Posts Tagged History of Evanston Fire Department

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 25

From Phil Stenholm:

Another installment about History of Evanston Fire Department


During 1916, Evanston’s firefighting force was increased to 39, as four additional firemen were assigned to Station # 1. The Evanston Fire Department was also growing increasingly experienced, as 18 of the 39 members of the EFD (46%) had 10+ years of  experience by this point in time, including all of the chiefs and company officers. Annual EFD salaries in 1916 ranged from $1,800 (Chief Fire Marshal) to $1,200 (Assistant Chief Fire Marshal) to $1,140 (Captain, Motor Driver, and Engineer) to $1,080 (Lieutenant, Assistant Motor Driver, and Assistant Engineer) to $1,050 (Fireman I) to $840 (Fireman II).

The National Board of Fire Underwriters (NBFU) conducted an inspection of the Evanston Fire Department in 1916, and issued its report in October. The NBFU advised the City of Evanston to either completely motorize its fire department immediately, or else build a fourth fire station to provide fire protection for the west-side of the city. Failure to do one or the other would almost certainly result in significantly higher fire insurance premiums for Evanston property owners and businesses.    

EFD Chief Albert Hofstetter enthusiastically supported the NBFU’s recommendation, claiming that complete motorization of the fire department would both cut maintenance costs by 50% – AND – improve response times to areas of the city not in close proximity to a fire station.

Alderman H. E. Chandler proposed that Evanston place automobile firefighting apparatus in service at all three fire stations ASAP, and the city council responded on February 20, 1917, by authorizing the issuance of $30,000 in bonds to pay for full motorization of the EFD, pending approval by voters in the upcoming election. The bond issue was subsequently approved by Evanston voters on April 3rd, and the city immediately advertised for bids.  

Chief Hofstetter listed the automobile firefighting apparatus to be purchased:


1. A city service ladder truck equipped with a 55-foot ground-based rapid extension ladder that could be raised by four men using tormentor poles, ten other ladders of various types and lengths including pompier ladders and roof ladders, salvage covers, pike poles, axes, rope, and buckets, a 50-gallon chemical tank with a red-line hose reel, six hand extinguishers of various types, a heavy-duty jack capable of lifting ten tons, and a life net, replacing the ex-Chattanooga F. D. horse-drawn 1891 LaFrance / Hayes 55-ft HDA (Truck 1) that was being leased from American-LaFrance and the horse-drawn 1873 Babcock double 50-gallon chemical engine (Chemical 1);  

2. A 750-GPM triple-combination pumper equipped with one 35-foot ground ladder and one 25-foot ground ladder, a 50-gallon chemical tank with a red-line hose-reel, and six hand fire extinguishers of various types, replacing the 1911 Robinson Jumbo triple-combination pumper (Motor Engine 1) that was to be transferred to Station # 3 and replace the horse-drawn 1895 Ahrens Metropolitan 600 GPM second-size steamer (Engine 3).              


1. A one-axle tractor to be welded to the 1906 American-LaFrance Metropolitan 700-GPM second-size steamer (Engine 2) after removal of the steamer’s three-horse hitch;

2. A chemical engine & hose truck equipped with one 35-foot ground ladder and one 25-foot ground ladder, a 50-gallon chemical tank with a red-line hose reel, and six hand fire extinguishers of various types, replacing the horse-drawn 1902 Seagrave chemical engine & ladder combination truck / hose tender (Truck 2).  


1. A chemical engine & hose truck equipped with one 35-foot ground ladder and one 25-foot ground ladder, a 50-gallon chemical tank with a red-line hose reel, and six hand fire extinguishers of various types, replacing the horse-drawn 1885 Davenport H&L / hose-tender (Truck 3).

The twelve horses that were still in service with the EFD in 1917 were to be retired, sold, or transferred to the street department as soon as the automobile apparatus were placed into service, although two, horse-drawn rigs – the 1895 Ahrens Metropolitan steamer and one of the 1901 four-wheeled hose wagons — would be kept in reserve, albeit with no EFD horses left to pull them.

In the event that one or both of the reserve horse-drawn rigs would need to be placed into service, it was understood that former EFD horses in service with the street department would be temporarily transferred back to the EFD. For that same reason, the stables and hay lofts located in the three fire stations would need to be maintained for as long as horse-drawn apparatus remained in reserve.     

Only two companies – American-Lafrance and Seagrave – offered bids, and on May 1st the Evanston City Council announced that the Seagrave Corporation had been awarded the contract, with a winning bid of $28,800. With the left-over funds, a new chief’s buggy — a 1917 Haynes touring car — was purchased, and the 1914 Overland roadster was sold.   

As part of its bid, Seagrave offered to install 300-GPM “booster pumps” (as they were called) on the two chemical & hose trucks free-of-charge, and — as was common practice at the time — assign a company engineer to Evanston to provide driver training, instruction in vehicle maintenance and pump operations, and be available 24 / 7 to make any mechanical adjustments or repairs that might be needed as the rigs were being placed into service. Replacing the leased HDA (Truck 1) was deemed the highest-priority, so Seagrave promised to build the city service truck first. The estimated delivery date was November 1917, with the other rigs to be delivered somewhat later.

As to why Evanston opted to buy a city service truck instead of an aerial-ladder truck, the master-plan had been to eventually purchase an automobile tractor for the 1907 American-LaFrance 85-foot HDA, but then it was demolished in September 1916. Granted a ground-based 55-foot extension-ladder was very heavy and required more manpower to raise than was the case with an aerial ladder of a similar length, an extension ladder cost about 50% less than an aerial ladder, and it just would not have been possible to fully motorize the EFD in 1917 for $30,000 if a new tractor-drawn aerial ladder truck (TDA) was part of the order. 

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Evanston Fire Department History – Part 20

From Phil Stenholm:

Another installment about History of Evanston Fire Department


The arrival of the auto truck fire engine in the fourth quarter of 1911 allowed the City of Evanston to transfer four horses previously used by the fire department to the street department, and place a steam fire engine into service at Fire Station # 3.

Because the Robinson Jumbo was so much faster than horse-drawn apparatus, Truck Co. 1 was combined with Engine Co. 1 as a 15-man company known as Motor Engine Co. 1, and all personnel assigned to Station # 1 — except for a teamster and a tillerman assigned to drive the aerial-ladder truck and another man assigned as the chief’s buggy driver — rode to alarms aboard the auto truck. The auto-truck responded to all still alarms city-wide, and it was so much faster than horse-drawn apparatus that it often would beat Engine Co. 2 or Engine Co. 3 to an alarm in their own still district! 

After a minor overhaul and a new paint job, the 1906 American-LaFrance Metropolitan 700-GPM second-size steamer and its engineer and assistant engineer were transferred from Station # 1 to Station # 2, the 1895 Ahrens Metropolitan 600-GPM second-size steamer and its engineer and assistant engineer were transferred from Station # 2 to Station # 3, and a lieutenant and three firefighters were transferred from Station # 1 to Station # 3.

So beginning on January 2, 1912, while the number of firefighters remained 34, the number of companies in service with the EFD was reduced from four to three: the new 15-man Motor Engine Co. 1 at Station # 1 that combined Engine Co. 1 and Truck Co. 1 into one company, the nine-man Engine Co. 2 at Station # 2, and the new nine-man Engine Co. 3 now in service at Station # 3 that replaced the former three-man Truck Co. 3. 

Carl Harrison was Chief Fire Marshal, as he had been since December 14, 1905. His office was at Fire Station # 1.   

At Station # 1, Assistant Chief Jack Sweeting was company officer of Motor Engine Co. 1 and he was also in charge of the EFD when the chief was absent, Capt. George Hargreaves was 1st assistant company officer, Lt. Al Hofstetter was 2nd assistant company officer, temporary civilian employee Earnest Erickson was motor driver, and Arthur McNeil was assistant motor driver. 

At Station # 2, Capt. Carl Harms was company officer of Engine Co. 2, Lt. John Watson was the assistant company officer, William Sampson was the engineer, and Max Kraatz was assistant engineer. 

At Station # 3, Capt Thomas Norman was company officer of Engine Co. 3, Lt. Ed Johnson was assistant company officer, J. A. “Dad” Patrick was the engineer, and William Richards was the assistant engineer. Patrick was the first engineer assigned to the Ahrens steamer when it was placed into service in 1895, and he continued to follow the machine as it moved from station to station during the course of his 24-year career with the EFD.   

Motor Engine Co. 1 was a two-piece company, operating with the new 1911 Robinson Jumbo 750-GPM triple combination pumper known as Motor Engine No. 1 and the 1907 American-LaFrance 85-foot HDA with a four-horse hitch still known as Truck No. 1. One fireman was assigned as the driver of the chief’s 1906 two-horse buggy, and the formerly horse-drawn 1873 Babcock double 50-gallon chemical engine was now attached as a trailer behind the auto-truck, which together with the 50 gallons of soda acid carried by the auto-truck, provided up to 150 gallons of chemical fire suppression almost immediately upon arrival at a fire.  

Engine Co. 2 continued to be a two-piece company, but now operating with the newer 1906 American LaFrance Metropolitan 700-GPM second-size steamer (ex-E1) with a three-horse hitch now known as Engine No. 2 and the 1902 Seagrave combination truck & hose tender with a two-horse hitch that was still known as Truck No. 2, 

Engine Co. 3 was also now a two-piece company, operating with the older 1895 Ahrens Metropolitan 600-GPM second-size steamer (ex-E2) with a two-horse hitch now known as Engine No. 3 and the 1885 Davenport H&L and hose tender with a two-horse hitch that was still known as Truck No. 3.   

There were also two hose wagons and 2,500 feet of 2-1/2 inch hose-line kept in reserve, one wagon at Station # 1 and the other at Station # 2, each loaded with 1.250 feet of hose. To help protect the city’s water mains, the Holly high-pressure water works would now be used to increase pressure in the mains only in the case of a large conflagration and/or if one or more of the EFD’s three engines was out of service.  

The two horses that had formerly been assigned to pull Engine Co. 1’s hose cart and the two horses that had been assigned to pull the Babcock double 50-gallon chemical engine were initially transferred to the street department, although one of the horses that was sent to the street department was returned to the fire department in 1913 when the chemical engine was decoupled from the motor engine and converted to a one-horse rig with a two-man crew that responded primarily to minor fires and Gamewell box alarms in Station # 1’s still district.    

Evanston firemen were still working a 112-hour work week in January 1912, working 24 hours on duty, followed by a 12-hour furlough. So sometimes a firefighter would work 8 AM to 8 AM followed by 12-hours off duty, and his next 24-hour shift would run from 8 PM to 8 PM followed by 12-hours off duty. So a fireman got to sleep at home once every three nights.

The Evanston City Council granted pay raises to all Evanston firemen in 1912, except the chief. So EFD annual salaries in 1912 were $1,620 (chief), $1,200 (assistant chief), $1,140 (engineer and motor driver),  $1,080 (captain), $1,020 (lieutenant, assistant engineer, and assistant motor driver), and $960 (fireman).     

There were not yet kitchens in Evanston firehouses in 1912, so a fireman was still permitted to take his meal breaks away from the firehouse, either at home if he lived close to the firehouse, or at a nearby restaurant or lunch counter. Or the fireman could bring a lunch pail or a brown bag and eat at the firehouse. Evanston firemen also received two weeks paid vacation each year, but there was no paid sick leave or time & a half overtime pay. Only one man could be on vacation from each fire station at any one time, with vacations only allowed March to November.  

With a 112-hour work week, one out of every three firemen was on his 12-hour furlough at any one time, so routine staffing in 1912 actually was ten men at Station # 1, six men at Station # 2, and six men at Station # 3. Each company could run one man short, so no fewer than 19 men could be on duty at any one time, or there could be as many as 22, or even 23 if you count the chief. A 35th man was added to the EFD in June 1912 whose job was to provide vacation coverage at Fire Station # 1, which increased minimum on duty EFD staffing to 20. 

The chief was technically on duty at all times, but he typically spent nights and Sundays at home. The chief’s buggy driver would transport the chief to and from his residence, and the buggy driver could respond to the chief’s residence and then drive him directly to a working fire from his home. Otherwise, the assistant chief — who was also company officer of Motor Engine Co. 1 — was in charge of most routine incidents that occurred while the chief was at home. 

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Evanston Fire Department History – Part 17

Another installment about History of Evanston Fire Department

The Villa Celeste
The Village of Evanston annexed the Village of South Evanston thereby forming the greater City of Evanston in 1892. The proponents of the annexation argued that if the two villages did not unite and form “a strong city of our own,” that separately they were both almost certain to be annexed by the City of Chicago. This domino theory was soon given further credence, as the Village of Rogers Park — South Evanston’s neighbor to the south — was annexed by Chicago in 1893.    

After Chicago annexed Rogers Park, some of the residents of South Evanston — led by fiery 3rd Ward Alderman Pat O’Neill —  insisted that the brand-new unified City of Evanston should allow itself to be annexed by its larger and more powerful neighbor to the south. The rationale was that a large city such as Chicago could provide significantly better city services — especially police and fire protection — than a smaller city like Evanston could. This was especially important to the wealthier residents of South Evanston, who felt that because they paid a larger share of property taxes, that they should receive better municipal services. And Chicago did, in fact, attempt to annex Evanston in 1894, but Evanston voters declined the offer, and it appeared that the annexation issue was laid to rest. However, the issue was unexpectedly resurrected 15 years later. 

On Thursday, March 11, 1909, at 12:30 PM, the Evanston Fire Department responded to an attic fire at the Villa Celeste, the palatial South Evanston home of P. Leonard (“Guy”) McKinnie, located at 721 Sheridan Road. Directing operations at the scene, Chief Fire Marshal Carl Harrison — as was his usual practice — initially ordered firefighters to attack the fire in the attic with soda-acid from one of the chemical-engines. By using only chemicals, Chief Harrison hoped to minimize water-damage to the rest of the house. But because the fire was entombed within the walls and ceilings, firemen were unable to locate and extinguish the seat of the blaze.

Firefighters soon found themselves utilizing water-flow from some 3,000 feet of hose-line — two 2-1/2” lines from Engine 1, one 2-1/2” line directly from a nearby hydrant, and a line from the chemical apparatus — in a vain effort to suppress the fire in the attic and third floor. With the fire department using 2-1/2” hose-lines, water damage to property located on the lower floors became a problem. All firemen were busily engaged in fire suppression and ventilation efforts, so neighbors enlisted the aid of children from nearby Lincoln School to assist the McKinnies in removing their priceless art collection and valuable antique furniture from the lower floors. 

As minutes turned into hours, it was becoming increasingly obvious to everyone present that firefighters were making absolutely no headway. Frustrated, homeowner McKinnie demanded that Chief Harrison send for the steam fire engine (old “City of Evanston No. 1”) that was kept in reserve at Fire Station # 2 on Chicago Avenue. McKinnie even offered to dispatch a livery-team of his own to Station # 2 to bring the steamer to the scene. Chief Harrison refused, explaining to McKinnie that lack of water was not the problem.

For six hours, the men of the EFD struggled mightily to contain the blaze. However, the flames encroached further into the ceilings and walls, and by nightfall the Villa Celeste was gutted. Six Evanston firefighters suffered injuries while battling the blaze: 

              Chief Carl Harrison – finger severed when cut by glass shards;

              Assistant Chief Jack Sweeting – smoke inhalation;

              Fireman William Hofstetter – hand laceration;

              Fireman Edward Johnson – foot injury;

              Fireman John Wilbern – smoke inhalation;

              Fireman William Wilbern – smoke inhalation / bruised when struck by falling debris.                                       

  As a coup de grace, the stubborn blaze rekindled at about 11:30 PM, five hours after the EFD  had left the scene. Firefighters dutifully returned, and spent another hour pouring water into the ruins.

The final damage estimate was $40,000, the fourth highest damage estimate from a fire in Evanston’s history up to that point in time. The only previous fires with a higher damage estimate had been the tragic Mark Manufacturing Company fire in 1905, the Lincoln Avenue schoolhouse blaze in 1894, and the Willard Block conflagration in 1872.

Chief Harrison would later say “… dozens of engines couldn’t have saved the house… the only way to extinguish the fire would have been to submerge the house into the lake…” (Which Harrison probably would have done if it had been an option!)

The fire was extinguished, but controversy simmered and boiled. Guy McKinnie and other wealthy South Evanston residents asserted that Evanston should once again invite itself to be annexed by Chicago. However, Fire Marshal James Horan, chief of the Chicago Fire Department, threw cold water onto the idea. Chief Horan candidly explained that some outlying areas of Chicago had no fire protection, and that if annexed, Evanston would be mainly ignored until other more-pressing needs were addressed. Horan claimed that major fire protection improvements were needed at the Stock Yards, and that Chicago also needed a high-pressure waterworks in the downtown “high value” district.

And Chief Horan’s analysis of Chicago’s fire protection needs would be proven tragically (and ironically) correct. Horan and 20 other Chicago firemen were killed when a wall collapsed onto them while they were fighting a fire at the Stock Yards on December 22, 1910.

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Evanston Fire Department History – Part 16

Another installment about History of Evanston Fire Department

The Big Stick

On Sunday, December 23, 1906, Isaac Terry was killed instantly when an explosion rocked the Northwestern Gas Light & Coke Company works at Clark & Maple after Terry inadvisedly dumped burning ashes into an oil and coal pit. The pit was 45 feet across and 15 feet deep, with 80,000 gallons of oil in the well. 

Initial firefighting efforts were hampered when the horses pulling Engine 1’s hose-wagon became frightened and ran away immediately upon arriving at the scene after one of the many explosions thundered from the pit, with the horses and the hose cart eventually ending up at Greenwood Boulevard and the lakefront where the fully loaded hose wagon overturned.   

The entire Evanston Fire Department, most of the Wilmette Fire Department — who responded to the blaze aboard their brand new Seagrave combination truck — and two engine companies from the Chicago Fire Department battled the conflagration until 8 PM, with firefighters pouring nearly a million gallons of water onto the inferno. Chicago F. D. Truck Co. 25 changed quarters to Evanston Fire Station # 1 at the height of the blaze.    

A couple of months later, on Saturday February 23, 1907, at 2:30 AM, fire destroyed the garage of Edwin F. Brown at Milburn Street & Sheridan Road. The garage was only worth $3,000, but three luxury automobiles — two valued at $5,000 each and one valued at $2,500, — a gasoline engine, a pool table, a sailboat, and miscellaneous tools and furniture were also destroyed, for a total aggregate loss from fire of $20,000, the seventh highest loss from a fire in Evanston’s history up until that point in time.    
Two weeks later, Evanston firefighters had to contend with hazardous chemicals caused by spontaneous combustion of phosphorous while battling a blaze at the Northwestern University Science Hall. The next day, the Evanston City Council appropriated funds to purchase a horse-drawn, 85-foot windlass-operated aerial-ladder truck (HDA) with a four-horse hitch from American-LaFrance, something that had been recommended by Chief Carl Harrison just two weeks earlier. Costing $6,700 and financed with a down-payment and three installment payments made each year 1908-10, the truck was placed into service with Truck Co. 1 at Fire Station # 1 after it arrived in July 1907 (and after the west bay of Station # 1 was lengthened to accommodate the new truck).  

Because the city council declined to appropriate funds to acquire the four new horses needed to pull the HDA, Hose 2 and Hose 3 were taken out of front-line service and placed into reserve, and the four horses that had been used to pull the two hose carts were reassigned to the new HDA. At this point in time (1907), mostly only large cities had aerial ladder trucks in service, and even then, only half of the Chicago Fire Department’s 32 truck companies operated with aerial-ladder trucks.      

To replace the hose carts at Station # 2 and Station # 3, the 1885 Davenport H&L (ex-Truck 1) was transferred from Station # 1 to Station # 3, and hose boxes with capacity for 850 feet of 2-1/2 inch line and a 150-ft lead of 1-1/2 line were installed on both the Seagrave combination truck at Station # 2 and on the Davenport H&L now at Station # 3. Hose Co. 3 was re-designated as Truck Co. 3 at this time, as the EFD now had one engine company and three truck companies in service, with two of the trucks equipped with enough hose to allow the companies at Station # 2 and at Station # 3 to attack fires using direct pressure (plug pressure). 

Evanston Fire Department manpower stood at 30 by the summer of 1907, with nine men (the assistant chief, a lieutenant, an engineer, two assistant engineers, and five firemen) assigned to Engine Co. 1, nine men (a captain, a lieutenant, and seven firemen) assigned to Truck Co. 1, six men (a captain, a lieutenant, and four firemen) assigned to Truck Co. 2, three men (a captain and two firemen) assigned to Truck Co. 3, two chief’s buggy drivers (one primary and one relief), and the chief, with the 29 line firefighters working a 112-hour work week (24 hours on / 12 hours off, with meal breaks taken away from the firehouse, either at home or in a nearby restaurant). So 19 or 20 men were usually on duty at any one time, although men were coming & going constantly.   

The aerial ladder wasn’t needed very often, but on July 4, 1908, Truck 1’s stick was extended to the roof of the First Congregational Church at Lake & Hinman to help suppress a blaze caused by errant fireworks. Chief  Harrison ordered soda-acid chemicals from the Babcock chemical engine and from the Seagrave combination truck to be used to extinguish the blaze, rather than water supplied from the ALF Metropolitan steamer or from direct plug pressure, so as to minimize water damage to the sanctuary.  

The summer of 1908 was unusually hot and dry, and the EFD responded to a record 28 calls over the first five days of August. Firefighters were going out constantly, and on August 5th three alarms were received within a five-minute period, the most serious being a blaze that heavily damaged the C&NW RR platform at Davis Street. Five days later, Evanston firefighters saved the Weise Brothers planing mill and lumber yard on Dodge Avenue after a large prairie fire communicated to a pile of lumber.  

In January 1909, the Evanston City Council approved a pay raise for 27 of the 30 members of the Evanston Fire Department, including a $10 per month increase for the chief, a $5 per month increase for the assistant chief, and a $2.50 per month increase for all other members of the department except for the engineer and the two assistant engineers.    

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Evanston Fire Department History – Part 15

Another installment about History of Evanston Fire Department


In March 1906, the Evanston Fire Department took delivery of a new American LaFrance “Metropolitan” 700-GPM second-size steam fire engine with a three-horse hitch. It was the first apparatus acquired by the EFD that required more than two horses to pull it, and it cost $5,500, plus $250 for a new horse that was added to the two already assigned to Engine 1. The new Metropolitan steamer was heavier and more-powerful than the Ahrens Metropolitan 600-GPM second-size steamer with a two-horse hitch that had been in service with the EFD since 1895. 

The plan was for the older Ahrens Metropolitan steamer to be sent to the American LaFrance factory in Elmira, NY, for a complete overhaul, after-which it would be returned to Evanston and placed into service at Station # 2. However, the Evanston City Council declined to appropriate funds to purchase two additional horses and hire additional manpower that would be needed in order to place the second steamer into front-line service, so while the older steamer was indeed moved into Station # 2 after it came back from Elmira, it was kept in reserve status for several years until such time as more horses could be purchased and additional manpower could be hired. 

The Metropolitan was the most-popular steam fire engine of the day, and while Evanston’s new Metropolitan steamer was built by American-LaFrance, the EFD’s older Metropolitan steamer was built by the Ahrens Manufacturing Company of Cincinnati, OH. The Metropolitan was invented in the 1890’s by Chris Ahrens, founder of the Ahrens Manufacturing Company, and along with Button, Clapp & Jones, and Silsby, Ahrens was one of four steam fire engine companies that merged to form the American Fire Engine Company (AFEC) in 1891. This was the era of monopolies and trusts, and the purpose of establishing AFEC was to reduce or maybe even eventually eliminate competition, consolidate the sales force, and maximize profits. Although each of the four companies maintained their own separate corporate identity, AFEC production facilities were located at the Ahrens Manufacturing Company plant in Cincinnati and at the Silsby Manufacturing Company plant in Seneca Falls, NY. However, because the other two major steam fire engine manufacturers of the day — Amoskeag and LaFrance  — did not participate in the merger, the overall benefit of the AFEC consolidation was minimal.

While there were four steam fire engine manufactures under the AFEC umbrella, Ahrens was by far the biggest and most-successful. Ahrens built its Metropolitan steamer in various sizes, and it was sold to fire departments — including the Evanston F. D. — across the country throughout the 1890s. Ahrens also manufactured the radical / eccentric, overly-heavy, and not very successful “Columbian,” which was built for and displayed at the World’s Columbian Exposition at Jackson Park in Chicago in 1893. The Columbian featured both a standard steam engine AND a hose supply-bed on the same rig. The common practice at the time the Columbian was being introduced and marketed was for an engine company to operate with a steam fire engine and a hose cart running as separate rigs, and unfortunately for Ahrens, most fire chiefs at that time just could not see the advantage of combining the two functions in one apparatus.

While the American Fire Engine Company was attempting to establish itself as the “big dog” in the world of steam fire engines, the LaFrance Fire Engine Company was busy acquiring patents for both the Hayes and the Babcock aerial-ladders, the two most popular aerial-ladder designs of the 19th century, effectively giving LaFrance control over the manufacture of all aerial-ladder trucks built in the U. S.  It was not until 1900 — when the American Fire Engine Company merged with LaFrance, Amoskeag, and a number of other manufacturers of firefighting equipment and apparatus such as the Rumsey Company, Gleason & Bailey, the Charles T. Holloway Company, and the Macomber Fire Extinguisher Company to form the International Fire Engine Company, that the trust was fully established.

The International Fire Engine Company name was changed to American-LaFrance Fire Engine Company as all production moved to the LaFrance plant in Elmira, NY, in 1904, but just as with AFEC ten years earlier, post-merger profits were not as great as had been anticipated, in part thanks to a new kid on the block.

The Seagrave Corporation was located in Columbus, OH, and while Seagrave did not build steam fire engines, it did manufacture first-rate horse-drawn chemical engines and hook & ladder trucks, as well as the very popular “combination truck,” so-called because it combined a chemical engine and a hook & ladder truck in one apparatus. Seagrave combination trucks were in service with fire departments across the U. S., and then beginning in 1900, Seagrave started manufacturing horse-dawn aerial-ladder trucks that competed successfully with the American-LaFrance aerial-ladder truck.

Meanwhile, tired of living the life of a retired independently wealthy squire, Chris Ahrens rediscovered his latent entrepreneurial spirit and sold his share in American-LaFrance in 1904. Together with sons John and Fred and son-in-law and Cincinnati Fire Chief Charles H. Fox, formed a new company called the Ahrens Fire Engine Company at the old Ahrens Manufacturing Company plant in Cincinnati. The company’s name was changed to the Ahrens-Fox Fire Engine Company in 1908 when Charles Fox became company president, and it quickly became the # 2 steam fire engine manufacturer and American-LaFrance’s chief competitor in the area of steam fire engines. But it wasn’t easy.

Because American-LaFrance retained all patents held by the various companies that formed ALF — including the Metropolitan patent originally filed by Chris Ahrens in the 1890s  — Ahrens-Fox could not build the Metropolitan. And so instead, Chris Ahrens invented, developed, and built a completely new steam fire engine called the “Continental” that did not infringe on any existing patents, and in fact the Ahrens-Fox Continental sold very well, and might even have eventually matched or even exceeded American-LaFrance’s Metropolitan in sales, except the steam fire engine era came to a rather abrupt end in 1915.

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Evanston Fire Department History – Part 14

Another installment about History of Evanston Fire Department

The Aftermath: 

“It was said of George Stiles… as a fireman, none better… that he was one of the most-popular men in the Department… that he had a kind word for everyone…. so shall we not then cherish his memory, and think of these splendid men more highly than ever before?”  
— Dr. Wilkinson, Pastor of Wheadon Methodist Church, speaking at the George Stiles funeral, December 14, 1905 

At 9 AM on December 14, 1905, the day after the Mark fire, an Evanston Fire Department honor guard — Lt. John Watson, and firemen Henry Newton, Harry Schaeffer, and Walter Hubert — escorted the earthly remains of Fireman William Craig from his residence at 1924 Jackson Avenue to the Davis Street C&NW RR depot. A “fire helmet” of fresh cut flowers with Craig’s badge number “123” worked into the center of the arrangement was displayed atop the Engine 1 hose wagon that carried Craig’s casket. EFD Assistant Chief Jack Sweeting accompanied the Craig family to Knoxville, Illinois, where the deceased firefighter was laid to rest.  

At 2 PM on the same day, Evanston firefighters and town residents attended the funeral for Fireman George Stiles at Wheadon Methodist Church on Ridge Avenue. Dr. Wilkinson officiated. Pallbearers were Capt. George Hargreaves, Lt. Thomas Norman, Engineer J. A. Patrick, and firemen William Sumpter, John Eckberg, and John Reddick. Among those present at the service was former EFD Chief Norman Holmes. After the service, the Evanston Fire Department honor guard led the funeral procession (with the casket of deceased fireman Stiles aboard the same hose wagon used to transport William Craig’s casket to the C&NW RR dept earlier in the day) down Ridge Avenue to Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago, where the fireman was laid to rest.

The next day (Friday December 15, 1905), with Stiles and Craig dead, firemen Ed Johnson and Thomas Watson still in the hospital, and Assistant Chief Sweeting in Knoxville, the undermanned Evanston Fire Department led by new EFD Chief Carl Harrison had a tough time battling a large fire at Lyons Hall at 621 Davis Street. Before it could be contained, the blaze caused heavy damage to the third floor and rear of the venerable structure, as well as significant smoke and water damage to the rest of the building.  

Built in 1868, Lyons Hall had served as a popular spot for political meetings, wedding receptions, dances and proms, and other events for almost 40 years. The first meeting of the aboriginal Pioneer Fire Company of Evanston took place at Lyons Hall in January 1873. The aggregate damage to the building was $12,000, including $8,000 to the structure itself, and an additional $4,000 in damage to a photographer’s studio, tailor shop, shoe store, fruit shop, and real estate office on the first floor, and to apartments on the third floor. 

In January 1906, Lt. Thomas Norman was promoted to Captain and replaced new EFD Chief Carl Harrison as company officer of Hose Co. 3, and Fireman William Sumpter was promoted to Lieutenant and was assigned as assistant company officer of Engine Co. 1. George Stiles was next on the promotional list for lieutenant, and so he would have been the new lieutenant if he hadn’t been killed in the Mark fire.  

Also in January 1906, the Evanston City Council approved a pay raise for all members of the Evanston Fire Department, except the chief. Included in the package was a $5 per month increase for the assistant chief fire marshal and the three captains, and a $2.50 per month increase for all other members.   

After becoming chief, Carl Harrison instituted wide-ranging training lectures for Evanston firefighters. Among the speakers were an architect and an electrical engineer. Harrison also proposed using rocket flares and balloons to facilitate communication between firefighters on the scene of an alarm and others still en route. In the days before radio communication, fire companies responding to an alarm could not be contacted prior to arriving at the scene, and then firefighters would have to hurry back to the firehouse in case an additional alarm was received while they were on the road. Although it might have sounded like a good idea at the time, Chief Harrison’s communication plan involving rocket flares and balloons was not implemented.  

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