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.