Fort Dearborn Magazine, September, 1922
SHOULD you shout “Fire!” over your telephone in the middle of the night, what well oiled machinery you would set in motion!
Before you finish giving the operator your ad dress, she has plugged a connection with the fire alarm department in the City Hall. llere quick as a flash, it is telegraphed to your nearest engine, hook and ladder and squad companies. The man on watch at each of these stations sounds the waker, and, presto. the sleeping firemen of a second ago, are into their clothes and sliding down the brass pole to duty—wide awake and alert. They take their positions on the fire apparatus and are clang-clanging down the street at the rate of thirty-five miles an hour and are at the scene of action in less than three minutes from the time you sent in your call.
The fire is a bad one. It got a good start before its crackling woke you. The battalion chief sizes\ it up before he alights, and his first move is to pull a “4—11” alarm at the nearest fire alarm box. This brings ten more Companies, as well as the fire mar shall and a chief of brigade. Half dressed, half crazed occupants of the flaming building run about shouting and accomplishing nothing. Then cool headed, rubber—coated firemen take command.
While the engine company is connecting up the hose, the hOok and ladder company is busy at ventilating the building. The squad company lends a hand to the engine company until it gets well under way. Then these men search each room of the burning structure for those who may not have escaped.
Here is a Spectacular Fire Which, Nevertheless, it Not the Hardest Type of Fire to Fight
Several men manipulate each hose, for, when charged for action, a hose would get away from one man and perhaps kill him. In this bad fire where it is necessary to join together the hose in order to get double power streams, a hose jack is required, as well as three or four men. Each company works together under the leadership of the captain or the lieutenant. He in turn is under the direction of the battalion chief. Eight or ten streams are playing into the angry tongues of fire almost immediately.
Three firemen chop open the walls and floor in order to get a direct water play, while others throw a water barrage about them to keep the flames down.
One member of the squad company finds a woman as far under the bed as she could get, on the third floor, overcome by smoke. He pulls her out. The fire has closed in behind them. He shouts to the men outside for the rope. Catching one end, he pulls up a wall hook with life bag fastened to the other end. He claps the wall hook over the window sill; fastens the unconscious woman in the bag and to his Pompier belt, and takes her down the rope, hand under hand. When the Schaefer method fails to bring her to, the lung motor is used. She begins to breathe again.
While this is a spectacular type of fire, a basement fire is the more dangerous to fight. There, ventilation is impossible. Unless it is to shut off an amonia vat, firemen are seldom sent into a bad basement fire, because the smoke gasses will not permit of their working without gas masks and with masks they cannot sense the likelihood of an explosion in time to get to safety.
A Basement Fire is the More Dangerous to Fight.
A fire along the river is fought from the river side of the building by one or more of the four fire boats, the “Graeme Stewart,” the “D. J. Swenie,” the “Illinois,” and the “Joseph Medill.”
Fire fighting is so hazardous that it is highly fascinating to the firemen and to the fire fan. Indeed, it is said that there is one dentist in Chicago who has been known to quit a patient in the midst of a treatment, to run to a fire. In Chicago one hundred and sixty-three citizens known as “Fire Fans” have organized. They have officers and pay dues. They are good fairies to the firemen. At every big fire, these men bring the firemen sandwiches and coffee. When a fireman’s widow and family are left in bad circumstances, the Fire Fans give a benefit dance, or raise money in other ways, which the firemen, themselves, would not be permitted to do.
There is much bravery recorded in the annals of the Fire Department. For the outstanding deed of heroism, a Lambert Tree Medal is awarded each year. Chief Corrigan was awarded this medal in 1917 for carrying a live bomb out of the Auditorium, an incident you may recall. It went to Allen V. Prouty in 1920, for rescuing a girl from a burning building by means of a ladder.
It is at the Fire Drill School and Training College on Sebor Street that each year, two hundred recruits acquire the courage it takes to be a fireman. Fifteen to twenty-five fresh recruits come in every thirty days, and daily go through the thirty-four processes of fire fighting. Every day there are from one to four shifts from the companies of the regular Fire Department, taking their quarterly outside drill along with these recruits, by way of keeping fit.
Recruits and regulars take their turns sliding down a rope, starting from the top of the Drill School, which is five stories. When a man shows nervousness in getting started, Drill Master Carmody tells him to go back and start from the floor below. He eXplained to the writer,
We never crowd a man. The minute he shows signs of nervousness, we have him start low and work up again. It saves him from losing his nerve and he makes all the faster progress as the result.
The men slide down, clinching the rope with their hands, legs apart, with just about as much ease as you or I would walk down stairs.
“At the start some are timid,” Drill Master Carmody went on. “It’s amazing what thirty days’ training will do. Of course, there are some who would never develop into firemen, but they usually find that out before they have gone very far, and drop out of their own accord.”
All Traffic Should Stop When the Gong of the Fire Engine ls Heard
The writer saw four recruits make record time of thirty-four seconds for stretching fifty feet of hose up the ladder to the roof, including the connection at the hydrant and throwing a. stream on the adjacent building. Fifty seconds was the best time made by any of the regulars. “Oh, you’ll go back, too, when you haven’t drilled that way every day; but the practical experience you’ll get, when you are put with a shift of regulars, will make you a better fireman than you are now, for all your record time,” one of the regulars told a jubilant recruit.
Each man took his turn at each of the thirty-four operations, which included the use of all types of fire fighting apparatus, all makes of hydrants, the lung motor and gas masks. “When for thirty days, a man has walked around a few seconds a day in an amonia-filled room with a gas mask on, he is not timid when the need comes to enter a gas filled basement,” Assistant Marshall Carmody said.
One third of the recruits are trained to be expert drivers. They are the coolest headed, for they must be able to wake from a sound sleep, hop into their apparatus and drive at t0p speed with sure control.
Up in the class room, the men were given their daily lesson in the theory of fire fighting. “Fight fire as close as possible. Get to the very edge, get to feel the flames licking you before you open your pipe,” these big boys were instructed.
Showing the Firemen Clambering Over the Building After They Had Partially Subdued the Flames at a Fire at 58-62 W. Kinzie Street, on September 6, 1922.
The recruits and the regulars as well, are graded, as in any school and their grades are published in the magazine, Fire. Unsatisfactory grades must be brought up to standard, or firemen are dismissed. There is much friendly rivalry between the companies on the matter of grades. Two companies located down in the loop, particularly, come to the school the same day, and there is all the spirit of a tournament in the way they vie for points on the thirty— four processes in fire fighting.
This school has been in existence only two years. It not only thoroughly trains recruits before they go out as firemen, but also weeds out the physically and mentally unfit in the department. It is also the laboratory from which more efficient apparatus and better methods are being produced.
This Picture Was Taken 30 Seconds After the Alarm Was Soundecl
To qualify as a recruit. a man must be between twenty-one and thirty-one years old, at least five feet, seven, and weigh one hundred and thirty—five pounds or more. The most promising of the recruits are soon Spoken for by the captains of the different companies where vacancies are pending. When these recruits become firemen, they are given every encouragement to study and pass examinations at the City Hall for promotions up to assistant marshall. Above that office, promotion is by appointment. While awaiting a vacancy in the officers ranks, privates who have satisfactorily passed examinations, are put in the fire prevention department. Their work here is the inspection of buildings. When a private becomes a lieutenant, he wears a single bugle emblem on his cap. Two bugles tip-side down distinguish a captain. Our battalion chiefs wear two bugles crossed. Three bugles crossed differentiate the ten assistant marhalls. Marshall O’Connor is the only one whose cap is decorated with four bugles crossed. The color of the background for these insignias denotes the nature of a lieutenant or a captain’s company. A red background is for the hook and ladder companies; a bright blue for the squad companies; a plain background for engine companies.
Jumping from An Upper Story Window Is a Feature of the Fireman’s Drill
The city is divided into twenty-six battalion districts, over each of which there is a battalion chief. He responds to all alarms from his district. In each of the one hundred and seventy-nine companies, there are twelve men. The captain and five privates go on duty for twenty-four hours at eight o’clock in the morning. His shift is relieved the next morning by the lieutenant and five privates. Aside from keeping the fire station and apparatus in the pink of condition, each oflicer drills with his men on the fire escapes of nearby buildings. Of course, this is done after ofiice hours, when the buildings are vacant. And, as mentioned before, each shift puts in a strenuous day at the Drill School four times a year.
When on duty, the firemen retire at nine o’clock. Then each man takes his two-hour turn at watching the sounder for possible alarms during the night.
Eighty-five per cent of the 21,627 alarms received last year were “stills,” that is, given in person, or over the telephone, instead of by pulling the fire alarm boxes. However, it is not preferable to give a “still”. To the contrary, it is better to pull the fire alarm boxes.
Not all of these alarms were fire cases. Three hundred and seventy—four were respiration cases; not a few were to rescue men from gas filled caisons; others were for people who had been caught under street cars or wreckage; and a number of calls were for aid to lift horses out of manholes or pits. Each alarm costs the taxpayers an average of $270. Of course, some alarms cost very little; others cost thousands of dollars. For instance, in the big fire west of the “Loop” this spring, $35,000 of fire fighting equipment was destroyed. Not all of these alarms were fire cases.
The Chicago Fire Department Received 374 “Respiration” Calls Last Year (1921).
Chicago’s fire alarm system is unexcelled anywhere. Its large office in the City Hall building suggests to the outsider, nothing so much as a huge telegraph station. The wires connect with the fire stations, fire alarm boxes, the executive and clerical branches of the fire department. Immediately an alarm is received, it is telegraphed to every station and all divisions of the department. The companies called out, acknowledge the alarm before leaving. They also report when the fire is out, from the nearby fire alarm box, and this information is telegraphed broadcast. This broadcasting of fires is done as a matter of morale. Besides keeping each company informed where the day’s fires are, it tends to keep all alert, even though some may not have been called out for several days.
Another function of this division of the fire department is to give out generally, a report of obstructions in streets, caused by construction operations or by accidents. Then in case a company is called to such a vicinity, the driver will not take that street on his way to the fire.
Most people know that when the clang of the fire department is heard on a street, ettiquette demands machines and wagons draw up to the right hand curb and stop, and that street cars also come to a dead stop. However, there are many serious accidents every year because this rule is not respected. Only recently a woman turned her car in front of an approaching fire engine. When she came to, she sobbed through her bandages to the attending nurse and doctor, “Why I held my hand out! I gave them the right signal.” No, the only right signal with the fire department is to give them the whole right of way. When property is burning or some one is in grave danger, “ladies first” is not a traffic rule.
On a first alarm, one to five companies are sent out. On the second, or a “2-11” call, two to five more companies are sent; on a “3-11” call, two to five more, and the same reinforcement is sent for a “4-11” call. However, where a fire “gets away” from the firemen at the start, the officer in charge rings a “4-11” at once, which brings nine to fifteen additional companies. Marshal O’Connor goes to all “4-11” calls, as does also the assistant marshal of the district.
In the fire alarm department, on a map of Chicago, the location of the fire companies are marked by electric lights. Red lights are used for the engine companies; green for the hook and ladders; yellow for the squads. When a company is sent out, its light is punched out until it reports back. Fire stations are located according to the density of population, the two most distant stations being thirty-fiVe miles apart.
In case of a big fire, like that west of the “Loop” in February, all the nearby companies are called into action. The fart-her outlying companies are then moved up into the nearby vacated stations so as to be near the scene of action should still more assistance be needed on the big fire, and so as not to leave any district unprotected, should a second fire break out while the home companies are busy. The last companies called to the fire are the first to leave.
The Firemen’s Mutual Aid and Benefit Association covers each man in the fire department, who belongs to it, with life insurance to the amount of $2,000. For many years this insurance has been paid by the members of the department, each contributing a dollar upon the death of a member. However, now that the department has reached 2,300 men, a dollar in each case is a great burden, as some months there are five or six death assessments. The Firemen’s Mutual Aid is publishing the magazine, “Fire.” Its net subscription proceeds go toward building a sinking fund. Also, Chicago’s part of the net receipts from the annual baseball games between New York and Chicago firemen, go for this purpose. This sinking fund will eventually reduce the assessment burden very materially. The Fire Department pensions firemen when they have been in service twenty years and are past fifty years of age.
Our present fire department is a great contrast to the volunteer bucket brigade with which the first Chicago fire was fought at the corner of what is now Lake and LaSalle Streets in 1834.
It was in 1852 that the volunteer fire department purchased the first “Long John” fire steam engine which was used for ten years, after which time it was sold to the little town of Bancroft, \Visconsin. From this town the Chicago Historical Society has just re purchased it. It was this engine that figured in the fire on South Wells Street, May 19, 1858.
Chicago’s First Fire Engine, “Fire King No. 1″
At this fire, so much time was lost in getting the volunteers and their horses to the engine, that a paid fire department was organized by Denis J. Swenie, father of Frank W. Swenie, the present chief operator of our fire alarm department. Horses were bought and kept at the engine house and a tower was built from which the paid firemen took turns watching over the village of Chicago.
By October 8, 1871, the date of the Great Chicago Fire, our telegraphic alarm system had been in effect since 1864. There were then seventeen engine companies and four hook and ladder companies. Fire boats were put in service in 1877. Geyser, our first really first-class fire boat, was built in 1886. The sliding poles in the stations made their debut in 1878.
As recent as the big stockyards fire in 1910, all fire fighting apparatus was horse drawn.
It was in 1913 that a Webb Motor Fire Engine marked the beginning of the motorizing of our fire department.
MORE ABOUT CHICAGO’S FIRE DEPARTMENT
“The Chicago Fire Department”
CHICAGO VS. NEW YORK FIREMEN.
Baseball teams representing- the Chicago and New York firemen played a series of three games ifn New York city July 20, 21 and 22, 1922. the visitors winning the first two contests by scores of 4 to 2 and 10 to 9. New York won the third game 13 to 6. In 1921 the New York team won two out of three games.
Captain David Kenyon invented the first sliding pole in 1878. The pole was placed in the quarters of Engine 21, located at 313 Third Avenue (909 South Plymouth Court). Captain Kenyon was a member of the volunteer fire department from 1856 to 1859. He became a paid member in 1869, assigned to Engine 5.
“Descending From the Bunk Room”
Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Magazine
Programme of the Fireman’s Tournament held in Chicago, September 3-7, 1879.
The fire department stopped using horses for fire trucks February 5, 1923, with Fire Engine 11, at 10 East Austin Avenue. Fire alarm box 846 at State and Chicago Avenue was pulled at 12:40 p.m. and with the horses scrubbed and groomed, the old steamer rolled out of the swinging doors for the last time. While they were gone the new motor apparatus was backed into place, and the motorization of the Chicago Fire Department was an accomplished fact. The city purchased 28 Model “A” Fords for their Battalion Chiefs. The roofs were left black while the bottoms were painted red, the now-familiar color scheme of fire engines.The drivers took a cheer from the crowd on the return to the firehouse and then the horses were taken to the House of Correction to be sold.
The Chicago Fire Department is the largest fire department in the Midwest, and one of the largest and oldest major organized fire departments in the U.S.