Posts Tagged Evanston FD Assistant Chief Henry Dorband

Evanston Fire Department history Part 49

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.

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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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