Posts Tagged Evanston FD 1st Assistant Chief Tom McEnery

Evanston Fire Department history Part 48

From Phil Stenholm:

Another installment about History of Evanston Fire Department


Lt. John Schmidt returned from Germany in 1949 and was promoted to captain, after Lt. William Owens was promoted to captain and then almost immediately retired after 20 years of service. Also, Lt. Ed Fahrbach was promoted to captain and assigned as company officer of Engine Co. 4, with Irish-born Capt. Michael Garrity using his seniority to effect a transfer from Station # 4 in what was then the back-water hinterlands of southwest Evanston to Station # 3 on Green Bay Road in North Evanston, which unlike Station # 4, was close to both bus and rail transportation. Fireman Charles Novak was promoted to lieutenant at about this same time.

By 1950, Evanston’s population had grown to 73,641, a 20% increase over the population of 1930. The population increase can be mostly-attributed to the post-World War II “baby boom,” as well as to the residential development of both southwest and northwest Evanston. The Evanston Fire Department, however, had not kept pace with the changing times. Despite the invigoration of “new blood” — 50 new firemen, mostly all veterans of WWII, had been hired during the years 1946-49 — the leaders of the EFD were old, sick, and tired. However, change was in the wind.

Following a lengthy illness, EFD Chief Albert Hofstetter died on September 24, 1950, at the age of 70, after 49-1/2 years of service with the Evanston Fire Department, including the last 36+ years as Chief Fire Marshal. Though very ill in the weeks prior to his death, Chief Hofstetter still hoped to retire from the EFD on his Golden Anniversary in March 1951. Unfortunately, he didn’t make it that far.

Then just 17 days after the death of Chief Hofstetter, 67-year old 1st Assistant Chief Fire Marshal J. E. Mersch died after suffering a heart attack behind the wheel of his staff car while leading the annual Fire Prevention Week parade up Orrington Avenue. Chief Mersch had served 45 years with the Evanston Fire Department, and was the first Fire Prevention Inspector, serving in that capacity for 22 years after suffering a disabling leg injury in a traffic collision in September 1927. He helped to establish the Fire Prevention Bureau in 1929, and then single-handedly ran it right up until the moment of his death.

The deaths of Chief Hofstetter and Assistant Chief Mersch came just two years after two other long-time chief officers — 46-year veteran Assistant Chief Tom McEnery and 38-year veteran Assistant Chief Carl Windelborn — had retired. The four veteran chiefs had served a combined 178 years with the EFD, an average of more than 44 years per man!

The last major fire to occur during the Hofstetter regime was one that gutted the North Shore Flour Supply Company warehouse at 709 Chicago Ave in April 1950. With the structure located just a couple of hundred feet from Station # 2, Engine Co. 2 was on the scene in about a minute, immediately taking the hydrant next-door to the south, leading out, and attacking the fire through the front door.

Engine Co. 1 and Truck Co. 1 assisted Engine Co. 2, with truckmen laddering the roof and ventilating, while pipemen from Engine Co. 1 grabbed a second line off Engine 2 and followed Engine Co. 2 into the interior. However, Truck Co. 1 was unable to adequately ventilate the reinforced roof, and so the two engine companies working inside had to back-out to avoid being overcome by heat and smoke.

Engine Co. 4, Engine Co. 5, and Truck Co. 2 responded on a second alarm, with Engine Co. 3 changing quarters to Station # 1. The off-duty platoon was called-in to staff the reserve engine at Station # 4 and the reserve truck at Station # 3, and to provide relief for firefighters working at the fire, Nearby Station # 2 was used as a staging area for men from the opposite platoon while they waited for assignments, and as a temporary rest & recovery area for firefighters after being relieved. The blaze was eventually extinguished, but not before a $70,000 loss to the building and its contents.

A few days after the fire, the assistant chiefs who served as the company officers of Truck Co. 1 and Truck Co. 2 scheduled remedial training for members of the two truck companies on the subject of “proper vertical ventilation.” During the course of the training, worsening weathering damage to the aging wooden aerial-ladder on Truck No. 1 was noted. The truck’s ground ladders had been replaced in 1938, but the aerial-ladder, trailer, and tractor were 25-years old.

With Chief Hofstetter on extended medical leave, Assistant Chief Henry Dorband (company officer of Truck Co. 1) was dispatched to meet with Evanston’s mayor and aldermen to explain the problem with the aerial-ladder, and to offer possible solutions:

1. Replace the wooden aerial-ladder with a metal aerial-ladder (estimated cost: $15,000);
2. Replace both the aerial-ladder and the trailer (estimated cost: $25,000);
3. Replace the tractor, trailer, and aerial-ladder (estimated cost: $35,000).

The city council opted for choice # 3, and the city advertised for bids to supply a tractor-drawn aerial-ladder truck, with specifications that included an 85-foot metal aerial ladder, water-proof equipment compartments on the trailer, and a canopy cab with additional rear-facing bench seating for four behind the cab. 

In what was something of a surprise, Peter Pirsch & Sons of Kenosha, Wisconsin, came in with the low-bid and was awarded the contract. With an estimated delivery date of August 1951, the EFD’s new TDA would be the first fire apparatus purchased by the City of Evanston from a manufacturer not named Seagrave since 1911.

Over the years, Evanston had been one of Seagrave’s best customers, spending upwards of $135,000 between 1917-49 to purchase a total of eight pumpers, three ladder trucks, and a tractor, plus major repairs to damaged rigs in 1927 and 1928, and a rebuild of one of the 1917 pumpers in 1930. However, by 1950 Seagrave was inundated with post-war apparatus orders that sometimes resulted in delivery dates as long as two years, and it was losing bids it would have won in the past. 

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Evanston Fire Department history Part 46

From Phil Stenholm:

Another installment about History of Evanston Fire Department


On June 10, 1947, the pump on Engine No. 4 broke-down during a routine annual pump test and could not be repaired. The 1917 Seagrave 750-GPM pumper had been in nearly-continuous front-line service for more than 29 years – as Engine No. 1 1918-37, and then as Engine No,. 4 since 1938 — and because its frame and chassis had extensive corrosion and rust damage, it was not likely to survive much longer, even with a new pump.

With the gravitas of a long-time chief of the Evanston Fire Department, Albert Hofstetter requested and received an audience with the mayor and the city council. Chief Hofstetter explained that replacing the pump on a 29-year old rusted-out fire engine would be a waste of money, maintained that the safety of all Evanstonians was at risk, and convinced the aldermen to immediately issue an emergency appropriation in the amount of $18,000 to purchase a new triple-combination pumper.  

Seagrave (naturally) won the bid, and the EFD’s lone spare pumper – the 1917 Seagrave chemical & hose booster pumper that had been rebuilt at the Seagrave factory in 1930 as a 500-GPM Suburbanite TCP with a 50-gallon booster tank — was temporarily placed back into front-line service at Station # 4, thereby leaving the EFD without a spare pumper for the 18 months it would take Seagrave to build the new rig. Meanwhile, the Seagrave engine with the broken pump was dismantled for spare parts to help keep the other two 1917 Seagrave rigs running, and then the frame & chassis and whatever else was left of the relic were sold for scrap.      

In 1948, downtown Evanston was a vibrant area with many high-end stores that provided a significant commercial tax base for the city. The downtown area was anchored by three large department stores,  Wieboldts’s at 1007 Church Street, Lord’s at 1611 Orrington Avenue, and Marshall Field & Company at 1700 Sherman. While the Evanston Field’s store was a smaller suburban version of the company’s world-famous headquarters store that occupied an entire city block at State & Washington in Chicago’s Loop, it was considered to be the most exclusive department store on the North Shore. 

Just a few days before Christmas in December 1948, the Marshall Field warehouse at 1224 Emerson Street was gutted by fire. Four engine companies, two truck companies, and a number of men from the off-duty platoon battled the stubborn blaze for hours, attempting to salvage as many of the valuable goods as possible, while at the same time working to contain and extinguish the flames without injury to firefighters. It probably would have been useful if Chicago Fire Insurance Patrol No. 8 on Ravenswood Avenue was still in service and responding to fires in Evanston to provide dedicated salvage work, but unfortunately that arrangement had ended in January 1933.  

The Marshall Field warehouse fire occurred during the period of time when the EFD had no reserve pumper, so Engine Co. 4 operating with its four-man crew plus additional manpower from the off-duty platoon, and another eight off-duty men staffing the reserve 1917 Seagrave city service truck, provided a modicum of fire protection to the city from Station # 1 while the rest of the EFD was fighting the fire. At the behest of Field’s president Hughston M. McBain, Chicago Fire Department Commissioner Michael J. Corrigan ordered the CFD’s Main Fire Alarm Office to immediately dispatch whatever assistance the Evanston Fire Department might request to help extinguish the fire.  

The CFD wasn’t needed, but the estimated $177,430 loss to the Marshall Field & Company warehouse and its contents was the third-largest loss from fire in Evanston’s history up until that point in time, with only the Northwestern University Technological Institute inferno in December 1940 and the Boltwood School conflagration in January 1927 incurring a higher loss.

With the new more-favorable state pension law now in effect, there were a slew of retirements involving very senior members of the EFD in 1948, as 46-year veteran 1st Assistant Chief Tom McEnery, 40-year veteran Capt. Ed McEnery (Tom’s brother), 38-year veteran 3rd Assistant Chief Carl Windelborn, and 28-year veteran Lt. Harry Jasper all retired at about the exact same time 

Assistant Chief J. E. Mersch remained commander of the Fire Prevention Bureau and by virtue of seniority automatically became 1st Assistant Chief Fire Marshal with the retirement of Chief McEnery. Capt. Henry Dorband was promoted to Assistant Chief and replaced Chief McEnery as both company officer of Truck Co. 1 and a platoon commander, and Capt. Jim Geishecker was promoted to Assistant Chief and replaced Chief Windelborn as company officer of Truck Co. 2 and a platoon commander.

Also in 1948, Lt. Ed Hanrahan was promoted after having scored first on the 1947 civil service test for captain, and was assigned as company officer of Engine Co. 1, Lt. William Murphy scored second on the test, was promoted to captain, and was assigned as company officer of Engine Co. 5, and firemen Lincoln Dickinson, Ronald Ford, William Owens, and Fred Schumacher were promoted to lieutenant.

Besides the loss of a number of veteran EFD officers to retirement in 1948, firemen John Monks (38 years of service), John Lindberg (28 years), John Anderson (21 years), and Lou Knockaert (21 years) also retired in 1948, and Fire Equipment Mechanic Norman Fochs (21 years of service) and firemen Dominic Bartholme (25 years), John Gleeson (21 years), Ted Thompson (21 years), and Walter Janz (20 years) retired in 1949.

30 men – mostly all veterans of World War II – passed the entry-level civil service test for fireman and were hired over the three-year period 1946-49 to replace the many veteran firefighters who had retired or died, and so the Evanston Fire Department suddenly got a lot younger.

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