Posts Tagged Evanston FD Assistant Chief John E. Mersch

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.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Evanston Fire Department history Part 44

From Phil Stenholm:

Another installment about History of Evanston Fire Department


There were only two promotions in the Evanston Fire Department between 1934 and 1942, both occurring on the same day in May 1937. It was for sure a big day for the Dorband family, as Lt. Henry Dorband – a future chief of the EFD — was promoted to captain and replaced Capt, John Wynn as company officer of Engine Co. 2, and Henry Dorband’s older brother Carl was promoted to lieutenant and assigned as assistant company officer of Engine Co. 3. Unfortunately, Lt. Dorband would suffer a fatal heart attack at the age of 50 while sitting in front of Station # 3 on a Sunday afternoon in May 1942.

After the death of Lt. Dorband, there were twenty promotions over the course of the next seven years, as a wave of “new blood” began to take command of the EFD. Fireman John Schmidt was the first to receive a promotion, finishing at the top of the Civil Service promotional list for lieutenant that was established following Lt. Dorband’s death in 1942.

Prior to his promotion, Schmidt had been a long-time chief’s buggy driver as well as Chief Hofstetter’s administrative assistant and personal secretary, so when he was promoted to lieutenant to ostensibly replace Lt. Dorband at Station # 3, Chief Hofstetter stepped in and transferred Lt. Frank Sherry from Engine Co. 1 to Engine Co. 3, thus making sure that Lt, Schmidt would remain at Station # 1 and continue to serve as the chief’s “right-hand man,” in addition to performing his other duties as assistant company officer of Engine Co. 1.    

Fluent in both English and German, Lt. Schmidt took leave from the Evanston Fire Department in 1947 after being appointed the temporary Oberbranddirektor of the fire brigade in the U. S. Sector of Berlin, Germany. As Oberbranddirektor, Schmidt helped the severely degraded Berliner Feuerwehr located in the U. S. Sector recover from damage to facilities and equipment incurred during World War II, especially in the last days of the war after the Russian army stormed the city.

Schmidt served as Oberbranddirektor of the Berliner Feuerwehr in the U. S. Sector until the Federal Republic of Germany was established and the City of Berlin was returned to local rule on May 23. 1949, at which point he returned home to Evanston. Because he was next on the promotional list for captain when he took his Leave of Absence, Schmidt was promoted to captain upon his return to the EFD in 1949.  

Schmidt was initially assigned as company officer of Engine Co. 5 upon his return to the EFD, before replacing Assistant Chief J. E. Mersch as commander of the Fire Prevention Bureau after Chief Mersch’s sudden death in October 1950. Definitely one of the Evanston Fire Department’s “best and brightest” and a likely future chief of the EFD, Capt. Schmidt instead chose to retire in 1952 at the relatively young age of 51 after 25 years of service — despite being next on the promotional list for assistant chief —  after he was appointed Midwest Regional Fire Coordinator for the U. S. Civil Defense Agency by U. S, President Harry Truman.

While probably none of the other members of the Evanston Fire Department who retired or who were promoted in the 1940’s had quite as unique a career as John Schmidt, some did make a mark over the course of time.  

Lt. Dan McKimmons retired in 1943 after 32-years of service with the EFD, and Fireman John Reddick was promoted to lieutenant and replaced Lt. McKimmons as assistant company officer of Truck Co. 2. Note that this is a different John Reddick than the one who served with the EFD and was fired after he and several other members of Truck Co. 1 were caught drinking alcohol while on duty at Station # 1 in 1906.

Dan McKimmons was hired in 1911, one of four new men added to the EFD when the Robinson Jumbo automobile pumper was placed into service. When he was a fireman assigned as tillerman on Truck Co. 1, McKimmons had been seriously injured after being thrown to the ground when the American-LaFrance HDA was demolished in a collision with an Evanston Railway Company streetcar at Grove & Sherman in September 1916, and then as a lieutenant assigned to Truck Co. 2, he nearly died before being rescued and resuscitated by other firefighters after becoming trapped and overcome by smoke while battling a blaze in the basement of an apartment building at 1015 Dempster Street in February 1941. 

Dan’s older brother George was the rookie fireman whose first day on the job was December 13, 1905, the day of the tragic Mark Manufacturing Company fire at which two Evanston firemen were killed. George McKimmons would later leave the EFD and join the Chicago Fire Department, and after being promoted to captain, he was the CFD officer who organized Truck Co. 44 at Engine 55’s house on Sheffield Avenue in 1928.


Tags: , , , , , , , , ,