From Phil Stenholm:

Another installment about the History of the Evanston Fire Department


The “Fire Department Modernization Plan” proposed by Chief Henry Dorband and approved by Evanston voters in 1951 and 1953 led to the construction of three new fire stations, each completed in 1955. With the completion of the rebuilt Fire Station # 2, the relocated Fire Station # 3, and the new Fire Station # 5, Evanston had at last met the recommendations offered by the National Board of Fire Underwriters in 1935.

As of September 1955, all insured structures within the corporate city limits of Evanston were within 1-1/2 miles of a fire station and engine company. The five stations served Evanston well for many years, providing average response times in the 2-to-3 minute range, with no response time (normally) longer than four minutes.

In 1984, at the behest of Evanston Fire Chief Sam Hicks, city council staff floated a “Fire Station Relocation Plan” designed to replace the city’s five fire stations with three new ones, to be constructed up & down the central spine of Evanston. One of the new stations was to be constructed at Willard D. Kamen Park at Asbury & South Boulevard in south Evanston, another was to be built on vacant land at the southwest corner of Lake & Ashland in central-west Evanston that had been designated as a future city park, and a third was to be constructed on the site of the abandoned Municipal Testing Lane at Ashland & Noyes in north-central Evanston.

The station at Lake & Ashland would house Engine 21, Engine 24, and Ambulance 1, the station at Asbury & South Boulevard would house Engine 22, Truck 22, and Ambulance 2, and the station at Ashland & Noyes would house Engine 23, Truck 23, and Ambulance 3, all apparatus fully staffed, and with no “jump companies.” Each of the three new fire stations would have three “drive-through” bays, modern ventilation systems, and separate facilities for female firefighters.The new station at Ashland & Noyes might have also been a regional training center.

The shift commander (F-2), a driver for Squad 21, reserve apparatus (including Squad 21), equipment storage, and EFD administrative offices would be located at the existing Fire Station # 1 at 909 Lake Street, which would become more of an auxiliary fire station. Since Station # 1 would continue to exist in some fashion, the new fire station at Lake & Ashland would likely have been designated Fire Station # 4.

The two main purposes of the Fire Station Relocation Plan were to improve average response times by relocating fire stations to the areas of Evanston that incurred the most incidents, and to staff each of the three stations with eight firefighters, so that firefighters and paramedics would arrive at the scene of an incident as a group, rather than one company alone. Sort of like a “task force.”

Staffing each fire station with eight firefighters and/or paramedics would help firefighters coordinate operations on the fireground immediately upon arrival at a fire, satisfying the “two in / two out” requirements, and allowing companies to initiate search & rescue and an offensive interior attack without delay. It was not unusual for single companies like Engine 23, Engine 24, and Engine 25 to arrive on the scene of a working fire with just three firefighters, and the company would either have to begin operations without back-up support, or else wait until additional crews arrived before initiating search & rescue and an offensive interior attack.

Residents of the 5th Ward and their representatives on the city council were thrilled with the Fire Station Relocation Plan. Under the plan, the 5th ward would finally get the emergency services it had been promised  — and then subsequently denied — when Fire Station # 5 was constructed on Central Street in northwest Evanston in 1955, instead of at the originally-proposed Perkins Woods site at Grant & Bennett that was more than a half-mile closer to the 5th Ward.

While the 5th ward was very happy to finally receive some consideration from the city, the Fire Station Relocation Plan was generally not well-received in other parts of Evanston. Once a neighborhood has a fire station, it’s hard to explain to the residents of that area how emergency services would improve by relocating their fire station further away, even if the station is being relocated to an area of the city from where the most calls for service are received. This was the case with the neighborhoods served by all five of the existing fire stations in 1984, but especially for the residents served by fire stations # 4 and # 5.

There also was the matter of the aerial-ladder truck that was to be located in the new fire station at Asbury & South Boulevard having to somehow zig-zag through the underpass at Callan & South Boulevard when responding to alarms east of the CTA tracks along South Boulevard north of Calvary Cemetery. In terms of responding to calls without delay and negotiating traffic to get there, the existing Fire Station # 2 at Madison & Custer was actually in a good location. In addition, the residents in the neighborhood of Kamen Park at Asbury & South Boulevard did not wish to exchange a park for a fire station, even though only one section of the park would be used by the fire department.

As a result, the initial plan to build a new fire station at Asbury & South Boulevard that would combine Station # 2 and Station # 4 was dropped very soon after it was proposed. Instead, Fire Station # 2 was to be remodeled and would remain where it was at 702 Madison Street, with Engine Co. 22 and Truck Co. 22 located at the station with six firefighters combined assigned to the two companies.

The dilapidated Station # 4 structure at 1817 Washington Street could not be saved, but rather than just raze it and relocate Engine Co. 24 to the new Station # 1 at Lake & Ashland as had been originally proposed, the city council decided to have Station # 4 rebuilt on the same site as the 1927 facility. Also, Ambulance 2 was to be  relocated to Station # 4, so that the firehouse would have five firefighters assigned to it instead of just three.

The main problem with keeping Station # 2 and Station # 4 where they were already located is that it meant there would be only two engine companies located north of Main Street, and that just was not acceptable to anyone. So the plan to exchange the fifth engine company for a fully-staffed third MICU ambulance and a dedicated driver for Squad 21 was dropped,

Hence, it was proposed that Engine 25 remain in service as a second engine company at the new Station # 3 at Ashland & Noyes, with unmanned but fully-equipped MICU Ambulance 3 and the unmanned Squad 21 sharing a fourth bay at Station # 3. A-3 and Squad 21 would be staffed by personnel from one of the companies from Station # 3 if needed.

Under this configuration, the new three-bay Station # 1 at 1500 Lake Street would have five firefighters (E-21 and A-1), remodeled three-bay Station # 2 at 702 Madison Street would have six firefighters (E-22 and T-22), the new Station # 3 at 2210 Ashland Avenue would have nine firefighters (E-23, E-25, and T-23, plus unmanned A-3 and S-21 in a fourth bay), and the rebuilt two-bay Station # 4 at 1817 Washington Street would have five firefighters (E-24 and A-2). The shift commander (F-2) would be located at the new Fire Station # 1 instead of at old Fire Station # 1.

At least that was the plan…