows the early attack in the first picture and then the Snorkels being brought in by the last picture. In that last picture, the building on the left with the Rocky’s Grill sign on it is just about the only building left standing today. Nearly every other building you see in these images are a thing of the past.

historic fire scene photo in Chicago

From the collection of Eric Haak, photographer unknown

historic fire scene photo in Chicago with Fire Commissioner Robert J Quinn

From the collection of Eric Haak, photographer unknown

historic fire scene photo in Chicago with wooden aerial ladder

From the collection of Eric Haak, photographer unknown

historic fire scene photo in Chicago

From the collection of Eric Haak, photographer unknown

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Historic 5-11 Alarm plane crash in Chicago, 11-24-59

This from Eric Haak:

The following images are from the morning of November 24, 1959. TWA flight 595 experienced trouble on take off and attempted to return to Midway Airport. According to the official crash report, the pilot’s actions caused the Super Constellation to “gain an excessive rate of sink” on approach and it slammed into residences around 64th and Knox just after 5:30am (CFD records I have seen have the still time as 0524). The Chicago Fire Department’s response to this incident would eventually be raised to a 5-11. All 3 occupants of the cargo plane and 8 on the ground were killed. Firefighters working the fireground include members wearing helmets from Engines 127, 88, 97, 53, Squads 12 and 3 as well as Trucks 42 and 16. Also, Commissioner Quinn is shown standing amongst the rubble with his driver and a Chief Fire Marshall.

Firefighters work at an airplane crash site 11-24-59 in Chicago

Vintage photo from November 24, 1959 of a crash site near Midway Airport in Chicago of TWA flight 595. Eric Haak collection, photographer unknown

Firefighters work at an airplane crash site 11-24-59 in Chicago

Eric Haak collection

Firefighters work at an airplane crash site 11-24-59 in Chicago

Eric Haak collection

Firefighters work at an airplane crash site 11-24-59 in Chicago

Eric Haak collection

Chicago Fire Department Commissioner Robert J Quinn

Eric Haak collection

airplane crash site 11-24-59 in Chicago

Eric Haak collection

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Historic 1967 McCormick Place fire

This from Steve Redick:

January 16, 1967

This was arguably the most famous alarm in recent history. At one point the commissioner asked for any and every available company. Rumor has it some engine companies drafting from the frozen lake were nearly submerged. Many stories abound from this event. There are very few photos of this that are in the public domain.
Steve

News clipping from an historic fire that destroyed mcCormick Place in Chicago on January 16, 1967

Warren Redick collection

News clipping from an historic fire that destroyed mcCormick Place in Chicago on January 16, 1967

Warren Redick collection

News clipping from an historic fire that destroyed mcCormick Place in Chicago on January 16, 1967

Warren Redick collection

News clipping from an historic fire that destroyed mcCormick Place in Chicago on January 16, 1967

Warren Redick collection

News clipping from an historic fire that destroyed mcCormick Place in Chicago on January 16, 1967

Warren Redick collection

News clipping from an historic fire that destroyed mcCormick Place in Chicago on January 16, 1967

Warren Redick collection

News clipping from an historic fire that destroyed mcCormick Place in Chicago on January 16, 1967

Warren Redick collection

News clipping from an historic fire that destroyed mcCormick Place in Chicago on January 16, 1967

Warren Redick collection

News clipping from an historic fire that destroyed mcCormick Place in Chicago on January 16, 1967

Warren Redick collection

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Chicago Fire Department history – Commissioner Robert J. Quinn

The Chicago Tribune has an article about former Chicago Fire Commissioner Robert J. Quinn:

On Oct. 18, 1958, a bizarre-looking apparatus responded to a blaze at a lumberyard on Cermak Road, raised a steel arm hinged in the middle like an elbow, and revolutionized firefighting the world over.

“A fireman in a crow’s nest at the top of the tower directs the stream and gets his orders from below by observers using a walkie-talkie radio,” the Tribune reported.

Shortly, the new firetruck was lettered “Quinn’s Snorkel,” and with good reason. Fire Commissioner Robert Quinn’s brainchild enabled firefighters to stand firmly on a flat platform instead of precariously clinging to the top rungs of a ladder. Shortly after becoming commissioner in 1957, Quinn saw tree trimmers using an aerial platform and realized its potential for attacking fires. Other fire departments quickly followed Quinn’s lead.

In his 21 years as commissioner, the colorful and innovative Quinn was always good newspaper copy. He responded to fires wearing a battered old helmet. He equipped fire vehicles with radios, constructed humongous water cannons with fanciful nicknames like “Big Mo,” acquired helicopters that gave fire chiefs a bird’s-eye view of a blaze and established a photographic unit so fires could be documented and studied.

Fire Commissioner Robert Quinn regularly responded to fires wearing a battered old helmet. (Chicago Tribune file photo)

Fire Commissioner Robert Quinn regularly responded to fires wearing a battered old helmet. (Chicago Tribune file photo)

He was named commissioner by Mayor Richard J. Daley — the two were alums of Bridgeport’s Hamburg Athletic Club, a neighborhood hangout — though Quinn denied street corner loyalties got him the job. “We lived west of Halsted Street, and he (Daley) lived east,” Quinn told a Trib reporter, “and that made a difference in those days. You never had anything to do with the guys on the other side of the tracks.”

Either way, Quinn’s reign over the Chicago Fire Department corresponded with Daley’s reign over the city. He was eased out by Daley’s successor Michael Bilandic in 1978, though he wanted to serve another few months, making him a firefighter for half a century.

Quinn presided over major fires — including the horrific Our Lady of the Angels school fire in 1958, the one that destroyed the original McCormick Place in 1967 and the 1968 West Side riot conflagration — during years when fire deaths were all too common: 206 in 1963 (the worst in modern times), compared with 16 in 2013 (the lowest).

He also kept Chicagoans alternately amused and bemused with madcap antics and the tall tales with which he explained them. As a Tribune editorial noted when Quinn stepped down, he had provided “us all with a few special stories to tell friends from out of town.”

In 1969, a 19-year-old Irish immigrant was overcome by smoke in a Lake Shore Drive apartment rented by Quinn. He explained his presence at the scene by saying he went there from the Marina Towers apartment where he lived to direct firefighting operations. “I hadn’t been in the apartment for two years until last night,” Quinn said. He explained that he met her in Ireland while searching for his parents’ birthplace and helped her come to America. In some versions of the story, she was a distant relative; in others, the friend of a friend.

When it was disclosed that a fire lieutenant was detailed to Quinn’s Wisconsin farm, he explained the officer was a good match for the assignment. “He’s really good with animals,” Quinn said.

When the White Sox clinched the American League pennant with a late-night victory in September 1959, Quinn set off the city’s air-raid sirens. At the height of the Cold War, some Chicagoans thought it signaled not a forthcoming World Series but an atomic Armageddon. “If the Sox ever win another pennant, I’ll do it again,” Quinn said.

Yet for all his goofiness, Quinn was a hero. In 1934, he climbed eight stories to rescue three civilians from a fire in a Loop building. The same year, he put a 200-pound woman over his shoulder and, with her clothing on fire, leaped 4 feet to an adjoining building. For that feat, he was awarded $100 as the Tribune’s hero of the month.

Serving in the Navy in World War II, Quinn was decorated for heroism during a three-day battle against a fire on a tanker loaded with aviation fuel.

He returned to Chicago convinced that a fire department should be run like a military organization. More than a bit of a martinet, he tried to introduce naval-style dress uniforms that his firefighters decried as “sailor suits.” A national champion handball player, Quinn subjected recruits to the physical-fitness regimen he followed. To publicize it, he sponsored a marathon run for firefighters from Chicago to what is now Naval Station Great Lakes that caused a massive traffic jam on the highway that he appropriated for the event.

A 1969 study faulted Quinn’s department for being slow to equip firefighters with the breathing apparatus that can make the difference between life and death. Quinn said the department couldn’t afford them.

He famously opposed switching from limousine ambulances to the boxy, modern vehicles, “apparently on the theory that a Chicagoan would rather die in style than be saved in the back of a panel truck,” the Tribune noted.

Quinn thought firefighters should be “he-men.” He told a reporter he was disgusted by pictures of firefighters with long hair in fire-industry publications. “If the good Lord wanted a man to look like a woman, he would’ve made him a woman,” he said. His racial views were equally antediluvian. He answered critics who said his department discriminated against African-American firefighter applicants by saying blacks “don’t like heat and smoke.”

In the years since, whole doses of Quinn’s approach to firefighting have been abandoned. Although Chicago still runs his beloved snorkels, other cities have scrapped them in favor of telescoping ladders with aerial platforms.

A bit of advice he gave to recruits 40 years ago is still worth pondering. A firefighter, he noted, must be ready to go instantly from sitting around the station to hopping on a rig, prepared to put his own life at risk to save another’s.

“When you get out in the field, you’ll be sitting on your ass for a long time,” he said. ” Be ready to go to work. Pay attention to the rules. Compete in sports. Stay in shape. Get your hair cut. And for Christ’s sake, be men.”

thanks Scott, Drew & Dan

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Historic fire service videos feature CFD

Chris Ranck found several videos highlighting days gone by in Chicago

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A historical look … Hal Bruno

This from Drew Smith:

Back in March while attending the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, MD I paid a visit to the National Fire Heritage Center http://nationalfireheritagecenter.org/ . The NFHC is collecting written documentation of the history of the American fire service. One item that quickly caught my eye was a map of the City of Chicago that Hal Bruno had assembled. In the upper right are three cards with signatures of CFD companies. I was only able to photograph the first two cards before my camera battery died. The lower left had a list of companies and the push pins were color-coded to identify engines, trucks, squads, fog pressure, ambulances, and special units. Also affixed to this board were official CFD credentials issued to Hal by Commissioner Quinn.  Besides this board there were a number of other CFD-related items that were part of Hal’s collection and now reside at the NFHC.

If you are unfamiliar with Hal’s work, he grew up in Chicago and began work as a newspaper reporter in Chicago, eventually working for ABC news as a political director. He was a volunteer fireman, wrote a column for FIREHOUSE magazine for many years, and prior to his death served as chairman of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.

Chicago Fire Department history Chicago Fire Department history Chicago Fire Department history Chicago Fire Department history Chicago Fire Department history

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Historic 1967 McCormick Place fire audio

This from Steve Redick:

Thanks again to Kevin Kirkley for sharing this one with us. The audio starts at the 3-11 and as many times as we may all have heard this, it is interesting … Anyone know the real story behind “no not fog-pressure but high-pressure”  ??

Also notice the famous send everybody available request?  This was Mayor Daley’s palace and Commissioner Quinn was really on the spot.

Steve

From Wikipedia:

The 1960 exposition hall was destroyed in a spectacular 1967 fire, despite being thought fireproof by virtue of its steel and concrete construction. At the time of the fire, the building contained highly combustible exhibits, several hydrants were shut off, and there were no sprinklers on the main floor where the fire started. Thus the fire spread quickly and destructively, taking the life of a security guard.[4] The fire was investigated by a team led by Rolf H. Jensen, Professor of Fire Protection Engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology, who later went on to found RJA Group. Many lessons were learned and the city’s building code was amended so a similar situation would not be repeated. Although many wanted to rebuild the hall on a different site, Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley elected to rebuild on the foundations of the burned building. The new design of dark steel and glass, by Gene Summers of C. F. Murphy and Associates (and formerly of Mies van der Rohe‘s office) contrasted markedly with the white look of the structure that had burned down. On January 3, 1971, the replacement building, later called the East Building and now called the Lakeside Center, opened with a 300,000 square feet (28,000 m2) main exhibition hall.

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