Archive for December 9th, 2013

The Inspector Generals Report on Chicago Fire Department Response Times


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Here is a link to the complete report

thanks Bill

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Waukegan Fire Department history (part 2)

More historical information from the Waukegan Fire Department. This information includes some redundancy from the previous post.

1800’s through 1929

Waukegan, one of the oldest communities in Illinois, can trace its history back to 1673 when Jesuit missionary Father Pierre Marquette and explorer Louis Joliet came upon the tree-covered bluffs in the area along Lake Michigan settled by the Pottawamie Indians.  Trappers and traders followed, building a trading post and stockade in the early 1700’s.  They called it “Petite” or Little Fort.   Eventually the Frenchmen abandoned the fort.  The first permanent settlers came from Chicago in 1835.  The community soon thrived with factories, stores and new residences.  In 1841, Little Fort was named county seat, taking that title from Libertyville.  Between 1841 and 1846, its population had grown from 150 to 750.

By 1849, the town had a population of 2500, and was officially listed as a port with the United States government.   With this growth, “Little” no longer seemed appropriate in its name.  On March 31, 1849, the Village of Little Fort, Illinois changed its name to Waukegan, derived from the Pottawamie term for Little Fort, Waukegance.

Early settlers were attracted to Waukegan because of its port. Produce and grain from Lake and McHenry County farms was shipped via Lake Michigan to Chicago.  The creation of the Illinois Parallel Railroad (now the Chicago and Northwestern) in 1855 brought manufacturing to the city.

A need for fire protection

With the community’s rapid and extensive growth came the need to provide basic services to its residents and businesses.  The town needed fire protection for its warehouses, factories, hotels and the many frame houses that sprung up along its streets.  As such, the first volunteer firemen organized the Waukegan Hook and Ladder Company No. 1 on December 27, 1849.

The new company included 21 volunteer firemen, who manned a small hook and ladder wagon and fought fires with axes and leather and wooden buckets.  The members furnished their own uniforms: the only compensation a volunteer received for being in the company was a rebate of his poll tax.  A 25 cent fee was imposed on anyone who was absent from roll call or from meetings.   Members of the early department were recognized political, business, and social leaders of the community.  The meetings were held at businesses or an establishment owned by one or more of the members until a permanent facility was built in the early 1850’s.

During its first weeks, foreman J.D. Davis led the company: J.H. Hill took over that position on January 7, 1850.  The other officers were E.S.L. Bacheldor, 1st Assistant Foreman; William M. Case, 2nd Assistant Foremen; W.C. Tiffany, Secretary; and William Hallowell, Assistant Secretary. The company fought is first fire on December 11, 1950.  The blaze was at the Kirk foundry, a one-story wooden building at the foot of County Street.

Equipment and facilities were dominant issues in the company’s early history.  On May 3, 1850, a committee was appointed to determine the cost of a fire engine for Waukegan and to find a suitable building to house the Hook and Ladder Company.  Two years later, on October 25, 1852, the city passed an ordinance that authorized the purchase of a fire engine from the City of Chicago as well as the purchase of 300 feet of hose pipe from Charles E. Peck, of Chicago.  This led to the formation of the first engine company.

The Waukegan firemen’s first uniform was adopted on August 11, 1853.  It consisted of red shirts with blue collars and cuffs, blue caps with gilt buttons, and black leather belts. The style of trousers was left up to each fireman.

The first fire engine

The company’s first fire engine turned out to be a disappointment.  The Regular Bucket Brigade #1, after running several trial runs, reported on October 5, 1853 that the engine would not be effective in an emergency. The report recommended that the engine be returned to Chicago.  Waukegan notified the City of Chicago, by way of attorney, that the engine was worthless.  The village directed James Wiseman to put the engine in good order. One year later, on October 20, 1855, Mr. Wiseman returned the engine to Chicago. That city returned to Waukegan the bonds that were used to finance the engine’s purchase.

On March 13, 1854, the village authorized $825 for the purchase of a 32-man power fire engine from L. Button and Company of Waterford.  The engine was delivered, along with a $32.50 bill of freight, on December 14, 1854.  Later that month, the council approved the first payment on the engine of $275, which had been raised by subscription.  At the same meeting on December 30, the  council approved $50 payable to S.W. Dowst for six months rent on a building to house the company.

The first move toward the establishment of a permanent fire facility was made on June 21, 1855, when the village authorized $371 to purchase a lot from Joseph Wallon.  At that same meeting, the council approved a warrant of $450 to give to William H.J. Nichols for the construction of a new firehouse on the lot.  The hook and ladder and engine companies met jointly on April 7, 1856, and W.H. Hill was elected as the company’s Chief Engineer.  In 1858, James S. Barker succeeded Engineer Hill.  Then on January 4, 1859, Horatio James was elected to fill Chief Barker’s un-expired term.

Waukegan took its first step toward becoming a city when on January 23, 1859; the State of Illinois granted the village a special charter.  An election was held on February 23, 1859 to poll the voting residents on the issue.  The results were 407 for incorporation and 122 against. That vote officially made Waukegan a city, with 5.62 square miles.  At the new City Council’s initiatory meeting, it placed the matter of electing the fire company’s chief officers in hands of the firemen.

The city continued to be challenged to provide services and infrastructures to meet the needs of its growing population.  A resolution passed by the board on May 13, 1959 resolved one of those issues.  The resolution required all male residents of the city between the ages of 21 and 50 to furnish three days of labor on the streets and highways.  A person could commute the labor by paying 75 cents for each day.  All fire department volunteers were exempt from the resolution.  This exemption threatened to create a shortage of men to work on roads as more men preferred fire service.  In response, on May 6, 1867, the council moved that, “the committee on fire and water be instructed to confer with the officers of the fire department and urge the importance of reducing the number to the smallest possible number and still not impair its efficiency as the present condition of the roads requires all the poll tax for their repair.”

On April 7, 1860, an ordinance was recommended that would create a fire limit, stating, “No wood building shall hereafter be erected”.  In later years, the City Fire Brigade would insist upon the building of firewalls and brick buildings in the dense downtown to prevent the spread of fire.  On April 9, 1866, the department was divided into three sections: an engine company, a hose company, and a hook and ladder company.  Along with the change came the establishment of the position of Chief Engineer.  C.G. Buell was the first person elected to this post and held it until 1872.

At the January 3, 1870 meeting of the city council, the fire department requested heat for the fire engine house.  The engine and hose were freezing up and could not be used.  In response to increased concerns about the adequacy of the city’s fire protection, the city purchased a Silsby Steam Fire Engine, 250 feet of hose, and a hose cart. According to a later article in the Waukegan Daily Sun. “The engine was brought here and exhibited and tested the latter part of August, 1874, and was accepted Sept. 7, 1874, the consideration being $4,800 for the engine and hose and $300 for the hose cart.”  Unlike the engine purchased a decade earlier, this one stood the test of time.  It was rebuilt in 1892, and was “as capable of doing the same excellent service in 1902 as its initial trial before Waukegan citizens.”  Also in August 1874, the city council settled on the Hogan lots on Washington Street for the location of the new engine house.  On Oct. 5, 1874, the council approved the hiring of William H. Wright as engineer of the Steam Fire Engine at a salary of $125 per year.  Then in January 1875, a new fire company was organized, consisting of nine pump men and fifteen hose men, to operate the old hand engine.

The Great Chicago Fire

The debate over the fire engine did not keep the Waukegan Fire Department from coming to the aid of their brother firemen in Chicago.  On October 8, 1871, residents of Waukegan saw a red glow along the horizon to the south.   Soon after, members of the Waukegan Fire Department received a telegram from firemen in Chicago, asking for help.  Volunteer fireman Fred Palmer, William Sunderline, Patrick Cunningham, William Wright, Harry Kingley, William Yager, George Ludlow, C.B. Kittredge and Phillip Brand took a train to Chicago, arriving at the Northwestern depot to assist the flame-ridden city.  It was also reported that the department sent a cart and 700 feet of hose.

The city was still growing at a rapid pace during the 1870’s.  The city dug artesian wells early in that decade.  In October 1875, the council reviewed a proposal to pipe water from the artesian wells to fire hydrants and to build a water tank to be used for fire fighting.  In June of the following year, the council appropriated $300 for uniforms for the men in Fire Engine Company #1.  On Sept. 7, 1876, the Fire and Water committee authorized the laying of a water main on Genesee Street, south of Washington, to Belvidere Street.  Since there was a surplus of artesian well water, the committee recommended that water mains be provided to all parts of the city as soon as funds became available.

Further steps towards modernizing the department were taken in 1880 when the Fire and Water committee authorized the installation of a telephone to connect the engine house to the city engineer’s residence.  On April 3, 1882, the council authorized the Fire and Water committee to repair the engine house and city lockup. (At the time, the city jail adjoined the engine house.)  In June of that same year, the council approved the building of a 300-barrel cistern in the cellar of the engine house to be used by the Steam Fire Engine.

A paid staff

Even as steps toward modernization were being made, interest among volunteers was waning.  Few attended the annual meeting on January 10, 1882. On April 17, 1882, Chief Engineer Crabtree reported to the council that the fire department companies had disbanded.  The Waukegan Weekly Gazette carried an opinion that “In a city of 5,000 inhabitants there ought to be one or more organized companies. The city has a large number of neat uniforms that ought to be gathered together and only re-distributed when companies have been well organized.” An alderman suggested that a company of ten men be organized to be paid five dollars each whenever called to put out a fire. There were objections to this plan by those who feared that it would cause some men to set fires in order to raise their pay.  As a result, three aldermen were appointed to a committee to develop a plan for re-organization.  The debate continued for the next several years. In 1886 and 1887, significant steps were taken toward the goal of having a paid professional staff. The Chief Engineer was added to the city payroll at $50 a year and ten other firemen received $25 annual salary.

On September 7, 1884, the council had held up a bill to make water records until a map of the water mains and connections could be made. The clerk was instructed to issue water licenses for all parties using the water from the city’s artesian well and have the City Marshal collect the bills.  In 1888, a tax levy was adopted and $3000 allocated to the Fire and Water Committee.

In 1889, Central School was totally destroyed by fire. At its February 4th meeting, the council approved the use of several church basements as temporary schoolrooms. On January 5, 1891, P.W. Cunningham resigned as Chief of the Fire Department and the council approved the nomination of George D. Wordily as Fire Chief. Chief Wardil presented a report at the council meeting of February 2nd, 1891 and asked for approval of a new chemical engine and another Hook and Ladder Truck. The report also asked for 3 full-time firemen and another 5 to 7 men who would be a fixed fee for every fire to which they reported.

Notable historical efforts pertaining to early fire prevention efforts included a request from Dr. Norman J. Roberts on June 1, 1891 to erect a frame building at the southeast corner of State Street (now known as Sheridan Rd.) and Washington Street. The building proposal included a plan to cover the exterior sides and roof with sheet metal, while the inside would be “fireproofed”. The council granted approval. Two weeks later, on June 15, Mr. Robert Dady brought forward a petition to build a frame building that would employ corrugated iron siding with a roof of tar and gravel in order to comply with a new city ordinance on fire proofing buildings.

Recognized for their service

The Waukegan Fire Department was honored for its outstanding service by the Bluff City Fire Company #1, City of Kenosha on April 1, 1892 while battling the fire at the Northwestern Wire Mattress Company, also known as the Simmons factory. In this spectacular fire, the Kenosha Crib Company, the Baldwin Coal Sheds, and four blocks of lumber lying between the Lake Michigan and Kenosha’s Main Street were wiped out. The City of Kenosha bestowed a large hand sewn weighted silk tapestry to WFD commemorating its appreciation for its response to a large fire which required many fire departments from many communities in order to extinguish the blaze.

Following a disastrous fire that destroyed the downtown area in early 1893, the city council employed John A. Cole to prepare plans and specifications for a water plant and distribution system.  On April 6, the council passed a motion to erect a powerhouse for the City Water Works.  Shortly thereafter, it approved the purchase of two water pumps–one high duty and one low duty– each with a 2,000,000-gallon capacity. On Feb. 19, 1894, the council formally adopted the city’s comprehensive water works system.

In 1895, twenty-one fire alarm boxes (numbered 3 through 27) were placed within the city, almost exclusively in the downtown area, including Fireman’s Hall at 115 Madison Street.  That year Aldermen George M. Pedley, John W. Hull, and Ernest C. Alford served on the Fire and Water Committee, which reviewed the operations of the Fire Department.

By 1897, the Waukegan Fire Department continued its growth with the acquisition of a new hook and ladder, hose company, and first class steam fire engine.  The water supply from Lake Michigan was pumped in mains that ranged from six to 19 inches, providing water pressure at the pump of 100 pounds per square inch.  There were 159 fire hydrants and 30 alarm boxes located throughout the city.  The firehouse was equipped with a gong and alarm system which consisted of two circuits, and more than twenty miles of wire with a gong and register in the engine house.  Gongs were also installed in the residences of the chief, assistant chief, and small bells were located in the homes of many of the firemen.  There was also a telephone connection and communication from the street alarm fire boxes, water works, engine house and at the chief’s residence.

A bad year for fires

An 1899 fire at the United States Sugar Refinery caused over $150,000 in damage. However, the most serious fire of 1899 occurred on November 4, 1899 at the American Steel and Wire Company mill with damage reported to be over $500,000 — an incredible sum of money at that time.  A disastrous fire on February 26, 1901 claimed two lives at the Alden Organ Factory.

By 1902, the Fire Department territory included the six miles within the city limits. The alarm system included 33 alarm boxes throughout the city.  The department’s equipment included one Silsby Steam Fire Engine, 1,875 feet of rubber hose, 1,150 feet of cotton hose, one hook and ladder truck carrying 247 feet of ladders, chemical extinguishers, hand pumps and the many minor appliances found “only in the best fire houses”.  Chief Arch MacArthur and Assistant Chief Sars O’Farrel commanded 13 men.

In 1904, from January 12 through 14, Waukegan hosted the annual convention of the Illinois Firemen’s Association.  Chief Sars O’Farell, and his command staff including Assistant Chief D.G. Hutton, Foreman Richard Drew, and Assistant Foreman O. Stanley organized and hosted the convention.  Other department members who were organized and were delegates to the convention were:  O. Stanley, Chris Conners, David Gibson, J.H. Jansen, J. Balz, A. Murray, Gene Hicks, Ed Webb (substitute) and Charles Jackson (substitute).

The fire alarm system was expanded to include 75 boxes. Alarms transmitted through the Illinois Bell telephone company lines and two-way radios in the fire apparatus greatly facilitated this change.  These alarm boxes continued in service until 1952.

Reduced fire loss

On June 1, 1906, Sars O’Farrell, in his capacity as Fire Marshal, made his annual report to the City Council and Mayor.  For that year, the department had 66 alarms, with a total fire loss of $3745, which was a significant reduction of the previous year’s loss of $9321.  Mr. O’Farrell reported that “Cap” the truck horse was in bad shape and recommended the purchase of a new team of horses and a concurrent steamer.  Other points raised in the report included mention of the new bath tub added to the fire station, the need for stricter fire ordinances to address unsafe building construction methods, the near-collision of fire equipment with the city’s street cars due to the street cars’ unsafe operation, and a request to limit the use of fire hydrants by only fire department personnel.

First Waukegan LODD

The North Shore Electric Plant Fire (located on Spring Street across from the Northwestern Train Depot) occurred on April 23, 1908. The fire caused a giant flywheel to break from its bearings, which resulted in the death of Fireman John Hobart Jansen.  Mr. Jansen was the first member of the Waukegan Fire Department to die in the line of duty since the department was founded in 1849. Fireman Jansen left a wife and four children at the time of his passing.

Merchant Policeman Joe Paddock also died in that fire. Fireman Balz and Captain Gibson narrowly escaped death or serious injury as they were near Fireman Jansen who was operating a hose line at the blaze when the explosion took place. Beyond his duties as a fireman, Mr. Jansen was also the manager of the Waukegan Telephone Exchange

On July 26, 1910, Fire Marshal Sars O’Farrell reported that the loss from a fire at Thomas Brass and Iron Company fire was $122,657, a substantial loss for that time. Also lost at the fire was the neighboring Durand Steel Locker Company.

Local newspapers were instrumental in recording the fire department’s history. The year 1911 saw the WFD as the topic for numerous articles.  On Jan. 7, Mr. L.O. Wainwright complemented the fire department its excellent work while battling a blaze at his factory on Chestnut Street. On March 24, 1911, the paper reported on the groundbreaking for the new fire station at South Avenue and McAlister Street. A March 29th fire gutted the J.H. Norlander building at 1112 McAlister Street, which housed a butcher shop and a grocery store. A fire in the Larsen building on North Genesee Street, which started in the basement, resulted in $35,000 in damages.  Fireman Joe McLick, who also worked at the wire mill, was injured while performing axe work at that blaze. Waukegan’s Commissioner of public property, Mr. Elmer V. Ortis reported to the Waukegan Daily Gazette on May 23, 1911 that he had received numerous offers to trade land for the site of the new Central Fire Station. On May 18, 1911, the Gazette reported that Chiefs Hutton and O’Farrell had tapped firemen Gray and Webb as the new Captains of the Southside and Central Fire Stations. On May 31, 1911, the Gazette reported that the Chief of Police had offered a $10 reward for information leading to the arrest of a false alarm “fiend” which caused the fire department to respond to six false alarms from designated fire alarm boxes over a six day period. Chief Sars O’Farrell confirmed the mischievous behavior.

The first motor driven fire engine sped over some of Waukegan’s unpaved streets in 1912 sometimes having to utilize chains on hard rubber tires to navigate snowy and muddy roadways.

The Central Fire Station was remodeled that same year, and officially dedicated on January 27, 1913.  It had developed into a social center for the community.  Residents gathered to watch the firemen respond to alarms.

Manufacturers Terminal burned on May 2, 1918. As a result of the damages caused by this fire, the federal government demanded that the city develop a fire protection system.

As reported in the Waukegan Daily Sun, Fireman Julius E. Schoenke died from pneumonia on May 3, 1928 after a very lengthy hospitalization.  He was 34 when he died. Three years earlier, Fireman Schoenke had sustained a fractured leg when he was thrown from his fire truck in an accident at Belvidere and Genesee Street. Fireman Schoenke was a 10-year veteran of the department. His wife, the former Signe Moberg, was a maternal aunt to a one of Waukegan’s more famous natives, the writer Ray Bradbury.







































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