Posts Tagged Evanston fireman William Ludwig

Evanston Fire Department history Part 27

From Phil Stenholm:

Another installment about History of Evanston Fire Department

Shortly before noon on Thursday, January 10, 1918, the brand-new Seagrave 750-GPM TCP got its baptism of fire at George Wilson’s boarding house at 818 Church Street. Working in bitter-cold, firefighters had difficulty locating the seat of the blaze as the flames migrated into the rafters, but the new engine came through like a champ, and extinguished the flames with only $1,000 in damage.   

Nine days later, an overheated chimney at the J. A. Lamson rooming house at 2006 Sherman Avenue interrupted Saturday morning breakfast. Twenty four female Northwestern University music students were alerted by Evanston firefighters who pounded on the front door and advised the surprised residents that their domicile was on fire, and that they might want to evacuate. Flames communicated from the chimney to the upper floors before firefighters could quell the blaze. Damage was estimated at $7,000 to the structure and its contents before the two-alarm fire could be struck out.

On Easter Sunday afternoon, March 31, 1918, Evanston firefighters responded to the rare two simultaneous working structure fires, one at the Church of God at 1504 Simpson Street, and the other at the Mears-Slayton lumber yard at Chicago Avenue & Howard Street. Truck Co. 1 raised its extension ladder and Engine Co. 3, using a 1-1/2 inch hose lead connected to a 2-1/2 inch line, quickly extinguished a fire on the roof of the church caused by sparks from an overheated chimney. Meanwhile, firemen from Engine Co. 2 led-out a line and quickly knocked-down the blaze at the lumber yard caused by a carelessly discarded cigarette. Engine Co. 1 remained in quarters, available to respond to a third alarm, should one be received. Quick and expert work by Evanston firefighters saved both the church and the lumber yard, with minimal damage to both properties.      

Moving ahead six months to Monday evening September 22, 1918, employee John Doose accidentally backed his truck over a gas lantern, sparking a blaze in the rear garage of the Moehring Grocery Store at 1936 Maple Ave. The flames communicated to rear porches of the apartments located above the store, but firefighters from Station # 1 knocked them down with two lines before other nearby structures could become involved. There were no injuries and only $2,000 damage in what could have been a much worse outcome.   

In October 1918, the Spanish Influenza pandemic swept through Evanston. Among the dead were two Evanston firemen, Richard Luchs and Nicholas Knepper. Luchs, a rookie firefighter with just five months on the job, died on October 15th. Knepper, a seven-year veteran of the EFD, died on October 17th. Meanwhile, the only member of the Evanston Fire Department to serve in the Great War in Europe — Fred Koch — came home in January 1919 without a scratch, and then after getting off the train in Chicago, he proceeded to chase and capture an armed suspect after the robbery of a jewelry store at 18th Street & State.      

The Evanston Fire Department responded to 149 fires — mostly chimney fires –during the first two months of 1919, compared to a total of 160 fires over the first seven months of 1918. Alarmed by the number of fires sparked by overheated chimneys, Chief Albert Hofstetter speculated that the uptick in chimney fires may stem from the increased use of a cheaper bituminous soft coal that produces more soot. The chief advised Evanston property owners to be more diligent in keeping their chimneys, furnaces, and fireplaces clean and clear of coal dust and ash, but fires caused by coal dust would remain the #1 cause of residential structure fires in Evanston for many years to come.    

Two significant fires occurred in North Evanston over the first few days of spring in 1919. The first blaze broke-out at 11:30 AM on Monday, March 31st, in a commercial structure located at the southwest corner of Harrison Street & West Railroad Avenue. The Mebane Drug Store and the Currey & Company children’s apparel factory  were gutted. Flames communicated to another adjacent structure located on the south side of Harrison Street to the west, with $15,000 in aggregate damage before the conflagration could be contained. Automobiles parked in the Modern Garage located to the south at 2534 West Railroad Avenue were saved by a firewall, and garage employees attacked the blaze with fire extinguishers while Evanston firefighters from Station # 3 were leading out. 

On Friday, April 11, 1919, an electrical short sparked a blaze at the Covenant Methodist Church at 2123 Harrison Street, located just two blocks west of the previous fire. The fire was quickly knocked-down with chemicals and one 1-1/2 inch line, but not before $18,000 in damage to the sanctuary, mostly from smoke and water.  

Station # 3 was known back then as the “slow” firehouse, so two major fires occurring within about two blocks and ten days of each other and both happening so close to Station # 3 was very unusual.   

In 1919, two long-time members of the Evanston Fire Department called it a career. Captain Carl Harms retired after 26 years of service, and Jones Albert “Dad” Patrick retired after 24 years of service. Lt. J. E. Mersch was subsequently promoted to captain and replaced Harms as company officer of Engine Co. 2, and Fireman William Ludwig was promoted to lieutenant and replaced Mersch as assistant company officer of Engine Co. 1. 

Known as the Godfather of Fire Station 2, Carl Harms remarkably spent his entire 26 year career at Station # 2. For all we know, he might not even have known where the other two fire stations were located (just kidding). He was appointed to the Evanston Fire Department by Chief Sam Harrison in 1893, just a year after the Village of South Evanston was annexed by the Village of Evanston to form the City of Evanston. Within a year he was the senior man at Station # 2, and he was one of only five members of the EFD to successfully pass the first civil service test in 1895. (The five who didn’t pass the test were fired). He was promoted to captain and company officer of Hose Co. 2 in 1900, and he remained company officer at Station # 2 as the company morphed over the years, first into a truck company in 1903, and then into an engine company in 1911.  

J. A. Patrick was hired as the Evanston Fire Department’s first engineer in 1895, responsible for operating and maintaining the EFD’s new steam fire engine. Prior to joining the fire department, Patrick was superintendent of the water works, so he gave up a very good job with the water department to join the fire department. As engineer, he was the second-highest paid member of the EFD, second only to the chief. To Patrick, the 1895 Ahrens Metropolitan streamer was his baby. Whenever it was in service and wherever it was in service, no matter if it was at Station # 1, Station # 2, or Station # 3, “Dad” was that steamer’s proud papa (and engineer). 

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Evanston Fire Department History – Part 12

Another installment about History of Evanston Fire Department

By the Summer of 1903, Evanston’s population stood at 21,621, not including the turkeys Capt. Carl Harrison was raising in the basement of Fire Station #3. 

Meanwhile, two fires within four days of each other in March 1904 resulted in close calls for three Evanston firefighters. In the early morning hours of March 10  Capt Jack Sweeting was overcome by smoke while battling a blaze at the Blanchard flats at Grove & Oak, and wass rescued by Capt. Carl Harms and fireman William Pruter. Then a few minutes later, Harms suffered broken ribs when he fell through the floorboards and landed in the basement. Four days later, “blind pig” proprietor Mary Kelly and her daughter jumped out of a second floor window and into the arms of a passing citizen as fire swept through her residence (tavern) at 503 Chicago Ave. Rookie fireman William Ludwig was found unconscious inside the tavern, before being pulled to safety by other firefighters. All injured men recovered and returned to duty.  

Two months later, a late night fire swept through the B. B. Noyes coal & feed store at 1003 Church Street. The fire had to be attacked from the exterior using multiple hose lines — including three lines supplying water to the new Eastman Deluger — because of the fear that coal and grain dust might explode. While firefighters were able to eventually contain the blaze to the structure of origin, water pressure was increased in mains to more than two times normal residential pressure, causing damage to plumbing in some Evanston residences.

The city council received complaints from several prominent Evanston residents who criticized the fire department’s tactics (use of direct plug pressure), but Chief Mersch explained that unless and until additional steam fire engines were acquired and placed into service, the use of plug pressure and increasing pressure in water mains to fight fires must continue. 

Chicago Fire Department Captain Norman Holmes (company officer of CFD Truck Co. 20) replaced Ed Mersch as chief of the Evanston Fire Department in May 1905, after Mersch was fired by Mayor John Barker. Holmes served as chief of the EFD for only seven months, however, before taking a job in the private sector as Fire Marshal of Sears, Roebuck & Company. Chief Holmes’ tenure with the Evanston Fire Department was marked by controversy, and his leaving so soon after his appointment probably had as much to do with the hostile reception he received in Evanston as it had to do with an opportunity to work for Sears.

The problem Holmes had as chief had nothing to do with his competence. Rather, South Evanston residents saw former Chief Ed Mersch as one of their own, and felt that he had been fired for purely political reasons (which was probably true). Though it was Mayor Barker who had sacked Mersch, the residents of South Evanston directed their anger and resentment toward Holmes, making life very difficult for the new chief. Soon after his arrival, a group of South Evanstonians initiated legal action to have the appointment overturned, on the grounds that Holmes had not been an Evanston resident for one year before the appointment.

This issue was resolved when it was decided by a court that the one-year residency rule only applied to individuals running for political office, and not to political appointees. But even with the court ruling in his favor, Holmes had had enough of Evanston politics. Meanwhile, another member of the EFD left for greener pastures, as veteran fireman (and chief’s buggy-driver & secretary) Edwin Whitcomb was appointed chief of the Kewanee Fire Department in October 1905. 

One notable improvement implemented by Holmes before he resigned was the introduction of 1-1/2 inch hose lines and smaller nozzles, which were used extensively by the Chicago Fire Department when he was a company officer there. The smaller-diameter hand lines were easier to carry and would help reduce water damage to property when fighting smaller interior fires.

Holmes also lobbied for the establishment of the new civil service rank of Assistant Chief Fire Marshal, whose duties would include company officer of Engine Co. 1 as well as acting chief if the Fire Marshal was absent from the city or otherwise unavailable. Capt. Jack Sweeting was promoted to the new rank of assistant chief in July 1905.   

On December 13, 1905, two Evanston firemen were killed while battling a fire at the Mark Manufacturing Company plant at 1900 Dempster St. Then a little over a year later, on Sunday, December 23, 1906, a workman was killed in an explosion at the Northwestern Gas Light & Coke Company (“gasworks”) at Clark & Maple. The man (Isaac Terry) made the fatal mistake of dumping burning ashes into a tar and coal pit. The fire that followed the explosion required eight hours and nearly a million gallons of water to extinguish, as the EFD was assisted by the Wilmette Fire Department (responding aboard their brand-new horse-drawn Seagrave  “combination truck”) and two Chicago engine companies.

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