From Phil Stenholm:

Another installment about the History of the Evanston Fire Department



With enthusiasm for the Fire Station Relocation Plan lagging, the world-famous Rand Corporation was hired by the Evanston City Council in 1986 to conduct an independent analysis of the Evanston Fire Department, and then make recommendations with respect to the advisability of relocating one or more of Evanston’s fire stations in order to improve response times to structure fires and EMS calls. Rand was advised that the locations of Station # 2 and # 4 were “locked in stone,” but relocation of Station # 1, Station # 3, and / or Station # 5 would be acceptable.

Rand first determined that the two areas that had incurred the most structure fires and EMS calls over the  previous twenty years were two specific square-mile areas, one bounded by Howard Street on the south, Ridge Avenue on the west, Main Street on the north, and Lake Michigan on the east, with the “bull’s eye” at Oakton & Custer (essentially Station # 2’s first-due area), and the other bounded by Dempster Street on the south, the Metropolitan Sanitary District canal on the west and north, and the C&NW RR tracks north of Emerson Street and Asbury Avenue south of Emerson on the east, with its “bull’s eye” at Emerson & Dodge. The downtown area had a disproportionate number of EMS calls, but not many structure fires. 

Rand confirmed that the square mile in southeast Evanston was well-served by Fire Station # 2. However, the intersections furthest from an Evanston fire station in 1986 — Church & Pitner, Emerson & Hartrey, and Foster & Grey — were within the other square mile. Not surprisingly, Rand determined that the response times to structure fires and EMS calls in the 5th Ward would be significantly decreased if Fire Station # 1 was relocated to Lake & Ashland, and if Stations # 3 and # 5 were consolidated into a new station at Ashland & Noyes. 

There would, unfortunately, be a corresponding and not insignificant increase in response times to incidents in the downtown area and especially in the northwest corner of the city, but the overall average response times city-wide would be somewhat reduced.

Rand also recommended that the “jump ambulance” be located at Station # 2 and be staffed by personnel  from Truck Co. 22 when needed. Rand further recommended that the two full-service MICU ambulances be located at the new Station # 1 at Lake & Ashland and at the new Station # 3 at Ashland & Noyes. Rand did not recommend locating an ambulance at Fire Station # 4, although not having an ambulance at Station # 4 would have meant that Station # 4 would have only three firefighters instead of five, and the EFD chiefs did not want any of the fire stations to be staffed by only three-firefighters.

With the Rand Report recommending construction of new fire stations at 1500 Lake Street and 2210 Ashland  Avenue, it seemed likely that the two new fire stations would be built. EFD chiefs disagreed with the Rand Report regarding deployment of companies, and decided to move the second engine proposed by Rand for the new Station # 1 to the new Station # 3, and place the two full service MICU ambulances at Stations # 3 and # 4 instead of at Stations # 1 and # 3.

However, just as political opposition helped torpedo the proposed new Station # 2 at Kamen Park in South Evanston soon after it was proposed, unexpected opposition to the proposed new fire station at Ashland & Noyes suddenly surfaced after the Rand Report was released.

Residents in the “High Ridge” area of northwest Evanston (northwest of Crawford & Gross Point Road) did not wish to suffer a minimum 5-1/2 – to – six minute response time to fires and medical emergencies in their neighborhood, which was sure to be the case if the closest fire station was located at Ashland & Noyes. They argued that just because there were few calls for service from their neighborhood should not mean that they should receive substandard emergency services.

Wilmette Fire Station # 27 at 747 Illinois Road was only a mile from Central & Crawford, and so Engine 27 and Ambulance 27 would have been able to respond to incidents in the “High Ridge” area of Evanston within two or three minutes. This would have mitigated the argument against the consolidation of Station # 3 and # 5 at Ashland & Noyes, but an “automatic aid” agreement between Wilmette and Evanston for this purpose was not proposed, probably because Evanston had nothing to offer Wilmette in return. 

At the end of the day, Ambulance 2 was relocated from Station # 1 to Station # 4 in 1987, and the city council agreed to rebuild Fire Station # 4 and remodel Station # 2. The aldermen then tabled any further discussion of building new fire stations.The new Station # 4 was rebuilt on the site of the original Fire Station # 4 during 1989 at a cost of $643,000, and Station # 2 was extensively remodeled in 1990 to provide accommodations for female firefighters and more space on the apparatus floor. Also, Truck Co. 21 was relocated from Fire Station # 1 to Fire Station # 3 in 1991, becoming the reborn “Truck Co. 23.”

With a rebuilt firehouse in service in southwest Evanston, and with a truck company in service at Station # 3, new Evanston Fire Chief James Hunt (ex-Cape Coral, Florida F. D.) proposed in March 1993 that Station # 1 be moved about a mile to the northwest and be rebuilt as a three-bay firehouse on a vacant lot formerly home to a gas station at the southeast corner of Emerson & Wesley, about halfway between the proposed new fire stations at 1500 Lake Street and 2210 Ashland Ave. 

As part of Chief Hunt’s plan, Station # 3 and Station # 5 would remain where they were, even though with Engine 21 located on Emerson Street, it would be feasible to split Engine 23’s district between Engine Co. 21 (east) and Engine Co. 25 (west), with the Metropolitan Sanitary District canal serving as the divider. Also, as had been proposed as part of the original Fire Station Relocation Plan in 1984. Station # 1 at 909 Lake Street would be converted into a headquarters facility, housing training classrooms, administrative offices, and equipment storage.

Despite expected opposition from downtown Evanston merchants and wealthy residents of the lakefront area of the 1st ward who did not want Fire Station # 1 to be relocated, Chief Hunt’s plan was very popular with residents in the 5th Ward (who finally got a fire station) and with residents in the 6th Ward in northwest Evanston and with residents in the 7th Ward in northeast Evanston (who got to keep their fire stations), and so it was readily approved by the city council.

However, the new Station # 1 at 1332 Emerson Street was not actually completed for almost five years (February 1998), after unexpectedly high construction costs nearly doubled the project’s price-tag from $1.2 to $2.2 million.Plans to convert the old Fire Station # 1 to the EFD’s new headquarters met similar delays, so the fire department’s administrative offices were located in a cramped second-floor office in leased commercial space on Dodge Avenue for several years.