Posts Tagged Chicago Fire Department Turret Wagon Big Mo

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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Chicago FD Turret Wagon History (pt 18)

Another installment on the history of turret wagons in the Chicago Fire Department from Jack Connors. Images depict Big Mo as it was on two different chassis. It was assigned as 6-7-2 originally on a 1953 International 6×6 chassis which was painted black over red. This unit carried shop #G-248. It was later remounted onto 1957 GMC 6×6 chassis in the blue and white colors of the Civil Defense carrying shop #G-157 .

Images from Jack’s collection are featured from Ken Little and George Brown in addition to Jack’s own photos.

Chicago FD Turret Wagon Big Mo 6-7-2

Big Mo seen here working at a 5-11 Alarm fire with specials in June of 1969 at 14th and Indiana. George Brown photo

Chicago FD Turret Wagon Big Mo 6-7-2

Big Mo 6-7-2 was built by the CFD shops on a 1953 International 6×6 chassis. George Brown photo

Chicago FD Turret Wagon Big Mo 6-7-2

BIg Mo 6-7-2 at Engine 13’s house. George Brown photo

Chicago FD Turret Wagon Big Mo 6-7-2

The first version of Big Mo at 66th & State. George Brown photo

Chicago FD Turret Wagon Big Mo 6-7-2

Big Mo in the fire prevention week parade in October of 1970. Jack Connor photo

Chicago FD Turret Wagon Big Mo 6-7-2

Chicago FD Turret Wagon 6-7-2, known as Big Mo at Engine 42’s house. George Brown photo

Chicago FD Turret Wagon Big Mo 6-7-2

Unknown date and location with the second Big Mo at a fire scene. Ken Little photo


The previous post in this series is HERE.
An earlier post showing Big Mo 6-7-2 is HERE.

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Chicago FD Turret Wagon History (pt10)

This from Bill Friedrich in response to the article HERE.

I am sending you another view looking down on the operations at this fire from my collection. Indeed CFD photos. If I recall this fire was on North Michigan Ave on a very cold day. Also visible are Engine 4 waiting to lead out. Truck 19’s Pirsch ladder doing battle. Ambulance 11 running with a Cadillac. I am also guessing that is Truck 3 in the midst of the battle.

Big Mo Turret Wagon at Chicago Fire

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Chicago FD Turret Wagon History (pt7)

More on the history of turret wagons in the Chicago Fire Department.

This from Steve Redick

I was surfing through my collection..kinda bored cause I haven’t shot any fire photos in a while. I found this shot and thought I would share it because it’s relevant to our recent turret wagon photos. I am not sure of the source of this photo..might be a CFD negative..I do know it is not one I took. A few interesting things to see…truck 2 is using an old Mack magirus and you can see how they had to use a ground ladder to ascend to the main ladder…really gotta wonder what the designers were thinking there…and ya gotta wonder even more why the heck did CFD buy these??!!!!??? Prominently in the photo is the original “Big Mo”..turret wagon with lots of lines hooked up and sporting the CD paint job of white over blue. This thing changed paint schemes like a chameleon changes colors.The other detail I could pick out was what I remember as snorkel 4…it had a stripping ladder mounted on the boom, easily accessible from the basket. Snorkels weren’t just elevated master streams..before tower ladders they did lots of regular truck work too. The fire is downtown somewhere and I estimate the time frame as the mid 70s..anyone recognize this location??
This stuff is way cool…any comments will be shared!!

Chicago Fire Department Turret Wagon Big Mo

Turret Wagon Big Mo at work at a large fire in Chicago. Photographer unknown.

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