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.