Posts Tagged Evanston Fire Chief Albert Hofstetter

Evanston Fire Department history Part 63

From Phil Stenholm:

Another installment about History of Evanston Fire Department



Assistant Chief Michael Garrity retired in 1962 at the age of 70 after 44 years of service with the Evanston Fire Department. Chief Garrity joined the EFD in 1918 after emigrating from Ireland, and was promoted to lieutenant in 1927, to captain in 1934, and to assistant chief in 1951. Along with Henry Dorband and Jim Geishecker, Chief Garrity helped guide the EFD through the 1950’s, after the retirements of long-time platoon commanders Tom McEnery and Carl Windelborn, and the deaths of Chief Albert Hofstetter and Assistant Chief J. E. Mersch. His Irish brogue was a signature voice on the EFD’s radio channel.

Capt Herb Claussen (35 years of service) and Capt, Roy Decker (20 years of service) also retired in 1962, Capt. George Beattie (a future chief) was promoted to assistant chief and replaced Michael Garrity as a platoon commander, and firemen Ed Majkowski, Richard Zrazik, and Robert Schumer were promoted to captain. New firemen hired in 1962 were Tom Linkowski, Raymond James, David Johnson, and James Mersch Jr. Both Linkowski and Mersch would eventually retire as division chiefs.

A fire gutted second and third floor apartments above the Maple Market grocery store at 1936 Maple Avenue in June 1963, resulting in $70,000 damage. The fire started on a rear porch and communicated to apartments on the second and third floors. The grocery store sustained extensive water damage, but Evanston firefighters were able to check the fire before it could communicate to residences to the west and businesses to the north. Several firefighters were overcome by heat while battling this blaze.

Capt. William Windelborn retired in April 1963, Fire Equipment Mechanic “Marvelous Marv” Hofstetter retired in July, and Fireman Ed Downey retired in August. The trio were among several men in their 30’s who were hired during WWII to replace younger members of the EFD serving in the military, and despite getting a late start, they each had a solid 20-year career as a firefighter. Fireman LeRoy Dullin was promoted to captain and replaced Capt. Windelborn as a company officer, and Fireman Ernie Bongratz replaced Marvin Hofstetter as a fire equipment mechanic. New firemen hired were James Drohan, John Bjorvik, Victor LaPorte, and Leo Ranachowski.

At about 5:00 PM on the afternoon of October 7, 1963, the Evanston Fire Department received a report of a fire at the American Hospital Supply Corporation plant at 2020 Ridge Avenue. Engine Co. 23, Engine Co. 21, Truck Co. 21, and Squad 21 responded, and what was initially a small fire on the loading dock spread quickly to the interior of the warehouse. F-2 immediately called for a second alarm, and Engine Co. 25 and Engine Co. 22 responded, with Engine Co. 24 and Truck Co. 22 transferring (changing quarters) to Station #1. Chief Geishecker (F-1) arrived and ordered a full “Code 10” (a call-back of all off-duty firefighters).

Engine 23 and Squad 21 pulled up to the loading dock and attacked the fire with two 1-1/2 inch pre-connects off Engine 23, while Engine 21 and Truck 21 parked on Ridge Avenue and entered the structure through a door on the east side pf the building, with Engine 21’s crew pulling a hand line through the door. Engine 25 and Engine 22 arrived within five minutes, with Engine 25 dropping two loads of 2-1/2-inch hose westbound down Leon Place, before grabbing the hydrant on the north side of the street across from the loading dock. Engine 25 then supplied Engine 23 with one of the 2-1/2-inch lines, and manned the other one.

Engine 22 backed-down Ridge Avenue from Foster Street, and laid two 2-1/2 inch lines, before taking the hydrant at the corner of Ridge and Foster. One of Engine 22’s 2-1/2 inch lines supplied water for Engine 21, and the other was manned as a hand-line by Engine 22’s crew. Truck 21’s aerial ladder was extended to the roof and the company initiated vertical ventilation to release the heat and smoke that had migrated to the second floor. Cross-trained Evanston police officers assisted on the fireground. While firefighters attacked the blaze, employees of the company carried out boxes and file cabinets full of valuable documents, placing them in the AHSC parking lot at Ridge & Leon, under police guard.

Chief Geishecker requested mutual aid from Wilmette and Skokie – the first time a fire department other than Chicago’s was requested to assist the EFD since 1906 — to provide coverage at Station # 1, which would allow Engine 24 and Truck 22 to respond to the fire. Other than the men assigned to liaison with the Skokie and Wilmette units at Station # 1, just about the entire EFD — including several men who were on vacation — were summoned to fight the conflagration.

Reserve Truck 23 (1937 Seagrave 65-foot aerial ladder truck) was manned by off-duty personnel at Station # 3 and was ordered to the fire, to provide truck tools and salvage covers for the dozens of off-duty firemen arriving on scene. Reserve Engine 27 (1937 Seagrave pumper – ex-E23) was manned at Station # 3 and responded to the fire, Engine 28 (1937 Seagrave pumper – ex-E24) was staffed by off-duty personnel from Station # 4, off-duty men arriving at Station # 5 manned Engine 26 (1927 Seagrave pumper – ex-E2), and some of the off-duty men arriving at Station # 1 responded to the fire aboard Squad 22 (1924 Seagrave high-pressure / hose truck – ex-T1 tractor). Off-duty men arriving at fire stations after the reserve rigs departed were transported to the fire via CD pick-up truck or FPB station-wagon (F-3).

The EFD took a beating battling the fire on the first floor, but the employees finally finished removing company documents, and firefighters thought they  might have it knocked-down. However, as firemen began to overhaul and do some salvage work, the fire unexpectedly re-appeared on the second floor, eventually charging the entire building with heavy smoke. With a concern that hazardous chemicals stored in the plant might explode, Chief Geishecker ordered firefighters out of the building. 

As the fight went defensive, Engine 24 backed-down Ridge Avenue from the south, leading-out lines used to supply Truck 21’s elevated master stream now set-up on the east side, before grabbing the hydrant at Ridge & Garnett. Truck 22 extended its aerial ladder on the west side to further ventilate the roof before deploying an elevated master stream from that location, as hand lines used when operating inside the plant were replaced with larger diameter hose lines and Squad 21’s portable monitors on the exterior.  

As the situation deteriorated, a firefighter was ordered to move Squad 22 to a position on the west side of the plant, where the rig’s powerful deluge turret would be set-up at the loading dock. The high pressure wagon’s three-inch “fireboat hose” would be connected to Engine 27, which was being set-up to pump from the hydrant at Ridge & Simpson. Leon Place was an old brick street at that time, and as Squad 22 came rumblin’ and backfirin’ down the hill from Ridge Avenue, it appeared that the brakes may have gone out, because the driver couldn’t stop the rig before it ran over a charged hose line, causing it to burst and sending a geyser 30 feet into the air.

A chief came running up to the man who was driving the rig and started yelling at him, which made it even more of a clown show for the hundreds of spectators standing nearby. It was like watching a Laurel & Hardy movie. By the time another supply-line could be led-out and connected, the fire had gained more headway, and the plant was lost. The high-pressure wagon was parked off to the side for the balance of the fire, and was later towed back to Station # 1. The $1.9 million in damage would stand for more than twenty years as the highest property loss from a fire in Evanston’s history. 

Several firemen sustained career-ending injuries while battling the blaze. Chief Jim Geishecker suffered a disabling stroke, went on extended medical leave, and then officially retired when he turned 70 in February 1964, after 43 years of service with the EFD. Capt. George Jasper (27 years of service), Capt. Hjalmar Okerwall (21 years of service), and Fireman Arnold Windle (20 years of service) retired immediately after the fire. Capt. Ronald Ford (38 years of service) retired a few months later, and Capt. Harold Dorband and Fireman John Steinbuck were unable to return to active duty and took disability pensions in 1964.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Evanston Fire Department history Part 49

From Phil Stenholm:

Another installment about History of Evanston Fire Department


Chief Hofstetter was succeeded in office by 52-year old Henry Dorband, a 31-year veteran of the EFD who had been the company officer of Truck Co. 1 and a platoon commander since being promoted to assistant chief fire marshal in 1948. Capt. Michael Garrity was promoted to assistant chief fire marshal when Dorband was appointed chief, joining Assistant Chief Jim Geishecker as one of the EFD’s two platoon commanders.

Deceased Assistant Chief J. E. Mersch was initially replaced as commander of the Fire Prevention Bureau by Capt. John Schmidt in 1951, followed by Capt. William Murphy in 1952 after Capt. Schmidt retired to take a position with the Federal Civil Defense Administration.

Thus, the leadership of the Evanston Fire Department was transformed and invigorated virtually overnight. Chiefs Dorband, Geishecker, and Garrity joined the EFD during the years 1918-20, so they weren’t exactly rookies. They had been waiting a long time — more than 30 years each! — for a chance to make their mark.

In addition to the new chiefs and the changing of the guard in the Fire Prevention Bureau, Lt. Jim Mersch, Lt. Lincoln Dickinson, Lt. Ronald Ford, and Lt. Lester Breitzman were promoted to captain in the years 1950-52, with Capt. Mersch assigned to Engine Co. 1, Capt. Breitzman to Engine Co. 2, Capt. Dickinson to Engine Co. 3, and Capt. Ford to Engine Co. 4, and with Capt. Ed Fahrbach moving from Engine Co. 4 to Engine Co. 5 after 27-year veteran Capt. Frank Sherry retired in 1951.

While Assistant Chief Geishecker and Assistant Chief Garrity worked opposite platoons and served as truck company officers at Station #1 in addition to their platoon commander responsibilities, the two captains who served as company officers of the two engine companies at Station # 1 – Jim Mersch with Engine Co. 1 and Ed Fahrbach with Engine Co. 5 – were the EFD’s senior captains, working opposite platoons and serving as drillmasters, in addition to their company officer responsibilities.

In addition to the deaths of Chief Hofstetter and Assistant Chief Mersch in 1950, the retirements of Capt Sherry in 1951 and Captain Schmidt in 1952, and the various promotions to chief, assistant chief, and captain that soon followed, Lt. William Rohrer retired in 1950 after 27 years of service, Lt. Charles Novak (24 years of service) retired in 1951, and Lt. Fred Schumacher (25 years of service) retired in 1952.

Ed Burczak joined Francis “Marvin” Hofstetter as one of the EFD’s two fire equipment mechanics in 1950, and to replace the promoted and retired lieutenants, firemen Leonard Bach, Herb Claussen, Knud Hanson, George “Bud” Hofstetter, George Jasper, Erv Lindeman, and Willard Thiel were promoted to lieutenant during 1951-52.

Very soon after he was appointed chief fire marshal, Henry Dorband unveiled an ambitious “Fire Department Modernization Plan” that was designed to implement all of the remaining unmet recommendations from the 1935 NFBU inspection, and meet the current and future needs of the Evanston Fire Department.

A $160,000 bond issue to pay for new equipment and apparatus was passed by Evanston voters in April 1951 (88% of the voters approved), and a second $775,000 bond issue to pay for three new fire stations passed by a much smaller margin (60% approval) in April 1953. The two bond issues totaled $935,000, and did indeed lead to the modernization of the EFD.

The first of the two bond issues enabled the City of Evanston to purchase five new pieces of firefighting apparatus from Peter Pirsch & Sons of Kenosha, Wisconsin. Included in the purchase — with a total price-tag of about $135,000 — were two tractor-drawn 85-foot aerial-ladder trucks, two 1000-GPM triple-combination pumpers, and one 1000-GPM combination pumper / rescue squad. To secure the contract, Pirsch had to outbid (underbid) Seagrave and American LaFrance for the ladder trucks, and Mack for the pumpers and the rescue squad.

The TDA that had been purchased from Pirsch in 1950 and delivered in 1951 (the new Truck No. 1) was retroactively incorporated into the bond issue as one of the two tractor-drawn aerial-ladder trucks, with the $35,000 appropriation returned to the city treasury. In addition, a new chief’s automobile – a 1951 Mercury sedan equipped with an Evanston Police FM two-way radio — was purchased with funds from the bond issue.

Chief Dorband assigned all five of the new Pirsch rigs to Station # 1 when they were placed into service in September 1952, and ordered them to be parked outside whenever possible, so that Evanston voters could drive-by the firehouse and see the city’s brand-new modern fire apparatus with their own eyes. The five Pirsch rigs would remain together at Station # 1 until 1955.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Evanston Fire Department history Part 48

From Phil Stenholm:

Another installment about History of Evanston Fire Department


Lt. John Schmidt returned from Germany in 1949 and was promoted to captain, after Lt. William Owens was promoted to captain and then almost immediately retired after 20 years of service. Also, Lt. Ed Fahrbach was promoted to captain and assigned as company officer of Engine Co. 4, with Irish-born Capt. Michael Garrity using his seniority to effect a transfer from Station # 4 in what was then the back-water hinterlands of southwest Evanston to Station # 3 on Green Bay Road in North Evanston, which unlike Station # 4, was close to both bus and rail transportation. Fireman Charles Novak was promoted to lieutenant at about this same time.

By 1950, Evanston’s population had grown to 73,641, a 20% increase over the population of 1930. The population increase can be mostly-attributed to the post-World War II “baby boom,” as well as to the residential development of both southwest and northwest Evanston. The Evanston Fire Department, however, had not kept pace with the changing times. Despite the invigoration of “new blood” — 50 new firemen, mostly all veterans of WWII, had been hired during the years 1946-49 — the leaders of the EFD were old, sick, and tired. However, change was in the wind.

Following a lengthy illness, EFD Chief Albert Hofstetter died on September 24, 1950, at the age of 70, after 49-1/2 years of service with the Evanston Fire Department, including the last 36+ years as Chief Fire Marshal. Though very ill in the weeks prior to his death, Chief Hofstetter still hoped to retire from the EFD on his Golden Anniversary in March 1951. Unfortunately, he didn’t make it that far.

Then just 17 days after the death of Chief Hofstetter, 67-year old 1st Assistant Chief Fire Marshal J. E. Mersch died after suffering a heart attack behind the wheel of his staff car while leading the annual Fire Prevention Week parade up Orrington Avenue. Chief Mersch had served 45 years with the Evanston Fire Department, and was the first Fire Prevention Inspector, serving in that capacity for 22 years after suffering a disabling leg injury in a traffic collision in September 1927. He helped to establish the Fire Prevention Bureau in 1929, and then single-handedly ran it right up until the moment of his death.

The deaths of Chief Hofstetter and Assistant Chief Mersch came just two years after two other long-time chief officers — 46-year veteran Assistant Chief Tom McEnery and 38-year veteran Assistant Chief Carl Windelborn — had retired. The four veteran chiefs had served a combined 178 years with the EFD, an average of more than 44 years per man!

The last major fire to occur during the Hofstetter regime was one that gutted the North Shore Flour Supply Company warehouse at 709 Chicago Ave in April 1950. With the structure located just a couple of hundred feet from Station # 2, Engine Co. 2 was on the scene in about a minute, immediately taking the hydrant next-door to the south, leading out, and attacking the fire through the front door.

Engine Co. 1 and Truck Co. 1 assisted Engine Co. 2, with truckmen laddering the roof and ventilating, while pipemen from Engine Co. 1 grabbed a second line off Engine 2 and followed Engine Co. 2 into the interior. However, Truck Co. 1 was unable to adequately ventilate the reinforced roof, and so the two engine companies working inside had to back-out to avoid being overcome by heat and smoke.

Engine Co. 4, Engine Co. 5, and Truck Co. 2 responded on a second alarm, with Engine Co. 3 changing quarters to Station # 1. The off-duty platoon was called-in to staff the reserve engine at Station # 4 and the reserve truck at Station # 3, and to provide relief for firefighters working at the fire, Nearby Station # 2 was used as a staging area for men from the opposite platoon while they waited for assignments, and as a temporary rest & recovery area for firefighters after being relieved. The blaze was eventually extinguished, but not before a $70,000 loss to the building and its contents.

A few days after the fire, the assistant chiefs who served as the company officers of Truck Co. 1 and Truck Co. 2 scheduled remedial training for members of the two truck companies on the subject of “proper vertical ventilation.” During the course of the training, worsening weathering damage to the aging wooden aerial-ladder on Truck No. 1 was noted. The truck’s ground ladders had been replaced in 1938, but the aerial-ladder, trailer, and tractor were 25-years old.

With Chief Hofstetter on extended medical leave, Assistant Chief Henry Dorband (company officer of Truck Co. 1) was dispatched to meet with Evanston’s mayor and aldermen to explain the problem with the aerial-ladder, and to offer possible solutions:

1. Replace the wooden aerial-ladder with a metal aerial-ladder (estimated cost: $15,000);
2. Replace both the aerial-ladder and the trailer (estimated cost: $25,000);
3. Replace the tractor, trailer, and aerial-ladder (estimated cost: $35,000).

The city council opted for choice # 3, and the city advertised for bids to supply a tractor-drawn aerial-ladder truck, with specifications that included an 85-foot metal aerial ladder, water-proof equipment compartments on the trailer, and a canopy cab with additional rear-facing bench seating for four behind the cab. 

In what was something of a surprise, Peter Pirsch & Sons of Kenosha, Wisconsin, came in with the low-bid and was awarded the contract. With an estimated delivery date of August 1951, the EFD’s new TDA would be the first fire apparatus purchased by the City of Evanston from a manufacturer not named Seagrave since 1911.

Over the years, Evanston had been one of Seagrave’s best customers, spending upwards of $135,000 between 1917-49 to purchase a total of eight pumpers, three ladder trucks, and a tractor, plus major repairs to damaged rigs in 1927 and 1928, and a rebuild of one of the 1917 pumpers in 1930. However, by 1950 Seagrave was inundated with post-war apparatus orders that sometimes resulted in delivery dates as long as two years, and it was losing bids it would have won in the past. 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Evanston Fire Department history Part 46

From Phil Stenholm:

Another installment about History of Evanston Fire Department


On June 10, 1947, the pump on Engine No. 4 broke-down during a routine annual pump test and could not be repaired. The 1917 Seagrave 750-GPM pumper had been in nearly-continuous front-line service for more than 29 years – as Engine No. 1 1918-37, and then as Engine No,. 4 since 1938 — and because its frame and chassis had extensive corrosion and rust damage, it was not likely to survive much longer, even with a new pump.

With the gravitas of a long-time chief of the Evanston Fire Department, Albert Hofstetter requested and received an audience with the mayor and the city council. Chief Hofstetter explained that replacing the pump on a 29-year old rusted-out fire engine would be a waste of money, maintained that the safety of all Evanstonians was at risk, and convinced the aldermen to immediately issue an emergency appropriation in the amount of $18,000 to purchase a new triple-combination pumper.  

Seagrave (naturally) won the bid, and the EFD’s lone spare pumper – the 1917 Seagrave chemical & hose booster pumper that had been rebuilt at the Seagrave factory in 1930 as a 500-GPM Suburbanite TCP with a 50-gallon booster tank — was temporarily placed back into front-line service at Station # 4, thereby leaving the EFD without a spare pumper for the 18 months it would take Seagrave to build the new rig. Meanwhile, the Seagrave engine with the broken pump was dismantled for spare parts to help keep the other two 1917 Seagrave rigs running, and then the frame & chassis and whatever else was left of the relic were sold for scrap.      

In 1948, downtown Evanston was a vibrant area with many high-end stores that provided a significant commercial tax base for the city. The downtown area was anchored by three large department stores,  Wieboldts’s at 1007 Church Street, Lord’s at 1611 Orrington Avenue, and Marshall Field & Company at 1700 Sherman. While the Evanston Field’s store was a smaller suburban version of the company’s world-famous headquarters store that occupied an entire city block at State & Washington in Chicago’s Loop, it was considered to be the most exclusive department store on the North Shore. 

Just a few days before Christmas in December 1948, the Marshall Field warehouse at 1224 Emerson Street was gutted by fire. Four engine companies, two truck companies, and a number of men from the off-duty platoon battled the stubborn blaze for hours, attempting to salvage as many of the valuable goods as possible, while at the same time working to contain and extinguish the flames without injury to firefighters. It probably would have been useful if Chicago Fire Insurance Patrol No. 8 on Ravenswood Avenue was still in service and responding to fires in Evanston to provide dedicated salvage work, but unfortunately that arrangement had ended in January 1933.  

The Marshall Field warehouse fire occurred during the period of time when the EFD had no reserve pumper, so Engine Co. 4 operating with its four-man crew plus additional manpower from the off-duty platoon, and another eight off-duty men staffing the reserve 1917 Seagrave city service truck, provided a modicum of fire protection to the city from Station # 1 while the rest of the EFD was fighting the fire. At the behest of Field’s president Hughston M. McBain, Chicago Fire Department Commissioner Michael J. Corrigan ordered the CFD’s Main Fire Alarm Office to immediately dispatch whatever assistance the Evanston Fire Department might request to help extinguish the fire.  

The CFD wasn’t needed, but the estimated $177,430 loss to the Marshall Field & Company warehouse and its contents was the third-largest loss from fire in Evanston’s history up until that point in time, with only the Northwestern University Technological Institute inferno in December 1940 and the Boltwood School conflagration in January 1927 incurring a higher loss.

With the new more-favorable state pension law now in effect, there were a slew of retirements involving very senior members of the EFD in 1948, as 46-year veteran 1st Assistant Chief Tom McEnery, 40-year veteran Capt. Ed McEnery (Tom’s brother), 38-year veteran 3rd Assistant Chief Carl Windelborn, and 28-year veteran Lt. Harry Jasper all retired at about the exact same time 

Assistant Chief J. E. Mersch remained commander of the Fire Prevention Bureau and by virtue of seniority automatically became 1st Assistant Chief Fire Marshal with the retirement of Chief McEnery. Capt. Henry Dorband was promoted to Assistant Chief and replaced Chief McEnery as both company officer of Truck Co. 1 and a platoon commander, and Capt. Jim Geishecker was promoted to Assistant Chief and replaced Chief Windelborn as company officer of Truck Co. 2 and a platoon commander.

Also in 1948, Lt. Ed Hanrahan was promoted after having scored first on the 1947 civil service test for captain, and was assigned as company officer of Engine Co. 1, Lt. William Murphy scored second on the test, was promoted to captain, and was assigned as company officer of Engine Co. 5, and firemen Lincoln Dickinson, Ronald Ford, William Owens, and Fred Schumacher were promoted to lieutenant.

Besides the loss of a number of veteran EFD officers to retirement in 1948, firemen John Monks (38 years of service), John Lindberg (28 years), John Anderson (21 years), and Lou Knockaert (21 years) also retired in 1948, and Fire Equipment Mechanic Norman Fochs (21 years of service) and firemen Dominic Bartholme (25 years), John Gleeson (21 years), Ted Thompson (21 years), and Walter Janz (20 years) retired in 1949.

30 men – mostly all veterans of World War II – passed the entry-level civil service test for fireman and were hired over the three-year period 1946-49 to replace the many veteran firefighters who had retired or died, and so the Evanston Fire Department suddenly got a lot younger.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Evanston Fire Department history Part 34

From Phil Stenholm:

Another installment about History of Evanston Fire Department


About a month after the Boltwood School fire, at 6:30 PM on Monday evening February 7, 1927, Engine Co. 2 and Truck Co. 1 responded to a report of a fire at Lee Drugs at 901 Chicago Ave. Encountering a significant working fire upon arrival, Chief Hofstetter ordered a second alarm, and Engine Co. 1, Truck Co. 2, and CFIP Patrol No. 8 responded, with Engine Co. 3 changing quarters to Station # 1.

The off-duty platoon was ordered to report for duty and staff the reserve Robinson Jumbo pumper and provide relief for firefighters on the scene. EFD companies battled the blaze throughout the bitter-cold night and into the next morning, but the drug store was gutted, sustaining a $50,397 loss, the fifth-highest loss from a fire in Evanston’s history up to that point in time.  

On April 5, 1927, in the aftermath of the Boltwood School and Lee Drugs fires, Evanston voters resoundingly approved a $75,000 bond issue supporting construction of a fourth fire station in the area of Dempster & Dodge, and the purchase of two 1000-GPM triple-combination pumpers, a new “auto-buggy” for the chief, a portable high-pressure turret nozzle, and additional large-diameter nozzles and hose .

The bond issue also directed the city council to hire twenty additional firemen in 1927 and then three more in 1928. This would increase EFD membership from 61 to 84 (a 38% increase in personnel). The chief would work business hours at Fire Station # 1 but be on call at all other times, and the new fire prevention inspector  would work business hours. There would be 41 men assigned to each platoon, with minimum shift staffing set at 34 if each company was running one man short, which was permitted and was frequently the case, due to vacations, sick time, and overtime comp.  

A 1925 Lincoln Model “L“ sedan was purchased (used) at a cost of $2,000, replacing the 1917 Haynes touring car that had served as the chief’s buggy for the previous ten years. Outbidding American-LaFrance and Ahrens-Fox, Seagrave was awarded the contract for the two pumpers, agreeing to supply two 1000-GPM “standard” triple-combination centrifugal pumpers with a 50-gallon booster tank and hose reel at a cost of $24,480 ($12,240 per engine). By 1927, all fire engine manufacturers were offering the Ahrens-Fox booster system, replacing the venerable soda-acid chemical tank & red line that had been a staple of the American fire service for more than 50 years.      

As of 1927, Seagrave was offering four models of pumpers, the 300, 400, and 500-GPM “Suburbanite” that was a favorite of small-town fire departments, the 600-GPM “Special” that was often equipped with a squad body, the 750 & 1000-GPM “Standard,” and the heavy-duty 1.300-GPM “Metropolite.” The two Seagrave Standards purchased by Evanston in 1927 were the work-horses of the EFD, remaining in continuous front-line service for 25 years, and then serving as reserve apparatus for a number of years beyond that. 

On May 1, 1927, the Evanston City Council officially authorized the hiring of twenty new firemen effective November 1, 1927, to staff the two new engine companies. Engine Co. 4 was to be organized at Station # 2 and then relocated to the new Fire Station # 4 as soon as the firehouse could be completed, and Engine Co. 5  was to be organized as the second engine company at Station # 1. Engine Co. 2 and the new Engine Co. 5 would receive the new Seagrave Standard pumpers, with the new Engine Co. 4 operating with the American-LaFrance tractorized-steamer and the Seagrave chemical & hose booster pumper that had previously been assigned to Engine Co. 2. 

In addition, the Evanston City Council approved pay raises for most members of the EFD, including a $25 per month raise for the chief fire marshal and assistant chief fire marshal, a $5 per month increase for all captains, lieutenants, and motor drivers – engineers, and a $10 per month increase for the new civil service rate of “Fireman I” (defined as a fireman with a minimum of one year experience). The former rank of assistant motor driver was eliminated and combined with Fireman I, but the rank of assistant engineer was not eliminated because of the expertise required to operate the EFD’s steam fire engine (the tractorized steamer). The new position of “Fireman II” (a fireman with less than one year experience) did not receive a pay raise. Also, a new civil service position of “engineer – mechanic” was created, as one of the engineers would now be responsible for routine maintenance and repair of all fire apparatus at Station # 1. The engineer – mechanic was to be paid $7.50 more per month than the other motor driver – engineers.

On June 10, 1927, the Evanston Civil Service Board administered the entry-level exam for Fireman II, and promotional exams for captain, lieutenant, engineer – mechanic, and motor driver – engineer. It was probably the most-hectic single day of testing in the history of the civil service board up to that point in time. There was a feeling of anticipation and excitement in the Evanston Fire Department, as the number of fire stations, the number of companies, and the number of firefighters were about to grow by more than a third in  one fell swoop.       

Then on Sunday afternoon, September 18, 1927, Capt. J. E. Mersch of Engine Co. 1 was seriously injured when the Evanston police ambulance in which he was riding was struck broadside by a bus at Lake & Sheridan while he and two Evanston police officers were en route to Greenwood Street Beach on an inhalator run to aid a drowning victim. Evanston Police Officer Richard Guess was critically injured and was permanently disabled, and Capt. Mersch sustained a fractured leg and other injuries. It was feared that Capt. Mersch might not ever walk again, and at the very least he would certainly not be able to continue performing the duties of a firefighter. There were no injuries on the bus, but the drowning victim died, and the 1916 White / Erby police ambulance was demolished.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Evanston Fire Department history Part 33

From Phil Stenholm:

Another installment about History of Evanston Fire Department


At 1 PM on Sunday afternoon, January 9, 1927, boy scout LeRoy Kreutzer noticed smoke wafting from the Boltwood Intermediate School at the southeast corner of Dempster & Elmwood. Boltwood School served as Evanston’s lone junior high school at the time, as well as the headquarters of the Evanston chapter of the Boy Scouts of America, but the facility had previously served as Evanston Township High School for forty years, until the new ETHS campus was opened at Church & Dodge in 1924. Kreutzer pulled fire alarm box # 313 at Dempster & Elmwood, and then ran over to EFD Chief Albert Hofstetter’s residence at 1228 Sherman Avenue, awakening the chief from his Sunday afternoon nap.
Chief Hofstetter ran across the alley and met up at the front of the school with companies arriving from Station # 1, and it was quickly determined that the fire was confined to a manual arts classroom in the basement. Although the fire was contained to just the one room, EFD engine companies had difficulty getting to the fire due to heavy smoke throughout the interior of the school. Despite the heavy smoke conditions, a monkey, and several white mice located in the science lab were rescued. The truck companies attempted to ventilate the heat and smoke from the structure, but the efforts failed as a strong gust of wind entered the building and fanned the fire. The flames swept past firefighters, traveling up an interior stairway, before blowing out through second-floor windows.

A “General Alarm” was sounded, as all on duty AND off-duty EFD firemen were ordered to the scene. The blaze was out of control, with the very real possibility that the flames could jump over the alley and threaten homes (including Chief Hofstetter’s house!) located to the east of the school as well as the Dempster Street business district. After two firemen barely escaped when part of the roof collapsed, Chief Hofstetter ordered all personnel inside to evacuate, and the fight went “defensive.”

With the EFD seemingly helpless to stop the firestorm, Chief Hofstetter requested assistance from the Chicago Fire Department. The Chicago F. D. had responded into Evanston on numerous occasions in the past, in each case assigning no more than two engine companies. However, this fire was larger and more threatening than any other previous Evanston blaze, and the Chicago Fire Department — with 1st Assistant Chief Fire Marshal Jerry McAuliffe in command at the scene — ended up sending six engine companies, two truck companies, a high-pressure wagon, and a water tower to Evanston.

At least two traffic collisions were blamed on the chaos resulting from so many fire trucks and spectators pouring into the neighborhood. At the height of the blaze, engines were pumping from various hydrants located within a six square-block area. Reportedly 20,000 spectators (about 1/3 of Evanston’s total population at the time!) gathered to watch the conflagration. Off-duty Evanston police officers were summoned to help with traffic and crowd control. 

Thanks in large part to the great assistance provided by the Chicago Fire Department, the fire was brought under control. Although Boltwood School was gutted, the homes located across the alley and the Dempster Street business district were saved. Three firefighters suffered minor injuries. Damage was estimated at $308,500, by far the highest-loss recorded in an Evanston fire up to that point in time. Two new District 65 junior high schools were subsequently constructed to replace Boltwood; Nichols in South Evanston, and Haven in North Evanston (with Haven initially being K-8, as it also replaced Cranston Elementary School).     

In the aftermath of the Boltwood fire, the competence of the Evanston Fire Department was called into question. The city council conducted an investigation, and quickly discovered some things they probably should have already known. The EFD of 1927 was simply a small town fire department operating in a city of 60,000 people, it was substantially undermanned and under-equipped and lacked “big water” capability, and that therefore a disaster like that of the Boltwood School fire was inevitable. 

Evanston voters were presented with a $75,000 bond issue in the city election of April 5, 1927. The bond issue passed, resulting in many improvements in the EFD:

1. Twenty (eventually 23) additional firefighters were hired within a year
2. A fourth fire station was constructed
3. Two new engine companies were organized;
4. Two 1000-GPM pumpers were purchased
5. A portable high-pressure turret nozzle was acquired 
6. A Fire Prevention Bureau was established

Tags: , , , , , ,

Evanston Fire Department history Part 30

From Phil Stenholm:

Another installment about History of Evanston Fire Department


May 29, 1925, was the 50th anniversary of the Evanston Fire Department, which is to say the EFD was legally established by town ordinance on that date in 1875. More specifically, the Evanston Village Board passed “An Ordinance Concerning the Fire Department of the Village of Evanston” at the village board meeting on Tuesday night, May 25, 1875, but by law it did not become legal and take effect until it was published in the weekly Evanston Index newspaper on Saturday, May 29.

However, the “Fire Department Ordinance” did not really change anything, other than to make the Evanston Fire Department official and legal. The day-to-day work of Evanston firefighters was no different on May 29, 1875, than it was a week, a month, a year, or even two years earlier. In reality, the actual founding date of organized firefighting in Evanston was Tuesday, January 7, 1873, when the Pioneer Fire Company of Evanston was chartered with the State of Illinois and accepted for service by the Evanston Village Board.    


PERSONNEL (59 firefighters / two platoons) 
NOTE: Assistant chief or captain was the company officer, and the lieutenant was the assistant company officer and worked the opposite platoon from the assistant chief or captain.  

STATION # 1 (809 Grove Street) – four-bay firehouse (plus a fifth bay for the police ambulance) completed March 1897 as Police / Fire Headquarters, the EFD relocated here from three-bay firehouse at city hall at northwest corner of Davis & Sherman (city hall was built in 1893)  

Chief Albert Hofstetter (hired 1901, promoted to Lt 1903, promoted to Capt 1914, then was appointed chief two hours after being promoted to Capt)
NOTE: Chief was technically always on duty, although he spent evenings and Sundays on-call at home. When at home, he responded only to confirmed working fires and other significant incidents or situations requiring his presence. 

Fireman John Wynn (hired 1920)
Fireman Frank Sherry (hired 1924)
NOTE: Chief’s drivers were assigned administratively to Truck Co. 1. When at a fire, the chief’s driver was responsible for communication from the scene of the incident, either by driving to & from the nearest fire station, or by use of a nearby telephone if available, or by telegraph from the nearest Gamewell fire alarm box. 

TRUCK Co. 1: (12) 
Assistant Chief Ed Johnson (hired 1902, promoted to Lt 1909, promoted to Capt 1914, promoted to Ass’t Chief 1918)
Lieutenant Carl Windelborn (hired 1910, promoted to Lt 1923)
Fireman Walt Boekenhauer (hired 1915)
Fireman Michael Garrity (hired 1918)
Fireman Henry Dorband (hired 1919)
Fireman Jerry Moriarty (hired 1919)
Fireman George Thompson (hired 1919)
Fireman Martin Jasper (hired 1920)
Fireman Fred Godeman (hired 1920)
Fireman William Rohrer (hired 1923)
Fireman John Lee (hired 1924)
Fireman Ed Voight (hired 1924)
NOTE: In addition to being company officer of Truck Co. 1, Assistant Chief Johnson was in charge of the EFD whenever Chief Hofstetter was absent from the city or otherwise unavailable

TRUCK Co. 2: (10)
Captain Tom McEnery (hired 1902, promoted to Lt 1914, promoted to Capt 1918)
Lieutenant Henry Tesnow (hired 1914, promoted to Lt 1924)
Fireman John Gaynor (hired 1912)
Fireman Anthony Steigelman (hired 1915)
Fireman John Schippman (hired 1918)
Fireman John Lindberg (hired 1920)
Fireman Herman Peters (hired 1923)
Fireman Dominic Bartholome (hired 1924)
Fireman Joe Donahue (hired 1924)
Fireman Fred Korn (hired 1924)

ENGINE Co.1: (12)
Captain J. E. Mersch (hired 1905, promoted to Lt 1914, promoted to Capt 1920)
Lieutenant Dan McKimmons (hired 1911, promoted to Lt 1924)
Motor Driver John Wilen (hired as Asst Motor Driver 1918, promoted to MD 1924)
Assistant Motor Driver John Monks (hired 1911, promoted to AMD 1918)
Fireman William Wilbern (hired 1901)
Fireman John M. Mersch (hired 1906)
Fireman Ed Fahrbach (hired 1916)
Fireman Jim Geishecker (hired 1918)
Fireman Herman Windelborn (hired 1920)
Fireman Harry Jasper (hired 1920)
Fireman John Linster (hired 1924)
Fireman Herman Godeman (hired 1924)


Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Evanston Fire Department history Part 29

From Phil Stenholm:

Another installment about History of Evanston Fire Department


On March 11, 1919, five year-old Robert Oldberg died, one day after he was burned when his clothes caught fire while he was playing with matches in the basement of his home at 1024 Maple Ave. His mother was severely burned trying to extinguish the fire. Then, a year after the Oldberg child was killed, Minerva Iverson, a maid in the employ of the Walter Neilson family at 2711 Harrison Street, died from burns suffered after an alcohol stove exploded while she was curling her hair. Ten years earlier — on December 27, 1910 — a six year-old girl had died from burns suffered after her clothes caught fire when she came into contact with candles on her family’s Christmas tree at the Rostowski residence at 1107 Washington Street. 

With three deaths resulting from “careless use of fire” within ten years, Chief Albert Hofstetter initiated a fire prevention educational program on October 10, 1922, to correspond with National Fire Prevention Day, which had been declared by U. S. President Warren G. Harding a year earlier to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire. The EFD’s educational program involved detailing one member from each company to go into Evanston schools and teach children about the danger of fire. This program would eventually be formalized as part of the EFD’s Fire Prevention Bureau after the FPB was created in 1929, and eventually led to educational campaigns such as “Learn Not to Burn” and “Stop, Drop, and Roll.”   

At 6:20 AM, Saturday morning, December 16, 1922, and while on routine patrol, Evanston police officers William Lanning and Arthur Sievers discovered a fire at the prestigious Evanston Country Club at 1501 Oak Avenue. The Evanston Fire Department was alerted, and flames were shooting 35 feet into the air as companies from Station #1 arrived. Engine Co. 2 responded on a second alarm, as Chief Hofstetter ordered the opposite platoon to be called in. The first off-duty firefighters to arrive at Station #1 placed the Robinson engine into service as Engine Co. 4 so that Engine Co. 3 could respond to the fire, and all remaining off-duty personnel who arrived at Station #1 walked three blocks west down Grove Street to the fire. Three EFD engines were still pumping at noon, but the clubhouse was destroyed. However, firefighters did save structures to the north on Grove Street. The $83,500 loss from this fire was the second-highest loss from a fire in Evanston’s history up until that point in time, second only to the Mark Manufacturing Company fire in December 1905. The country club was subsequently rebuilt on the same site, and was sold to the City of Evanston in 1941 at which point it became the new city hall, replacing the previous city hall that had stood at the northwest corner of Davis & Sherman since 1893.  

In the period between 1892 and 1912, Evanston’s population grew from 15,277 to 26,253, an increase of 65 percent. Then in the ten year period between 1912 and 1922, Evanston’s population grew from 26,253 to 43,339, an increase of 80 percent! It was during this latter ten-year period — most especially between 1916 and 1922 — that most of the classic hotels and apartment buildings that dot Evanston’s landscape were constructed. As might be expected, when Evanston’s population increased, the fire department’s workload increased as well. For instance, just from 1921 to 1922 alone, Truck Co. 1 showed a 30% increase in alarms, Engine Co. 1 a 15% increase, Engine Co. 2 a whopping 62% increase, and Engine Co. 3 a 24% increase.

In its report following a 1924 inspection of the Evanston Fire Departmemt, the National Board of Fire Underwriters (NBFU) strongly recommended that the EFD acquire an aerial-ladder apparatus for Truck Co. 1 at Station # 1, construct a fourth fire station in the vicinity of Dempster & Dodge, and organize an engine company and a ladder company at this new firehouse, with the new west-side ladder company manning the city service truck and responding first-due to all alarms west of Asbury Avenue. Although the EFD did acquire an aerial-ladder apparatus and did organize a second truck company in 1924, the proposed firehouse in the vicinity of Dempster & Dodge was not constructed at that time. Thus, when the new truck company was organized, it was placed into service at Station # 1. In fact, both of the EFD’s truck companies would run out of the same fire station for the next 30 years, until the new Fire Station #2 was placed into service in March 1955.

Truck Co. 2 — later known as Truck Co. 22 — was organized at Fire Station # 1 on September 1, 1924. Ten firemen (eventually twelve) were hired to staff the new truck company. As recommended in the 1924 NBFU report, the city service truck was assigned to Truck Co. 2, while Truck Co. 1 received a brand new tractor-drawn 85-foot aerial ladder truck (TDA), purchased from the Seagrave Corporation for $16,500. Tom McEnery — who had been company officer of Engine Co. 1 since being promoted to captain in 1918 — was the first captain assigned to Truck Co. 2. At that same time, Capt. J. E. Mersch was transferred from Engine Co. 2 to Engine Co. 1, and Lt. Pat Gaynor was promoted to captain and replaced Mersch as company officer of Engine Co. 2.

In addition, four firemen were promoted to lieutenant in 1923-24. Lt. Harry Schaefer (Truck Co. 1) — whose son Harry Jr would later serve with the EFD, retiring as an assistant chief in 1967 — died of a cerebral hemorrhage while off-duty in June 1923, and Lt. William Ludwig (Engine Co. 1) retired in 1924 after twenty years of service with the EFD. Firemen Carl Windelborn and Ed Newton were promoted to lieutenant, with Windelborn replacing Lt. Schaefer and Newton replacing Lt. Ludwig. Firemen Dan McKimmons and Henry Tesnow were promoted to lieutenant when TrucK Co. 2 was organized on September 1, 1924, with McKimmons replacing Lt. Gaynor on Engine Co. 1, and Tesnow assigned as the assistant company officer of Truck Co. 2.      

Just as the two truck companies had different rigs, they also had different responsibilities. Operating with the EFD’s lone aerial ladder truck until 1937 and then with the only 85-ft aerial truck until 1952, Truck Co. 1 was first-due to all alarms east of Asbury Avenue, an area that included the downtown “high-value district,” the Northwestern University campus, both hospitals, most of the city’s churches and apartment buildings, and all of the hotels and movie theaters.

Operating with the city service truck  from 1924-1937 and with a 65-ft aerial-ladder truck 1937-1952, Truck Co. 2 was first-due to all alarms west of Asbury Avenue, an area consisting mainly of single-family residences and factories. Both of the truck companies responded to alarms received from hospitals and schools during school hours. When Truck Co. 2 was placed in in service in 1924, the chemical & hose booster pumper that ran with the tractorized steamer as the second piece of Engine Co. 2 at Station # 2 became known as Hose No. 2. Previously, it was called Truck No. 2 out of force of habit, because the Seagrave combination truck that ran with the steamer at Station # 2 in the horse-drawn era prior to motorization was designated Truck No. 2. 

Also in September 1924, the Chicago Fire Insurance Patrol (CFIP) began to respond to all working fires in Evanston. Patrol No. 8 had been established at 3921 N. Ravenswood Avenue in 1922, and it was the first-due CFIP salvage squad to Evanston. Patrol No. 8 was disbanded on January 1, 1933 due to budget cuts related to the Great Depression, and the City of Evanston’s contract with the CFIP was terminated at that time. The CFIP was dissolved in 1959, with many of its members joining various local Chicago-area fire departments, most notably the Skokie F. D., which ended up with a former CFIP officer as its new chief, and an ex-CFIP salvage truck as its Squad 1.   

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Evanston Fire Department history Part 27

From Phil Stenholm:

Another installment about History of Evanston Fire Department

Shortly before noon on Thursday, January 10, 1918, the brand-new Seagrave 750-GPM TCP got its baptism of fire at George Wilson’s boarding house at 818 Church Street. Working in bitter-cold, firefighters had difficulty locating the seat of the blaze as the flames migrated into the rafters, but the new engine came through like a champ, and extinguished the flames with only $1,000 in damage.   

Nine days later, an overheated chimney at the J. A. Lamson rooming house at 2006 Sherman Avenue interrupted Saturday morning breakfast. Twenty four female Northwestern University music students were alerted by Evanston firefighters who pounded on the front door and advised the surprised residents that their domicile was on fire, and that they might want to evacuate. Flames communicated from the chimney to the upper floors before firefighters could quell the blaze. Damage was estimated at $7,000 to the structure and its contents before the two-alarm fire could be struck out.

On Easter Sunday afternoon, March 31, 1918, Evanston firefighters responded to the rare two simultaneous working structure fires, one at the Church of God at 1504 Simpson Street, and the other at the Mears-Slayton lumber yard at Chicago Avenue & Howard Street. Truck Co. 1 raised its extension ladder and Engine Co. 3, using a 1-1/2 inch hose lead connected to a 2-1/2 inch line, quickly extinguished a fire on the roof of the church caused by sparks from an overheated chimney. Meanwhile, firemen from Engine Co. 2 led-out a line and quickly knocked-down the blaze at the lumber yard caused by a carelessly discarded cigarette. Engine Co. 1 remained in quarters, available to respond to a third alarm, should one be received. Quick and expert work by Evanston firefighters saved both the church and the lumber yard, with minimal damage to both properties.      

Moving ahead six months to Monday evening September 22, 1918, employee John Doose accidentally backed his truck over a gas lantern, sparking a blaze in the rear garage of the Moehring Grocery Store at 1936 Maple Ave. The flames communicated to rear porches of the apartments located above the store, but firefighters from Station # 1 knocked them down with two lines before other nearby structures could become involved. There were no injuries and only $2,000 damage in what could have been a much worse outcome.   

In October 1918, the Spanish Influenza pandemic swept through Evanston. Among the dead were two Evanston firemen, Richard Luchs and Nicholas Knepper. Luchs, a rookie firefighter with just five months on the job, died on October 15th. Knepper, a seven-year veteran of the EFD, died on October 17th. Meanwhile, the only member of the Evanston Fire Department to serve in the Great War in Europe — Fred Koch — came home in January 1919 without a scratch, and then after getting off the train in Chicago, he proceeded to chase and capture an armed suspect after the robbery of a jewelry store at 18th Street & State.      

The Evanston Fire Department responded to 149 fires — mostly chimney fires –during the first two months of 1919, compared to a total of 160 fires over the first seven months of 1918. Alarmed by the number of fires sparked by overheated chimneys, Chief Albert Hofstetter speculated that the uptick in chimney fires may stem from the increased use of a cheaper bituminous soft coal that produces more soot. The chief advised Evanston property owners to be more diligent in keeping their chimneys, furnaces, and fireplaces clean and clear of coal dust and ash, but fires caused by coal dust would remain the #1 cause of residential structure fires in Evanston for many years to come.    

Two significant fires occurred in North Evanston over the first few days of spring in 1919. The first blaze broke-out at 11:30 AM on Monday, March 31st, in a commercial structure located at the southwest corner of Harrison Street & West Railroad Avenue. The Mebane Drug Store and the Currey & Company children’s apparel factory  were gutted. Flames communicated to another adjacent structure located on the south side of Harrison Street to the west, with $15,000 in aggregate damage before the conflagration could be contained. Automobiles parked in the Modern Garage located to the south at 2534 West Railroad Avenue were saved by a firewall, and garage employees attacked the blaze with fire extinguishers while Evanston firefighters from Station # 3 were leading out. 

On Friday, April 11, 1919, an electrical short sparked a blaze at the Covenant Methodist Church at 2123 Harrison Street, located just two blocks west of the previous fire. The fire was quickly knocked-down with chemicals and one 1-1/2 inch line, but not before $18,000 in damage to the sanctuary, mostly from smoke and water.  

Station # 3 was known back then as the “slow” firehouse, so two major fires occurring within about two blocks and ten days of each other and both happening so close to Station # 3 was very unusual.   

In 1919, two long-time members of the Evanston Fire Department called it a career. Captain Carl Harms retired after 26 years of service, and Jones Albert “Dad” Patrick retired after 24 years of service. Lt. J. E. Mersch was subsequently promoted to captain and replaced Harms as company officer of Engine Co. 2, and Fireman William Ludwig was promoted to lieutenant and replaced Mersch as assistant company officer of Engine Co. 1. 

Known as the Godfather of Fire Station 2, Carl Harms remarkably spent his entire 26 year career at Station # 2. For all we know, he might not even have known where the other two fire stations were located (just kidding). He was appointed to the Evanston Fire Department by Chief Sam Harrison in 1893, just a year after the Village of South Evanston was annexed by the Village of Evanston to form the City of Evanston. Within a year he was the senior man at Station # 2, and he was one of only five members of the EFD to successfully pass the first civil service test in 1895. (The five who didn’t pass the test were fired). He was promoted to captain and company officer of Hose Co. 2 in 1900, and he remained company officer at Station # 2 as the company morphed over the years, first into a truck company in 1903, and then into an engine company in 1911.  

J. A. Patrick was hired as the Evanston Fire Department’s first engineer in 1895, responsible for operating and maintaining the EFD’s new steam fire engine. Prior to joining the fire department, Patrick was superintendent of the water works, so he gave up a very good job with the water department to join the fire department. As engineer, he was the second-highest paid member of the EFD, second only to the chief. To Patrick, the 1895 Ahrens Metropolitan streamer was his baby. Whenever it was in service and wherever it was in service, no matter if it was at Station # 1, Station # 2, or Station # 3, “Dad” was that steamer’s proud papa (and engineer). 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Evanston Fire Department history Part 26

From Phil Stenholm:

Another installment about History of Evanston Fire Department


The Evanston Fire Department was fully motorized after voters approved a $30,000 bond issue in April 1917 that led to the purchase of five pieces of automobile firefighting apparatus. One Model “E” city service ladder truck — equipped with a rather unwieldy 55-foot ground-based extension-ladder instead of an aerial-ladder, one 750-GPM triple-combination pumper, two chemical & hose 300-GPM booster-pumpers, and one Model “K” front-drive, one-axle truck tractor which motorized the previously horse-drawn American LaFrance Metropolitan steamer, were purchased from the Seagrave Company at a cost of $28,800, and were placed into service over a four-month period November 1917 – March 1918.  

The first Seagrave rig to arrive was, as promised, the city service truck, which almost immediately replaced the ex-Chattanooga F. D. LaFrance / Hayes 55-foot HDA that Evanston was leasing from American LaFrance. Seagrave company rep Michael Shafer rode along as the city service truck was shipped by rail from Columbus, Ohio to Evanston during the last week of November, and then Shafer remained in Evanston for the next two months providing driver training, teaching pump operations, and being available in case any of the new rigs might encounter mechanical issues while being placed into service.

The city service truck’s first major fire was one of the ten worst fires in Evanston’s history up until that point in time It was a $30,000 blaze in the early-morning hours of December 30, 1917, at the Evanston Strand Theater at 1560 Sherman Avenue. Two men were seen running from the movie palace a short time prior to the fire being discovered, but arson could not be proven because of the extensive fire & smoke damage.  It was the second fire at the Strand in two years. The first occurred on February 13, 1916, and it was clearly accidental, sparked by an electrical short in the orchestra pit, and the EFD was able to knock it down quickly with chemicals. There was minimal damage. Located next-door to the Evanston Police station and around the corner from Fire Station # 1, the Evanston Strand Theater would later be rebuilt as the Valencia Theater, one of three splendid Balaban & Katz movie theaters that operated in Evanston for many years. The others were the Varsity and the Coronet.     

The next of the new Seagrave apparatus to arrive were the three pumpers. A 750-GPM triple-combination pumper and two chemical & hose 300-GPM booster pumpers, but not before they were misplaced somewhere on a railroad siding in Chicago for several days in January during the Great Blizzard of ’18. Once they were located and sent onward to Evanston, the rigs had their pumps tested at Becker’s Pond – now known as Boltwood Park – under the supervision of Seagrave’s Michael Shafer and EFD Chief Albert Hofstetter. All three easily passed their pump tests, with the pumps on the two 300-GPM booster-pumpers actually rated at 325 GPM. The three rigs were quickly placed into service. The 750-GPM pumper replaced the Robinson Jumbo as Engine No. 1 at Station # 1, one of the two chemical & hose booster-pumpers replaced the 1902 Seagrave combination truck / hose-tender as Truck No. 2 at Station # 2, and the other chemical & hose booster-pumper replaced the 1885 Davenport H&L / hose tender as Truck No. 3 at Station # 3.     

With the exception of the 1906 American LaFrance Metropolitan 700-GPM steamer and its three horses, all remaining horse-drawn apparatus were scrapped and the horses either retired, sold, or transferred to the street department as the new Seagrave automobile pumpers were placed into service in January 1918. On February 21, 1918, the EFD’s last three horses were retired and the horse-drawn American LaFrance Metropolitan steamer was sent to the Seagrave factory to be ‘tractorized‘, with a front-drive, one-axle Model “K” tractor permanently connected to the steamer. The tractorized-steamer was returned to the EFD in March and placed back into service as Engine No. 2 at Station # 2.       

Initially, the plan was to overhaul the Robinson Jumbo after the arrival of the Seagrave apparatus. Then it would be kept it in front-line service as Engine No. 3 at Fire Station # 3 with one of the new Seagrave chemical & hose 300-GPM booster pumpers running as the second piece of the company, a rig known in the horse-drawn era prior to 1918 as Truck No. 3. However, due to its history of mechanical problems, the difficulty in locating spare parts, and excessive vibration when operating at full-throttle, Chief Hofstetter decided to remove the Jumbo from front-line duty after only six years of service. It was placed into reserve at Station # 1 as the EFD’s lone reserve automobile apparatus to be known henceforth as Engine No. 4. As a result, the new Seagrave chemical & hose 300-GPM booster pumper that had been assigned to Station # 3 ostensibly as the company’s chemical engine & hose-truck instead became Engine No. 3, and ran as North Evanston’s first-due pumper for the next twenty years!   

The Robinson Jumbo was the EFD’s only spare automobile apparatus until August 1929, when it’s pump and chemical tank were disconnected and it was transferred to the street department for use as a utility truck. The street department was still using mostly horse-drawn wagons in the 1920s, so any kind of automobile – even an old fire engine — was a welcome addition to the fleet.

Meanwhile, the tractor-drawn steamer was retired from front-line service and placed into reserve in 1930 after the EFD sent the steamer’s 1917 Seagrave chemical & hose 300-GPM booster pumper back to the Seagrave factory in Ohio to be rebuilt as a 500-GPM triple-combination pumper with a 50-gallon (water) booster tank. The tractor-drawn steamer would remain the EFD’s lone reserve apparatus until 1938, although the Robinson Jumbo was available to be temporarily returned to the EFD from the street department to run as the tractor-drawn steamer’s hose truck anytime the reserve steamer was placed into front-line service.

Evanston’s firefighting force was increased to 41 in 1918, with three, nine-man engine companies and one, 13-man truck company in service. Because Evanston firefighters were working a schedule of 24 hours on / 12 hours off, 2/3 of the manpower was on duty at any one time, so effectively the three engine companies were staffed with six men, and the truck company was staffed with eight or nine, with one man from Truck Co. 1 detailed as the chief’s buggy-driver.

Assistant Chief Thomas Norman retired after 22 years of service with the EFD in 1918, and Capt. Ed Johnson was promoted to assistant chief, Lt. Tom McEnery wqs promoted to captain, and firemen Harry Schaeffer and Ed McEnery (Tom’s brother) were promoted to lieutenant. In addition, Earnest Erickson – the Robinson company engineer who was hired as a temporary civilian motor driver in 1911 and then ended up spending the next six years of his life driving, operating the pump, and repairing (mostly repairing) the Jumbo — was summarily dismissed from the EFD after Engine Co. 1 Assistant Motor Driver Arthur McNeil (finally!) passed the civil service exam for motor driver.

Frank Altenberg – who had been hired as an engineer and assigned to the steamer at Station # 2 in 1916 after William Sampson retired with a disability pension — also was able to qualify as a motor driver and was assigned to Fire Station # 3. Because no Evanston firemen were able to pass the civil service exam for assistant motor driver, Fireman John Monks was appointed temporary assistant motor driver and moved back & forth between Station # 1 and Station # 3 as the relief driver for McNeil and Altenberg.

Unlike Frank Altenberg, none of the other three EFD steamer engineers – J. A. “Dad” Patrick, Max Kraatz, and William Richards – were able to qualify as motor drivers, so all three were assigned to Fire Station # 2,  with Patrick the engineer, and Kraatz and Richards the assistant engineers. Besides operating the American LaFrance Metropolitan tractor-drawn steamer (Engine No. 2), the trio were also responsible for maintaining the 1895 Ahrens Metropolitan steamer that was moved to from Station # 3 to Station # 2 and placed into reserve as Engine No. 5.   

Motor Engine Co. 1 was reorganized at this time, with Truck Co. 1 under the command of Assistant Chief Ed Johnson and Engine Co. 1 under the command of Captain Tom McEnery once again operating as separate companies at Station #1 as had been the case prior to 1912. Engine Co. 2 under the command of Capt. Carl Harms remained in service at Station #2, and Engine Co. 3 under the command of Capt. George Hargreaves remained in service at Station #3. The assistant company officers were J. E. Mersch (Engine Co. 1), Harry Schaeffer (Truck Co. 1), Ed McEnery (Engine Co. 2), and Pat Gayner (Engine Co. 3).

With automobile apparatus now in service at all three fire stations, and with two separate companies now in service at Station # 1, the EFD’s response to alarms also changed. Instead of Motor Engine Co. 1 responding to all alarms city-wide with one of the two horse-drawn engine companies, Truck Co. 1 now responded to all alarms city-wide, following the first-due engine company, either Engine Co. 1, Engine Co. 2, or Engine Co. 3. The three engine company districts were established as Greenleaf Street to Foster Street (Engine Co. 1), south of Greenleaf Street (Engine Co. 2), and north of Foster Street (Engine Co. 3).

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,