From Phil Stenholm:

Another installment about the History of the Evanston Fire Department


In 1978, Chief Ayers reorganized the EFD, using a miniaturized version of the forward-thinking Oklahoma City Fire Department’s organizational chart as a template. Under the new system the EFD’s organizational chart became more vertical, with the chief serving essentially as the CEO, and a deputy chief (appointed by the chief) serving as chief operating officer. This meant that the chief would no longer respond automatically to working fires or other major incidents.

In addition, Chief Ayers established four divisions: Operations, Training, Fire Prevention, and Personnel. As part of the new system, the chief could select anyone to be a division chief. It did not have to be an assistant chief. It could be a captain, or even someone from outside the fire department. Also, a division chief served at the pleasure of the chief, and so he could be replaced at any time.
Two of the assistant chiefs who had been serving as shift commanders were promoted, with Assistant Chief Robert Brandt becoming the EFD’s Deputy Chief and commander of the Operations Division, and Assistant Chief John Becker appointed chief of the Personnel Division. The third shift commander — Assistant Chief Richard Schumacher — retired. Also, Assistant Chief Robert Schumer was appointed chief of the Fire Prevention Division, and Assistant Chief Sanders “Sam” Hicks was appointed chief of the Training Division.

Three senior captains formerly assigned as company officers — Joe Planos, Ed Majkowski, and Bill Moore — were appointed shift commanders, replacing Brandt, Becker, and Schumacher. Like the division chief appointments, the position of shift commander was – NOT  – a civil service rank, and so the shift commanders served at the pleasure of the chief and could be replaced at any time. Additionally, Capt. Len Conrad was appointed to the new position of Medical Officer, Capt. James Mersch Jr was appointed to the new position of Fire Prevention Officer, and Capt. Tom Linkowski was appointed to the new position of Public Information Officer. Three firefighters were assigned as a shift fire prevention inspector / fire investigator.

The shift commander continued to operate with a station wagon, but the EFD replaced its other station wagon auxiliary ambulance staff cars with Dodge and Plymouth sedans and Datsun and Honda compact coupes in 1977-78. Radio call-signs also changed a bit at this time.The chief was still F-1 and the shift commander was still F-2, but the other command officers were assigned a call-sign that matched the last two digits of their telephone number. So Chief Brandt (866-5927) was “F-27,” Chief Becker (866-5926) was “F-26,” Chief Hicks (866-5925) was “F-25,” Chief Schumer (866-5933) was “F-33,” Capt Conrad (866-5922) was “F-22,” Capt. Linkowski (866-5934) was “F-34,” Capt. Mersch (866-5935) was “F-35.”  and Fire Equipment Mechanic Jerry Czarnowski (866-5917) was “F-17,” a call-sign used when he was out in the field in the EFD’s utility van.

Many older members of the Evanston Fire Department felt uncomfortable with the changes. During Glen Ayers’ four-plus years as chief of the EFD, 31 firefighters retired (about seven per year). By contrast, during Al Hofstetter’s 36 years as chief, 76 firemen retired (about two per year). Also, the addition of a second ambulance in January 1977 and the increase in command staff and fire prevention inspectors in 1978, combined with manpower diverted to cover the absence of firefighters on “Kelly Days,” resulted in staffing cuts on Squad 21, the EFD’s busiest company during the years 1963-1975.

Because of the addition of specialized rescue equipment in the 1970’s, Squad 21’s 1965 International / General Body pumper-squad had been replaced with a Chevrolet / Penn Versatile Van (AKA the “Pie Truck”) in 1978, typically manned by two firefighters who would cross-staff the ex-Skokie F. D. Cadillac ambulance (Ambulance 3) whenever a third ambulance was needed. However, Squad 21 was taken out of front-line service in 1980, with the apparatus manned only when its special rescue equipment was needed.

When Squad 21 was taken out of front-line service, minimum staffing per shift was officially reduced to 26, the lowest since the mid-1920’s, back when Evanston’s population was only 50,000, and long before the EFD assumed responsibility for municipal ambulance service.

The Evanston Fire Department was in the midst of change, but it was not limited to just the organizational chart. The EFD’s first female firefighter — Miriam Boyle, who had worked in a flower shop prior to joining the  EFD — was hired in 1976. She was trained and certified as a paramedic in 1977, but resigned in 1979. A second female firefighter — Paulette Hojnacki — joined the EFD in 1981. She resigned three years later. Meanwhile, lawsuits charging the City of Evanston and its fire department with racial discrimination were about to be settled.

In response to a series of legal actions taken during the 1970’s by African American applicants and firefighters who felt they had been the victims of racial discrimination in hiring and promotions involving the Evanston Fire Department, a court-ordered one-time “blacks-only” civil service promotional test for the position of Fire Captain was offered in 1980. In the history of the EFD up to 1980, only three blacks had received a promotion to the rank of captain –Sam Hicks in 1963, Donald Searles in 1965, and Joseph Burton in 1970.

The blacks-only civil service promotional test was very controversial, however. A white firefighter sued the city with a claim of “reverse discrimination,” and a white captain resigned soon after he was promoted because he said the rank no longer meant anything. Chief Ayers refused to promote anyone (white OR black) to the rank of captain, and left the Evanston Fire Department for another chief’s position in Colorado. 

However, as the result of the blacks-only promotional test, three African American firefighters — Samuel Boddie, Samuel Hunter, and Milton Dunbar — were promoted to the rank of captain in December 1980, and following the departure of Glen Ayers, 30-year EFD veteran Sanders Hicks was appointed chief on May 4, 1981, after serving as the “acting chief” for five months. Chief Hicks was Evanston’s first African American fire chief. 

A number of major fires occurred during the Ayers administration, including one that gutted the Rust-Oleum Corporation laboratory at 2301 Oakton Street ($400,00 loss) in January 1977, less than two years after the one at Rust-Oleum’s storage yards in May 1975. Another blaze destroyed Michelini’s Restaurant and Art Gallery at 2001 Maple Avenue in December 1978, another one ravaged the North Shore Electric Company warehouse at 245 Dodge Avenue in January 1979 ($425,000 damage), and still another heavily damaged the J. P. Schermerhorn & Company condominiums at 838 Michigan Avenue ($500,000 loss) in May 1980, the second one at that location in less than ten years,.

Also, a fire ripped through the Northern Weathermakers warehouse at 2143 Ashland Avenue ($750,000 damage) in October 1980, and another heavily-damaged the Ebenezer A.M.E. church at 1109 Emerson Street ($750,000 loss) in December 1980. A fire at The Orrington Hotel in March 1981 ($250,000 damage, but with all occupants safely evacuated) occurred after the departure of Chief Ayers, while Sam Hicks was serving as acting chief. Another major fire had occurred at The Orrington in 1958.

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