Posts Tagged Pioneer Fire Company of Evanston

Evanston Fire Department history Part 73

From Phil Stenholm:

Another installment about the History of the Evanston Fire Department


On May 1, 1975, the Evanston City Council accepted bids for a new 1,000 / 300 triple-combination pumper, with the exact same specifications as the two Howe pumpers purchased a year earlier. The new pumper would replace the 1952 Pirsch 1000 / 100 TCP (Engine 25) that was originally Squad 21 before being rebuilt as a TCP by General Body in 1966. Mack came in with the low bid of $53,725, beating out FWD Seagrave, Pirsch, and several other apparatus manufacturers for the contract. As expected, EFD Chief George Beattie specified that the new Mack pumper be painted “safety yellow,” just like the two Howe pumpers delivered in 1974 and 1975.

In addition, Chief Beattie received a new Plymouth sedan (fleet # 301) in 1975 that was painted red instead of “safety yellow,” with the chief’s 1973 Plymouth station wagon transferred to the platoon commanders as the new F-2 after a light bar was installed on the roof replacing the portable “Kojak light.” The former F-2 (1971 Dodge station wagon) was transferred to the Fire Prevention Bureau (FPB) to be used by the newly-created fire investigation unit (“arson squad”) that would be staffed each shift by a trained fire investigator. Firefighters Bob Schwarz, Pat Lynn, and Jim Hayes were appointed fire investigators by Chief Beattie. As part of the reorganization, one of the two FPB captain positions was eliminated after Capt. Joe Thill retired. 

Also, as part of the contract resulting from the firefighters strike of February 1974, the average work-week for firefighters was reduced from 56 hours to 54 hours, with two new positions created in the EFD in 1975 that increased  total membership from 100 to 102. One fireman would now be assigned each shift to cover for a fireman absent while on a “short day” (formerly known as a “Kelly Day”), with three firemen on each shift covering for vacations and sick leave. As a result, the de facto EFD minimum shift staffing was reduced from 28 to 27, with six three-man companies (the five engine companies plus Truck 22), two four-man companies (Truck 21 and Squad 21), and the shift commander (F-2).     

Eighteen new firefighters were hired in 1974-75, including Samuel Boddie, Art Miller, Bill Betke, Jim Potts, Dave Lopina, Bob Hayden, Mike Adam, Don Gschwind, Thomas Simpson, Joe Hayes, Bob Wagner, Keith Filipowski, Ken Dohm, Tom Kavanagh, Milton Dunbar, Ward Cook, Jim Keaty, and Donald Williams. Also, Fireman James “Guv” Whalen was promoted to captain, firemen Harry Harloff and Ken Perysian retired after 23 years of service, and several other firefighters resigned.  

On Wednesday, May 28, 1975, the Evanston Fire Department responded to a report of a fire in the rear storage yard of the Rust-Oleum Corporation at 2301 Oakton Street. A second alarm was struck immediately upon arrival of the first companies, and a MABAS box was eventually pulled, the first time the EFD had requested a MABAS box since the system was implemented in 1968.

At the peak of the fire, 19 2-1/2-inch hand lines, two deluge nozzles, one multi-versal, one ladder pipe from Truck 22, one street jack, and one deck gun from Squad 21 supplied streams that were played onto the storage yard and nearby exposures, as numerous 55-gallon drums full of paint exploded and were sent hundreds of feet into the air. Evanston police temporarily evacuated some of the residences to the east and north. 

A 200,000-gallon water storage tank located at the southwest corner of Cleveland & Hartrey was supplied by a 24-inch feeder main that extended south from Church Street. The storage tank fed a 1,000-GPM pump owned by Rust-Oleum and operated by their company fire brigade, as well as the standard ten-inch and twelve-inch residential mains in the neighborhood. Engines from the Evanston, Skokie, Wilmette, Morton Grove, and Winnetka fire departments pumped water from numerous hydrants located to the east and north of the fire, including one hydrant at the dead-end of Cleveland Street at the C&NW RR Mayfair Division tracks 1/4 mile north of Rust-Oleum.

The conflagration was eventually surrounded, drowned, contained, and extinguished, but not before causing $775,000 in damage, making it the fourth highest loss from a fire in Evanston’s history up until that point in time. Only the fires at the American Hospital Supply Corporation (October 1963), the Rolled Steel Corporation (January 1970), and Bramson’s clothing store (October 1971) cause greater damage. If nothing else, the Rust-Oleum fire was certainly the most spectacular fire in Evanston’s history!

The next day — May 29, 1975 — the Evanston Fire Department celebrated its centennial. Although May 29, 1875, was the date that the EFD was legally established by ordinance, the actual genesis of the village fire department was January 7, 1873, when the 60-man volunteer Pioneer Fire Company of Evanston was accepted for service by the village board. 

The purpose of the fire department ordinance of May 29, 1875 was not to create a firefighting force. The Pioneer Fire Company — renamed “Pioneer Hose Co. No. 1” in December 1874 when the Holly High-Pressure Waterworks was placed into service — already existed, and had existed for more than two years. Rather, the  real purpose of the ordinance was to legally describe the method by which additional volunteer fire companies could be organized and accepted for service with the village going forward, since by May 1875 the C. J. Gilbert Hose Company was already in the process of being organized, chartered, and trained.

Once the C. J. Gilbert Hose Company was ready to be accepted for service, the ordinance needed to describe the relationship between the two hose companies. They might be rivals, but they could not be competitors. They had to work together for a common purpose. Also, the ordinance legally installed the fire marshal as chief of the fire department, with the two hose companies plus any other companies that might eventually be organized and accepted for service officially and legally under the command and direction of the fire marshal.  

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Evanston Fire Department history Part 30

From Phil Stenholm:

Another installment about History of Evanston Fire Department


May 29, 1925, was the 50th anniversary of the Evanston Fire Department, which is to say the EFD was legally established by town ordinance on that date in 1875. More specifically, the Evanston Village Board passed “An Ordinance Concerning the Fire Department of the Village of Evanston” at the village board meeting on Tuesday night, May 25, 1875, but by law it did not become legal and take effect until it was published in the weekly Evanston Index newspaper on Saturday, May 29.

However, the “Fire Department Ordinance” did not really change anything, other than to make the Evanston Fire Department official and legal. The day-to-day work of Evanston firefighters was no different on May 29, 1875, than it was a week, a month, a year, or even two years earlier. In reality, the actual founding date of organized firefighting in Evanston was Tuesday, January 7, 1873, when the Pioneer Fire Company of Evanston was chartered with the State of Illinois and accepted for service by the Evanston Village Board.    


PERSONNEL (59 firefighters / two platoons) 
NOTE: Assistant chief or captain was the company officer, and the lieutenant was the assistant company officer and worked the opposite platoon from the assistant chief or captain.  

STATION # 1 (809 Grove Street) – four-bay firehouse (plus a fifth bay for the police ambulance) completed March 1897 as Police / Fire Headquarters, the EFD relocated here from three-bay firehouse at city hall at northwest corner of Davis & Sherman (city hall was built in 1893)  

Chief Albert Hofstetter (hired 1901, promoted to Lt 1903, promoted to Capt 1914, then was appointed chief two hours after being promoted to Capt)
NOTE: Chief was technically always on duty, although he spent evenings and Sundays on-call at home. When at home, he responded only to confirmed working fires and other significant incidents or situations requiring his presence. 

Fireman John Wynn (hired 1920)
Fireman Frank Sherry (hired 1924)
NOTE: Chief’s drivers were assigned administratively to Truck Co. 1. When at a fire, the chief’s driver was responsible for communication from the scene of the incident, either by driving to & from the nearest fire station, or by use of a nearby telephone if available, or by telegraph from the nearest Gamewell fire alarm box. 

TRUCK Co. 1: (12) 
Assistant Chief Ed Johnson (hired 1902, promoted to Lt 1909, promoted to Capt 1914, promoted to Ass’t Chief 1918)
Lieutenant Carl Windelborn (hired 1910, promoted to Lt 1923)
Fireman Walt Boekenhauer (hired 1915)
Fireman Michael Garrity (hired 1918)
Fireman Henry Dorband (hired 1919)
Fireman Jerry Moriarty (hired 1919)
Fireman George Thompson (hired 1919)
Fireman Martin Jasper (hired 1920)
Fireman Fred Godeman (hired 1920)
Fireman William Rohrer (hired 1923)
Fireman John Lee (hired 1924)
Fireman Ed Voight (hired 1924)
NOTE: In addition to being company officer of Truck Co. 1, Assistant Chief Johnson was in charge of the EFD whenever Chief Hofstetter was absent from the city or otherwise unavailable

TRUCK Co. 2: (10)
Captain Tom McEnery (hired 1902, promoted to Lt 1914, promoted to Capt 1918)
Lieutenant Henry Tesnow (hired 1914, promoted to Lt 1924)
Fireman John Gaynor (hired 1912)
Fireman Anthony Steigelman (hired 1915)
Fireman John Schippman (hired 1918)
Fireman John Lindberg (hired 1920)
Fireman Herman Peters (hired 1923)
Fireman Dominic Bartholome (hired 1924)
Fireman Joe Donahue (hired 1924)
Fireman Fred Korn (hired 1924)

ENGINE Co.1: (12)
Captain J. E. Mersch (hired 1905, promoted to Lt 1914, promoted to Capt 1920)
Lieutenant Dan McKimmons (hired 1911, promoted to Lt 1924)
Motor Driver John Wilen (hired as Asst Motor Driver 1918, promoted to MD 1924)
Assistant Motor Driver John Monks (hired 1911, promoted to AMD 1918)
Fireman William Wilbern (hired 1901)
Fireman John M. Mersch (hired 1906)
Fireman Ed Fahrbach (hired 1916)
Fireman Jim Geishecker (hired 1918)
Fireman Herman Windelborn (hired 1920)
Fireman Harry Jasper (hired 1920)
Fireman John Linster (hired 1924)
Fireman Herman Godeman (hired 1924)


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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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Evanston Fire Department history – Part 1

From Phil Stenholm:

The Big Bang of the Evanston Fire Department

And in the beginning, there was the Pioneer Fire Company of Evanston… 

Evanston’s first fire company was the 63-man volunteer “Pioneer Fire Company of Evanston,” organized during the first week of January 1873, and accepted for service with the Village of Evanston at the Village Board meeting of January 7th.

The Pioneer Fire Company pre-dates ALL other organized fire-fighting outfits in Evanston. It even pre-dates the Evanston Fire Department itself! (The EFD was not officially and legally established by ordinance until May 1875).

The Pioneer Fire Company was formed in response to two big fires that occurred in Evanston in 1872.  

The first (and worst) blaze destroyed 18 businesses and residences in the Willard Block (located on the north side of Davis Street, between Sherman and Benson) in the early morning hours of Monday, October 14, 1872 (just over a year after the Great Chicago Fire). Despite heroic work by an ad hoc citizen “bucket brigade” (relaying water from a nearby well to a privately-owned 50-gallon hand-operated “garden pumper”), the conflagration was stopped only after Town Board President C. J. Gilbert ordered buildings at both ends of the block dismantled to remove potential fuel for the fire. The $49,300 in damage would stand as the highest loss from an Evanston fire until the Lincoln Avenue schoolhouse fire of March 1894.

Then on December 20th (a scant two months after the Willard Block fire), three residences on Hinman Avenue were destroyed by fire. Once again, a citizen “bucket brigade” could not stop the flames. However, within two weeks, Evanston would have a fire marshal, and an organized fire brigade.

Evanston’s first fire marshal was Colonel Wesley Brainerd.

A native of Rome, N. Y., Col. Brainerd was a prominent civil engineer and had been an officer in the Engineer Brigade of the Army of the Potomac during the Civil War. He was wounded by a sniper’s bullet while supervising deployment of a pontoon bridge over the Rappahannock River at the Battle of Fredericksburg in 1862. Although Col. Brainerd had no background as a firefighter (he was brought to Evanston to construct sidewalks), he was appointed the first Fire Marshal of the Village of Evanston on January 1, 1873. 

The Fire Marshal was primarily responsible for enforcing the new “Fire Limits” ordinance, but he also helped to organize the Pioneer Fire Company. Col. Brainerd resigned his post as Fire Marshal in June 1873, at which time he left Evanston to continue his career as a civil engineer. He died on August 19, 1910, at the age of 77. (His papers are in a special collection at the University of Tennessee). Pioneer Fire Company foreman and fire insurance agent Joseph Humphrey replaced Col. Brainerd as Fire Marshal in the Summer of 1873.

The first firehouse was the Evanston Village Hall (a two-story wood-frame structure, located at the southwest corner of Orrington Avenue and the south alley of Church Street). The first-floor was altered to accommodate the fire company, as the two front windows were removed and replaced with double-doors. A room was made available for company meetings, and a bell was purchased to alert the company’s members when there was a fire.

The Pioneer Fire Company’s first apparatus were a hand-drawn Babcock hook & ladder wagon equipped with a ladder, pike-poles, axes, buckets, and rope, and a hand-drawn Babcock double 50-gallon self-acting chemical-engine.

The Babcock chemical-engine was all the rage in 1872, as the new invention was demonstrated at universities, conventions, and state and county fairs. Since it was manufactured in Chicago, the Chicago Fire Department acquired several in the aftermath of its infamous fire. The Babcock chemical-engine was advertised as “a fire extinguisher on wheels” and that’s essentially what it was, providing up to 100 gallons of soda-acid fire suppression almost immediately upon arrival at a fire.

Chemical fire suppression was gradually replaced by the so-called “booster” system — a water tank & auxiliary pump with a pre-connected hose-lead — after its invention by Ahrens-Fox President Charles H. Fox in 1913, but chemical fire suppression was the main-stay “first responder” of the American fire service for more than 40 years.

Evanston’s chemical-engine was taken out of service and kept in “mothballs” for almost ten years after the high-pressure waterworks was placed in service in January 1875, before being converted into a horse-drawn apparatus and returning to front-line duty in 1884. The rig was refurbished in 1902 and remained in front-line service as the second-section of Truck Co. 1 until November 1917 nearly 45 years after it was built .   

Unlike the Babcock chemical-engine, the Babcock H&L was not converted to a hose-drawn rig, and so it was scrapped when Evanston’s hand-drawn fire fighting apparatus were replaced by horse-drawn apparatus in 1883.

The Pioneer Fire Company included many prominent citizens, including several Civil War heroes, a doctor, a judge, and a banker who would later serve as U. S. Secretary of the Treasury. Although a volunteer entity, membership in the Pioneer Fire Company was considered a privilege and an honor. Not everyone who applied for membership was accepted. The company held meetings at the village hall on the first Thursday evening of each month, and company officers scheduled occasional surprise “practice drills” for company members.

The first such drill was held at the Northwestern Gas Light & Coke Company (the “gasworks”) on February 22, 1873, as Pioneer Fire Company officers set tar on fire and waited for the company to respond. They responded all right, but it was reported in the Evanston Index that “some firemen are exceedingly bitter over going to a practice fire on such a cold day.” (Note that at the next monthly meeting, the fine for insubordination was doubled!).

Actual fires were rare during the years 1873-1874. However, the company did battle a major blaze at the M. Bates Iott furniture store plus seven adjacent businesses in the Judson Block (south side of Davis Street, west of Sherman) on October 15, 1873. Aggregate damage totaled $14,650. Although firefighters were able to salvage much of Iott’s property, some of the salvaged goods were stolen by looters. Because Evanston’s two police officers were also members of the Pioneer Fire Company, there was no law enforcement presence outside the store to protect the goods from opportunistic thieves. Subsequently, the Village Board of Trustees would mandate that Evanston police officers could not serve as firefighters.

A sophisticated high-pressure waterworks was placed in service in Evanston in January 1875. Christened the C. J. Gilbert Waterworks in honor of the esteemed Village Board President and leader of the so-called “Waterworks Party”, it was built by the Holly Company of Lockport, New York, at a cost of $111,241.68. The project was funded by the sale of municipal bonds in the amount of $83,850 approved by Evanston voters in the elections of 1873 and 1874, and special assessment taxes collected from property owners as water mains and fire hydrants were extended into the various neighborhoods of the village. Because of the cost, no town as small as Evanston had ever built a Holly high-pressure waterworks before.

The Holly Company’s high-pressure waterworks was a technological marvel. The engine house was constructed at the northeast corner of Lincoln Street & Michigan Avenue (later known as Sheridan Road), and the crib, intake pipes, and rotary strainer were located in Lake Michigan 500 feet off-shore. The high-pressure rotary pump, designed by Burdsall Holly, was capable of pumping 3,000,000 gallons of water every 24 hours for general residential use and allowed water-pressure in the mains to be increased two or three times above normal “residential pressure” in the event of a fire so that firefighters would require only direct pressure (or “plug pressure”) to extinguish a blaze. Steam fire engines were not needed. A larger Holly engine & pump capable of pumping 12,000,000 gallons per 24 hours was acquired and installed in 1897.

The Pioneer Fire Company was reorganized as a 30-man hose company and changed its name to Pioneer Hose Company No. 1 in December 1874, as Evanston’s new Holly high-pressure waterworks was about ready to be placed in service.

The Holly waterworks system was officially tested and accepted by the Village of Evanston on January 21, 1875, as firefighters from Pioneer Hose Company No. 1 manning hose lines with one-inch diameter nozzles were able to simultaneously throw four streams of water between 104 – 117 feet into the air (using direct-pressure from hydrants), and then using a single 1-1/2-inch diameter nozzle were able to throw a single stream 153-1/2 feet into the air. Then using a 1-3/4-inch diameter nozzle with a three-hose lead from three hydrants, they were able to throw a single stream of water 217 feet into the air. Water pressure was measured at 100-110 psi at the engine house on Lincoln Street, and at 80-90 psi at the hydrants located on Church Street and Davis Street more than a mile from the pumping station.

Unfortunately, increasing water pressure during fires eventually led to broken and collapsed water-mains sometimes DURING a fire!  Therefore, beginning in 1912 plug pressure was used only rarely. There also was a problem with anchor-ice sometimes clogging the intake pipes during the coldest days of winter, causing the high-pressure pump to be less-effective. 

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