History of Chicago, Rufus Blanchard, 1900
History of The Chicago Fire Department
The first authentic record of any organization in Chicago for protection from fire is a notice, the original of which is still in existence, from the secretary, J. J. Gillupy, of the Washington Volunteer Fire Co., to one of its members for a called meeting, and dated January 8, 1833.
In August of that year Chicago was incorporated as a town, and in November Benj. Jones was appointed fire warden. In September, 1834, an ordinance was adopted by the town board of trustees, by which the town was divided into four wards, and fire wardens for each appointed as follows: First ward, Wm. Worthington; second ward, Ed. E. Hunter; third ward, Samuel Resique; fourth ward, James Kinzie. These wardens were charged with the duty of enforcing the fire ordi nance previously passed, and of directing in their respective wards the operations of the men who re sponded to the alarm of fire. On October 7, 1835, an appropriation for the purchase of some primitive fire apparatus was made, at which time Hiram Hugunin, the president of the town board of trustees, was elected chief of the embryonic fire department. On the same date (October 7, 1835) the Pioneer Hook and Ladder Co. was organized by the principal citizens.
On November 4 following, the town board adopted a lengthy ordinance creating a fire department, with chief engineer, two assistants, four fire wardens (in addition to town trustees, who were ex-officio fire wardens) and “such fire engine men, hose men, hook and ladder men, and ax and saw men as may from time to time be appointed by the board of trustees.” Stringent rules governing the companies which were organized, or might organize, were adopted, and the refusal of any citizen to obey the orders of the chief or his assistants or any of the fire wardens in case of fire, was punishable with a fine of $5.
On December 12, 1835, the first engine company, called “The Fire King,” was organized. The first officers were S. G. Trowbridge, foreman; Alvin Cal houn, assistant foreman; A. D. Hamilton, secretary; H. G. Loomis, treasurer, and Ira Kimberly, steward. About this time Chicago’s first fire engine was pur chased, $894.38 having previously been appropriated for the purpose, payable in two annual installments. Soon after an engine house was built, located in the public square on La Salle street. In February, 1836, Hiram Hugunin, who had acted as chief engineer for about six months, resigned, and Geo. W. Snow was appointed to the position, which he held for one year, and was succeeded by John M. Turner, foreman of Hook and Ladder Co. No. 1. On December 11, 1837, the second engine company was organized as the Tradesmans’, but soon afterward changed to Metamora, No. 2. For convenience, we append, in tabular form, the record of the organization of the various companies composing the fire department until the present paid system displaced the old volunteer organization:
The following is a correct list of the various chiefs of the volunteer fire department, together with their terms of service:
Hiram Hugunin, 1835, six months; George W. Snow, 1836, one year; Jno. M. Turner, 1837, one year; Alexander Lloyd, 1838, one year; Calvin Calhoun, 1839, one year; Luther Nichols, 1840, one year; A.S. Sherman, 1841-2, two years; Stephen F. Gale, 1843-6, three years; C.E. Peck, 1847-8, two years; Ashley Gilbert, 1849, one year; C. P. Bradley, 1850-1, two years; U. P. Harris, 1852-3, two years; Jas. M. Donnelly, 1854, one year; Silas McBride, 1855-7, three years; Dennis J. Swenie, 1858, one year.
Very soon after the great Water and Lake street fires in October, 1857, the question of having steam fire engines and a paid department began to be agitated, and in February, 1858, the first steamer was purchased, and named “The Long John.” In December of the same year a full company was commissioned by the city authorities to be regularly paid for their services. Gradually additions were made under the paid system, several of the companies reorganizing under the new order of things, but not until the latter part of 1859 were the last of the volunteer organizations disbanded, and the change made complete.
Various improvements were introduced into the department, new companies organized and equipped, the fire alarm telegraph introduced (in 1865), and the department rendered very efficient under the succes sive management of Chief Engineers D. J. Swenie, U.P. Harris and Robert A. Williams, down to 1870-1, at which time the department consisted of seventeen en gine companies of nine men each, three hook and lad der companies, six hose companies and one hose eleva tor, the available working force being upwards of 200 men. Of the great fire of 1871, we need not speak here, as it is treated elsewhere in these pages. Among the results of the fire, however, as affecting the fire department, were a more careful organization and stricter discipline of the force, an increased water sup ply and the extension of the fire limits in 1872, within which the erection of frame buildings was forbidden. This ordinance was amended in 1874, making the fire limits, with the above restrictions as to character of buildings, co-extensive with the limits of the city.
The chiefs of the paid department have been: D.J. Swenie, 1859; U. P. Harris, 1859-68; R. A. Williams, 1868-73; M. Benner, 1873-79, succeeded by the present incumbent, D. J. Swenie, 1879-99.
In 1875 the board of fire commissioners was abol ished and the fire department placed under the direct control of a fire marshal, responsible to the mayor and common council of the city.
During the succeeding ten years from 1879 to 1889 the uniformed force of the department had increased to 638 men, forming forty-four engine companies, four teen truck companies and one chemical company. The annexation of 1889 added twelve engine companies, seventeen hook and ladder companies, five hose com panies and one chemical company.
On September 1, 1885, the iron tug Alpha was chartered and fitted up as a fire boat, and assigned to duty in the lumber district. The following year this tug was replaced by the purchase of another, which was christened the Chicago, better adapted to the work contemplated, and a new boat, the Geyser, was built by the department, specially adapted for fire duty, which was located at the foot of La Salle street.
In 1890 the Yosemite was added to the fleet and the “Chicago” was transferred to South Chicago.
In 1898 a fourth boat, the Illinois, constructed of steel, was built and placed in service.
The statistics of the department on the first day of September, 1899, were as follows : Engine companies, including one double company and four fire boats, 86 ; hook and ladder companies, 27, and hose companies, 1, with a total force of 1,126 men. The value of depart ment property was : Buildings, $684,300 ; land, $361,575; apparatus, $933,510; total, $1,979,385. The annual expense of operating the department is $1,500,000.
D. J. Swenie, Fire Marshal.
“The Chicago Fire Department”