Archive for January 26th, 2021

Fatal fire in Aurora, 1-25-21

Excerpts from

After a passerby called 911 about 3:45 a.m. on Monday, Aurora firefighters arrived outside a two-story home in the 500 block of Spruce Street and found three young children who said their mother was still inside.

One firefighter was hurt as they moved the mother out a window of a second-floor bedroom, which suddenly caught fire. The 51-year-old captain was treated for burns to his upper back, neck, and ear. The 39-year-old mother was taken by paramedics to Mercy Medical Center in Aurora, where she was pronounced dead. 

The cause of the fire remains under investigation. The home was deemed uninhabitable, and there was no working smoke detector. The estimated loss was $85,000.

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Evanston Fire Department history – part 4

More from Phil Stenholm: Part 1Part 2Part 3

As promised, the trustees did attempt to organize a paid fire department in May 1882. They appropriated $850 to compensate the Fire Marshal and other firemen for their service with the fire department. The Fire Marshal was to be paid a part-time salary of $100 per year, each member of a nine-man part-time fire company would be paid $50 per year, and a full-time police/fire officer (combination village night-watchman/fire apparatus caretaker) would receive an annual salary of $600, with 1/2 of the salary to be paid by the police department, and 1/2 of the salary to be paid by the fire department.

Although Fire Marshal Bailey did receive his salary, and ex-Pioneer Hose Company member Austin McDonough was appointed as a full-time police/fire officer, the proposed nine-man part-time fire company did not materialize. The position of police/fire officer was eliminated in May 1885.

On May, 1, 1883, after two years of broken promises by the village board, Chief Bailey once again offered to resign. This time, the trustees accepted his resignation. However, by the spring of 1883, President J. J. Parkhurst and Trustees H. G. Lunt, C. L. Jenks, C. F. Grey, J. C. Allen, and Thomas Lord, the six members of the village board from May 1881, had mostly-all been replaced. Only President Parkhurst remained, and the newer trustees — especially former Evanston Firefighter Alexander Drummond — could see the urgency of establishing a fire company in Evanston that would be effective in fighting fires as the Pioneer and Gilbert hose companies had been, and at the same time, adequately compensated for service to the village.

On July 17, 1883, the Village of Evanston Board of Trustees appointed Davis Street merchant and former C. J. Gilbert Hose Company officer Sam Harrison to the position of Fire Marshal, and directed the new chief to organize a part-time/paid fire company. On July 28th, Chief Harrison who, like Bob Bailey, owned a butcher shop, offered the new 12-man company to the village board for consideration and approval. The company was officially accepted for service on November 6, 1883. Each member of the company was paid $40 per year as compensation for serving as a fireman, with the Fire Marshal still receiving $100.

The EFD’s first horse-drawn hose wagon, built by Evanstonian Gerhard Brienen, and pulled by a horse named Dave, was placed into service in October 1883, as the new fire company was moved into a remodeled paint shop located at the northwest corner of Sherman Avenue and the north alley of Davis Street (later to be the site of the first city parking garage).

In addition to the one-horse, four-wheeled two-axle hose wagon known as the Fire Patrol, and the two-horse Babcock chemical-engine (converted to a horse-drawn appliance in 1884), a horse-drawn hook & ladder wagon with a two-horse hitch built by the Davenport Fire Apparatus Company was placed into service in 1885. From 1885 to 1892, the two horses assigned to pull the hook & ladder truck were also used by the street department to pull a garbage wagon when not needed by the EFD. The Davenport truck remained in continuous front-line service for more than 32 years, until it was removed from service and scrapped in January 1918.

The new company formed by Sam Harrison in 1883 is the genesis of  Engine Co. 1 later known as Engine Co. 21. Chief Harrison personally commanded the company for the first few years, before turning the reigns over to J. E. “Jack” Sweeting in 1895. In addition to being the first captain of Engine Co. 1, Sweeting would also become the EFD’s first Assistant Chief Fire Marshal in 1905. Chief Sweeting spent all 25 of his years with the EFD as a member of Engine Co. 1. He died of stomach cancer on Christmas Day 1912. He also held the Evanston Fire Department’s longevity record for most years on the job, until George Hargreaves celebrated his Silver Anniversary in 1918.

At 10:45 PM on Tuesday, September 25, 1883, the new fire company responded to a report of smoke coming from the Dwight-Buell stable in the rear of the Avenue House at the northeast corner of Davis & Chicago. (The Avenue House hotel, with its quaint wrap-around porch, was torn down and replaced with the modern North Shore Hotel in 1916). Upon arrival at the stable, Chief Sam Harrison was advised that 31-year old coachman George Gale (like Harrison, a native of England) was probably asleep inside. Despite repeated efforts by firemen, Gale died of smoke inhalation before he could be rescued. Since the fire was an obvious case of arson, the Cook County Coroner ruled the death a homicide. There was a belief around the village that the fire behind the Avenue House was related to other recent arson fires in the village, fires that started soon after the new fire company was formed. However, the fires stopped immediately after Gale was killed, and no one was ever charged with his murder.

At 8:50 AM on Thursday, December 20, 1883, a fire was reported at Evanston Township High School. Located at the northeast corner of Crain & Benson (Benson Avenue south of Davis Street was later known as Elmwood Avenue), ETHS was only three months old. Evanston fire fighters were not yet familiar with the floor-plan of the new facility, and had difficulty navigating through the smoky interior. Fearing his men could become trapped while searching for the seat of the blaze, Chief Harrison telegraphed an urgent request for assistance to the Chicago Fire Department, marking the first time in its history that the EFD requested mutual-aid from another fire department. At approximately 11 AM, an express train (engine, coal tender, coach, box car, and flat car) loaded with a steam fire engine, a hose reel, spare hose, ladders, and other fire fighting equipment — plus CFD Assistant Fire Marshal George Petrie (chief of the CFD repair shops) with 10 men–arrived in Evanston, a scant 19 minutes after departing from Chicago. Within another hour, the fire was extinguished, and ETHS was saved with only $5,000 in damage and no injuries.

Sam’s boys were not always quite so successful, however. On Sunday night, November 22, 1884, the First Congregational Church at Grove & Hinman was destroyed by fire after firefighters opened the doors and windows in an effort to ventilate heat and smoke from the building, unintentionally letting in a fierce wind that fanned a relatively small blaze into a fire-storm.  The neighborhood was saved, but not the church, which sustained a $32,000 loss. Twenty-year old rookie fireman Tim Kelleher, at his first fire, suffered smoke inhalation that developed into a respiratory infection, which led to consumption (tuberculosis), and eventually his death in July 1888. How much the smoke inhalation actually contributed to his death some 3-1/2 years later was disputed at the time and is still not known for sure, but it certainly could have been a factor.

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New engine for Schiller Park (more)

Updated production photos of the new engine for Schiller Park

E-ONE fire truck cab after being painted

E-ONE photo

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New engine for Lemont FPD (more)

This from Bill Schreiber:

Update on the Lemont FPD rescue pumper chassis

fire engine being built for the Lemont FPD

Rosenbauer photo

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