Introduction and Early History of the Department
The history of the South Bend Fire Department is not just a chronicle of local fires, but it is also a study of the evolution of fire fighting techniques and equipment. Spanning a time period of over 100 years, each era of the South Bend Fire Department demonstrates the progress made over the preceding one.
Fighting fires is only one aspect of the fireman’s job. As public servants, firemen have been called upon to perform a wide range of unusual tasks. For example, when a bear from Storyland Zoo [now Potatawatomi Zoo] climbed a tree but was unable to climb down, the Fire Department was called in to help, and throughout their years of service, firemen were called to rescue a parrot from a tree, to pry a duck out of a chimney duct and to remove a Thanksgiving turkey from a roof.
While these necessary but humorous favors are always greatly appreciated by the citizens of South Bend, fighting fires is the foremost duty of the department. As you will see in the following history, the department has performed this important task admirably.
The story began on December 16, 1852 when the city trustees procured a new fire engine and hose cart, complete with all the current fire fighting equipment from Boston, Massachusetts. The entire outfit was purchased for only $1,000. It was not until 1853 that South Bend’s first fire engine, St. Joseph County No. 1, went into service with Edmund Potts Taylor serving as the foreman of the company. He was assisted by John Caldwell. A second company was added to the local fire department with Lot Day, Jr. as foreman.
The first major fire the department fought occurred on January 6, 1855 when the Kankakee Custom Mill, also known as the Flour Mill, located near the dam on the St. Joseph River was destroyed.
In 1858 the local fire department expanded to include a third engine, known as Union Company No. 3. In the same year, the town board of South Bend purchased a fire bell for $14.50. On March 17, 1858 the large frame schoolhouse on the southwest corner of Main and Division (now Western Avenue) was demolished by flames.
In order to help the regular firefighters, a local volunteer fire department was reorganized in 1865. In addition, a chief engineer was employed that year at a salary of $25 a year. His duties included directing the firemen and supervising the 30 municipal cisterns at street corners where the water for fire fighting was obtained.
By 1868, South Bend’s Fire Department had grown to three engine companies, three hose companies and one ladder truck. The city also purchased a horse drawn rotary steam fire engine which was nicknamed the “Young Hoosier” by the members of the department. An engineer to run the engine was hired by the city at a salary of $300 a year. During that year, a fire destroyed an entire block on Michigan Street, between Washington and Jefferson.
By this time, the Volunteer Fire Department had become an important factor in South Bend firefighting. John Brownfield was chief of the department in 1868 and was succeeded by William Miller in 1872. Miller had the title of Chief Engineer of a 4-hose company and one steam engine. On June 17, 1872, the Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company was destroyed by fire, a loss of $80,000. The following September the fire department discovered a more efficient means of fire protection and a steam pump was used to draw water out of the 30 public cisterns located throughout the city.
By 1873 there were 3 companies of the Volunteer Fire Department that had been reorganized by Captain Edwin Nicar, Fire Chief. By 1874, South Bend had 7 fire companies.
During the next five years, five major fires occurred, severely damaging South Bend businesses and buildings. The Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company suffered its second fire in less than 2 years when the plant was nearly destroyed by a blaze on August 24, 1874. Losses were in excess of $300,000. On January 2, 1877, the former Methodist Northern Indiana College building which was erected in 1861 at Washington and Circle Avenue, and housed the Reaper Iron Works factory was gutted by fire that caused $45,000 damage. The tannery on the river bank at the foot of Lafayette Boulevard belonging to John Meyers burned to the ground on January 24, 1877. Losses were estimated at $5,500.
Perhaps the worst fire during that period occurred on Christmas Eve, 1878 when 6 buildings were destroyed in the St. Joseph block on Main Street front. The University of Notre Dame suffered a $200,000 setback when on April 23, 1879, the Church of the Sacred Heart, the Novitiate and several adjacent buildings were destroyed by fire.
A major breakthrough for the fire department occurred in 1879 when the city installed telephones in the fire stations. O.H. Brusie was Chief of the Local Volunteer Fire Department that year.
A.B. Culver, Chief of the Local Volunteer Fire Department in 1880, became the Chief of the South Bend Fire Department in 1881. During his term, several disastrous fires occurred. Twenty businesses and professional firms were razed on January 28, 1881 in the 100 block of West Washington at 2:00 a.m. Losses were $30,000. On October 21, 1881, $5,000 damage was caused by a fire at Liphart Furniture (116 and 122 Michigan Street).
In 1882, Chief Culver’s staff was increased . On May 29, 1882, the Mayor’s salary was increased from $200 to $400 annually, the Marshal’s increased from $700 to $750, the Chief of the Fire Department from $150 to $200 and Assistant Chief’s salaries increased from $25 to $40.
On July 15, 1882, the Eagle Tavern (also known as the Buzzard) on the southeast corner of Washington and Lafayette was destroyed by fire. In September, the State Fireman’s Association and Volunteers held its’ convention in South Bend. Later that year, on November 18, the Gamewell fire alarm telegraph system went into operation.
One of the largest fires in the history of the South Bend Fire Department occurred on January 4, 1883 at the West Race, the site of many previous fires. The conflagration started in the Hodson Brothers Planning Mills and before it could be brought under control, it had swept the distance of one square block from Washington to Market Street (now Colfax) burning out Hodson Brothers, Smith and Betling, Hartzell and Hartmen, N.P. Bowsher, South Bend Pulp Mill, Bissell Plow Works and Sibley and Ware Machine Shop.
The Studebaker Corporation was once again besieged by fire on May 28, 1885. Although the fire was discovered at midnight, it was not until daylight that the flames could be brought under control. Three million feet of lumber were consumed during the fire, valued at $70,000.
In June 1885, Edwin Nicar was named Fire Chief. In 1886 Isaac Hutchins was the Fire Chief. In March of that year, the West Race was once again the scene of a major fire. Between Washington and Market Streets the following firms were totally demolished: Hodson, Liphart (furniture factory), Bissells, Pulp and Plow, and Sibley and Ware.
In March 1886, an official order was issued disbanding all the volunteer fire companies in the city, therefore giving a free hand to the paid firemen in fighting the city’s blazes.
Isaac Hutchins continued his position as Fire Chief in 1887. On January 10 of that year, the newly organized city-paid Fire Department went into service. The Fire Chief traveled to all fires on horseback. John Chockelt received a contract from the South Bend City Council to build a buggy for Chief Hutchins. The estimated cost of this carriage was listed as $50.
During the next 5 years that Isaac Hutchins served as Fire Chief, there were 8 substantial fires. On April 10, 1887, a raging fire swept through the Cavanaugh Brick Yards on North Michigan Street totally destroying the stables and killing 9 horses. The following November 7, the Novitiate Building at the University of Notre Dame burned (again), causing $25,000 damage.
The Teel & Badet Toy Company (later called South Bend Toy Company), a four story wooden structure on the east bank of the St. Joseph River near Colfax was destroyed by fire at 1:00 a.m., December 29, 1887. The total number of alarms for that year was 60.
Two major fires happened in March 1888. The Phoenix Flour Mill on the east bank of the river was destroyed, with a loss of $25,000. Murdock’s Hardware, 118 S. Michigan Street, succumbed to flames several days later, incurring $10,000 in damage. On November 8, the Indiana Paper Mills was partly destroyed by fire.
On February 9, 1889, firemen battled flames at the Hudson and Stanfield Lumber Yards at Wayne and Columbia Streets, braving temperatures of 28 degrees below zero! The building was destroyed despite their efforts.
The first fire that caused substantial loss to a private residence occurred on October 9, 1889 when Tippecanoe Place, the home of Clem Studebaker, located at Taylor and Washington Streets was mostly gutted by fire. The loss was estimated at $91,000. The second major personal residence fire was in October 1891 when the half-finished home of Frederick S. Fish on Sunnyside was destroyed at a loss of $25,000.
In 1893, the first metropolitan South Bend Police Department was installed with 10 men. The same year a tragedy occurred in the South Bend Fire Department when Edward Martin, driver of the chemical truck of the department, hurled over the dashboard and was killed at the corner of Ford and Chapin Streets (no longer an intersection).
On July 8, 1893, Hose Company Number 2 moved from the 200 block of West South Street to a new station at 403 West Sample Street. The station was erected by the Studebaker Manufacturing Company.
William Baker succeeded Isaac Hutchins as Fire Chief in 1894 and held that position until 1897. During his term, another fire struck Studebaker partially destroying the dry kilns. On August 26, 1894, a fire which broke out at 11:00 a.m. on Hydraulic Avenue destroyed the Jacob Kuntz Planning Mill, SB Toy Works, The Jacob Strayer Factory and the Miller & Lontz Coal Yards.
In 1895, Fire Station Number 5 was built on Sample and Marietta Streets. On June 17, 1895, the Shank Livery barn, in the 300 block of South Michigan Street was destroyed by fire, killing 14 horses and destroying several carriages and wagons in the process. Losses were estimated at $10,000. On November 21, 1895, a fire in the Blueing and Baking Powder Works of S.A. Russ & Company caused $5,000 damage.
Fire Station Number 6 was put into service on March 9, 1897. In April of that year, the Wells, Woodworks and New York Central Railroad freight house was destroyed by flames as was the Bressler Brothers grocery store that was located in a three-story building in the 100 block of North Main Street. Eight persons were rescued by firemen in that blaze.
Jacob Kerner took office as Fire Chief in 1898 and held that position until 1901. During his first year in office there were 131 fires in the city. The first fire of consequence occurred in April when St. Patrick’s Church near Western Avenue was destroyed by fire. In February 1899, Isaac Hurwich’s 4 and 9-cent store suffered $3,000 damages from a fire.
The rank of Lieutenant was created in the South Bend Fire Department in March 1899. Leo Blackeman, Henry Entzion, Wilfred Grant, John Janey, William Heirman, Gust Hoagland, E. Jacquith and Adam Sieter were all promoted to this new rank.
In 1900 six men were added to the department and there were three major fires. On June 21, the Hotel Morrison at Lincoln Way East and St. Joseph Streets was destroyed by an explosion and fire killing three men in the process.
On September 7, 1900, the South Bend Foundry Company plant that was located at Lafayette and Stull Streets was destroyed by fire, a loss of $60,000. Later that year in November the newly built Notre Dame gym was destroyed by fire accruing $40,000 in losses.
In 1901 Jacob Kerner and Irving Sibrell shared the title of Fire Chief. In April, a huge grain elevator on West Sample Street near Olive was razed to the ground by a fire. The capacity of the elevator was 125,000 bushels and the estimated loss was $120,000.
Wilfred Grant took over the position of Fire Chief in 1902 and continued his term through 1913. The first major fire of his term occurred on February 27 when the plant of the Anderson Chilled Plow Company, 22 West Ewing Street, was destroyed by fire. On May 3, two firemen were seriously injured when a ladder truck from the Central Station house and a hose wagon from Station #3 collided at Main and LaSalle Streets while both vehicles were rushing to a fire.
Fire Chief Grant made a test run of his brand new buggy on June 3. Built by Studebaker, the buggy was painted fire-engine red and was equipped with ball bearings, rubber tires, lanterns and other essentials. Total cost for the new vehicle was $225.
While answering a false alarm, Captain Chester Van Arsdel was seriously hurt, two horses killed and a hose wagon demolished at the Carroll Street Grand Trunk Railroad crossing when a high speed freight train hit them on September 12.
By 1904 the South Bend Fire Department had grown to 7 stations when Fire Station #7 was put into service at Notre Dame, Indiana.
The seventh station was obviously needed as the next few years saw a sharp increase in the number of fires. The Suburban Club, a resort on Lincoln Way East across from Playland Park and operated by Joseph Logan, was destroyed by fire on May 31, 1904. On the morning of June 8, the second floor in the Novelty Hack Barn (a hack is a horse that you can rent), 326 S. Michigan Street was consumed by a fire.
The Vandalia Railroad roundhouse that was located near West Indiana Avenue was completely demolished by fire on July 28. On the evening of September 9, 1904, flames badly damaged a large barn at 540 S. Chapin Street and burned six horses. The barn was formerly used by the firm of Kanouse & Philips Coal Dealers. A fire broke out in the packing room of the South Bend Woolen Company on E. LaSalle Avenue at 5:15 p.m. November 17, causing $10,000 damage.
On March 15, 1905, a morning fire destroyed the foundry of the South Bend Pulley Company plant at 1400 S. Lafayette. The Art Store owned by Frank Freyermuth at Jefferson and St. Joseph Streets was badly damaged by fire on February 4, 1906. One hundred high grade pigeons (racing pigeons) valued at $1,000 were suffocated in this fire. On the same day, Fire Station #3 was built at 219 N. Hill Street.
A tragedy occurred on August 7, 1906 when three people burned to death in a fire that was started by Mrs. E.H. Denslow while she was temporarily deranged in her residence at 436 N. Main Street. The victims of the fire were Mrs. Denslow, her husband and her sister.
On November 1, 1906 a volunteer fire department was organized in River Park with Richard Moritz serving as the first Fire Chief.
At 4:45 a.m. on February 3, 1907, there was a 2nd alarm fire at the Indiana Foundry on Sycamore Street causing $3,200 in damage. Firefighter William Cavanaugh was injured by a falling wall during a fire that was caused by sparks from a stove. A fire which broke out in the south engine room of the Singer Sewing Machine plant on February 20 caused $5,000 damage.
On February 15, 1907, the Fire Department had an opportunity to display its firefighting techniques when it had exhibition fire runs for the insurance company.
On March 6, 1907 at 7:20 p.m., the department responded to a chimney fire at the home of Magie Niezgodski, 909 W. Napier Street. On the way to the fire, one of the fire apparatus collided with a streetcar at Michigan and Wayne Streets.
At 6:13 p.m., March 13, there was a 2nd alarm fire at the business at 471 South Street.
Under the auspices of the Fireman’s Pension Fund Association, the city firemen staged an elaborate Fourth of July celebration in 1907. In addition to the traditional festivities, the South Bend Fire Department had another reason to celebrate as Fire Station #10 was opened at 1820 S. Michigan Street.
Less than 3 weeks later on July 21, while firemen were responding to an automobile fire at 9:35 p.m., Engine #3 collided with Herman Hopke. Ending the year, a fire gutted the factory at the Sweeping Compound Company, 1108 S. High Street at 10:00 a.m. on Christmas Day.
The first fire of 1908 was on January 6; a 3rd alarm fire at the George H. Wheelock & Company, 113 W. Washington Street, that caused $11,000 damage. The fire was attributed to spontaneous combustion. Two days later, Mrs. Sezpanich burned to death at 10:15 a.m. That same day ladder truck #2 was put into service at Central Fire Station and a horse drawn engine #10 was put into service at 1820 S. Michigan. August Hoagland was the Captain.
From 1909 through 1911 there were 20 fires of major consequence, causing untold thousands of dollars damage and killed four persons. The first fatality occurred on January 29, 1909 when Mrs. Cooley succumbed to the burns she received after throwing oil on a fire. On February 17 fire did much damage in the lumber drying rooms of the carriage department at the Studebaker works. An overheated furnace was the cause of a 3rd alarm fire at the hotel at 538 S. Scott Street at 8:30 a.m. on March 9. On July 10 at 4:25 a.m., there was a 3rd alarm fire at the factory of Smith and Jackson on Michigan Street that caused $6,900 damage. The cause of the fire was unknown. On October 30, at 12:30 p.m. while responding to a barn fire at 315 S. Chapin Street, William Furey’s chief driver was thrown from his buggy at the corner of Division and Taylor and suffered severe bruises. The last fire of 1909 was a 2nd alarm on November 4 at 11:50 a.m. at W.F. Wyant Cold Storage. Damages were $6,200.
The fire that put the South Bend News temporarily out of commission on February 1, 1910 had the dubious distinction of being the first fire of the year. The 3rd alarm fire broke out at noon in the Mills Building on E. Jefferson and caused $15,000 damage.
On April 24 at 6:00 a.m. the department answered a 3rd alarm fire at 341 S. Scott Street. While playing with matches, 4-year old Wladislaus Aujarski suffered fatal burns on June 23 at 11:45 a.m.
A disastrous fire occurred on July 18 at 11:00 a.m. that destroyed the Aerial Moving Picture Theater, a large tent with a wooden front that was located on Lincoln Way East near Jefferson Blvd. Four days later there was a 3rd alarm fire at 11:48 a.m. at the corner of Niles and Howard Streets. It was started from an unknown source. On August 19, the Oliver Chilled Plow Works paint shop on S. Arnold Street was destroyed by fire. Losses were in excess of $25,000.
A fire in the August Coddens residence, 502 S. Walnut Street was responsible for the second death that year. The blaze started when a fire was lit with gasoline at 6:00 a.m. on October 26. Mrs. Coddens died at Epworth Hospital at 1:00 p.m. Mr. Coddens was burned on his hands and face, Mary Coddens was burned on her hands.
The year ended with an $8,000 fire on December 18 at the Diamond Auto Company 2101 S. Main Street. On March 8, 1911, at 11:20 p.m. a 2nd alarm fire caused $4,500 damage at 1801 Ernsberger Street. On April 23, 1911 at 3:50 p.m., there was a 3rd alarm fire at St. Mary’s barn on April 24 at 12:25 a.m. there was another 3rd alarm fire at 405 E. Madison where two horses belonging to Grover Hartman were burned to death.
The second child fatality attributed to playing with matches in a little over a year occurred on August 4. Five-year old Cora Riffel of the Daniel Riffel residence, 816 N. Eddy Street, burned to death.
Notre Dame was once again the site for a disastrous fire when four large ice houses filled with 4 tons of ice were destroyed on July 9th. The loss was estimated at $20,000.
While responding to a fire alarm at 834 Park Avenue on January 5, 1912, Joseph Fearkess, Pipeman #6, froze his hand while Percy Alford, Pipeman Chemical, froze his ears.
On March 6, a fire at the J.P. McGill Furniture Company store at Michigan and Jefferson did $6,000 damage.
March 25 was a significant day in the advancement of the South Bend Fire Department when the first automobile fire apparatus, Chemical #1, was put into service at the Central Fire Station. On April 2 it made its first run with I.W. Sibel as driver. At that time there were 66 men on the department and 377 alarms had been answered so far that year. On November 12, the Chemical Company was sent to Lakeville, Indiana, to aid in a fire.
That was not the only time that South Bend Fire Department left the city to help other towns fight fires. On July 16, 1913 an explosion of dynamite caps in Walkerton, Indiana, required the assistance of Hose Company #1. The same company assisted Michigan City, Indiana, firefighters on July 12. The Chemical Company went to Crumstown, Indiana, on July 25.
The first incident involving the South Bend Fired Department and new Fire Chief Irving Sibrell in 1914 was, surprisingly enough, not a fire. On January 3, a three story brick building at 11 S. Michigan collapsed. Although the fire department rushed to the scene, no fire ensued. The first action the firefighters saw that year was in Lakeville on January 14 when the Chemical Company assisted. On February 4, a fire in the Majestic Theater, 131 N. Michigan, caused $4,500 damage.
Three firefighters were injured in the line of duty in 1914. On April 21, Captain Entizon burned his eyes from the explosion of a
Babcock extinguisher while attending a chimney fire at 2601 S. Michigan.
March 10, 1921 marked the passing of the era of horses as they were replaced by gasoline engines in the South Bend Fire Department. The evolution of firefighting equipment was also accompanied by increased efficiency in firefighting techniques. On April 12, a fire which threatened the entire town of Edwardsburg, Michigan, was stopped by South Bend firemen. The blaze, however, wiped out half a block on Main Street before being stopped. In addition to the new equipment, Fire Station #4 at Thomas and Walnut Streets was rebuilt into a bay station.
Major fires of 1921 were as follows: February 19, South Bend Bedding Company, 517 S. Scott Street; 3 alarm fire from overheated stove caused $6,000 damage. May 16, The South Bend Grain Elevator and Grand Trunk Coal Docks at Sample and Olive were destroyed by fire, combined loss of $150,000. July 5, 6:00 p.m. 209 S. Kaley Street $1,000 fire. November 2, a 3 alarm fire on the 2nd floor of the Oldsmobile Garage, 226 S. Lafayette, loss $7,000. Totals for 1921: 201 box alarms, 23 false alarms; number of runs: 10,151, 3,929 miles, 197,800 feet of hose, 8,673 feet of ladder, 12,935 gallons of chemicals and 11 tarps used. Total losses $203,209.
Three new pieces of equipment were added to the department in 1922. On June 1, truck #2 was put into service at Fire Station #4. Two days later the new American LaFrance ladder truck #3 was put into service at the Central Fire Station. Also, another American LaFrance pumper was put into service at Fire Station #3 the same day.
The major fires during 1922 were as follows: January 6, 420 Manitou Place, $2,000 fire in a two story apartment house. January 20, at 2:22 p.m. at 420 S. William, Son of Israel Church hit by $6,500 fire. February 21, a fire on the 3rd floor at the Brandon-Durrell store, 201 S. Michigan caused a loss of $67,000. June 30, 5:45 a.m. Sample Street, the United State Postal Service discovered fire crackers in a mail-car. Although a considerable amount of mail was burned, no loss was taken. Fire was attributed to spontaneous combustion. July 4, the Acme Manufacturing Company (makers of the Acme Red Cedar Chest) plant, 320 Sycamore, was destroyed by fire, loss of $60,000. August 13, 1:20 a.m., six buildings on the southeast corner of Michigan and Colfax were destroyed by a 4-alarm fire. Loss of $175,000. August 20, a stock barn own by Charles Weilder, Donmoyer Street, was destroyed by fire. 23 horses were lost in the fire that caused $16,000 damage. September 3, 2:15 a.m., Lindorf Bakery, 623 S. Meade Street, 2nd alarm fire from unknown source caused $5,200 damage. September 27, the Washington State Bank, 1301 W. Washington Street, 2nd alarm fire caused $200 damage. October 12, S. Rabakowski, age 4, of 723 Carlisle Street was fatally burned while playing around stove. Property damage of $25. October 27, 2:20 a.m., the rear of the Commercial Hotel, 119 N. Main Street was partly destroyed by a 3-alarm fire. Loss of $25,000. November 14, 1:44 p.m., a 4-alarm fire in the paint shop at the South Bend Toy Works caused $10,000 damage. December 3, 9:01 a.m., a large warehouse in the 1500 block of W. Washington Street was destroyed by fire.
Fires in 1923 were as follows: February 6, 3:00 a.m., the street car barns on Columbia Street and 16 cars were badly damaged by fire. Employee Clarence Kuhl lost his life in the 4-alarm fire. Loss of $120,000. February 18, 12:22 a.m., M. Myklebus, 119 N. Main Street burned to death in a hotel fire. Loss of $624. March 18, 10:35 p.m., a fire in the Honeymoon Theater, 1119 Western Avenue, caused $5,000 damage. April 13, 25 automobiles were destroyed in a garage fire at 210 N. Michigan Street. Loss of $30,000. May 8, 6:50 a.m., Mrs. Edith Tyler, 928 N. Eddy Street, was fatally burned after throwing kerosene on live coals. Property damage of $10. May 30, 12:52 a.m., 715 W. Dunn Street, seven buildings were involved in a 3rd alarm fire. Loss of $3,000. August 24, 3:02 a.m., the Gross and Gross Dry Goods Store, 1320 S. Catalpa Avenue was gutted by fire, 3rd alarm at 3:07 a.m., loss of $31,000. September 22, 11:29 p.m., 423 E. LaSalle, barn fire, loss of $3,100. October 26, it is believed that one person was fatally burned and four were overcome by smoke in a fire at the Hoffman Hotel. November 20, 6:21 a.m., the First Baptist Church at Main and Wayne Streets was damaged by fire; loss of $28,000.
In 1924, several firefighters were injured while battling blazes. On January 5, Julius Wentland was hurt by a falling chimney at 112 N. Birdsell. Later that year, on February 29, Wentland was overcome by smoke while trying to douse a fire in the rear of the Crescent Hotel, 121 N. Michigan.
On July 26, Fire Chief Irving Sibrel’s eyes were seriously burned in a gas explosion at the Golden Eagle Inn, 208 S. Michigan, at 6:25 p.m. W. Stout was fatally burned in an oil explosion at 804 26th Street.
On November 2, the police and fire alarm signal station, 212 E. Wayne Street, was erected.
The most significant fires of 1924 were as follows: January 8, 7:20 p.m., the Ciralski Building, 300 South Joseph Street, loss of $6,000. January 20, 2:53 a.m., 427 S. Chapin , $9,200 damage done to Sherman’s Store. April 4, 3:45 a.m., 421-425 Chapin damaged by $11,000 fire. April 21, at 9:00 a.m., R.S. Vanber, a steel hoister at Studebaker, was fatally burned by hot ashes. June 14, 10:25 p.m., Mrs. E.R. Cerlay was struck and killed by a street car at Michigan and Navarre. June 22, lightning caused $15,000 damage at Iwan Brothers Factory, 1503 Prairie Avenue. December 6, 3:27 p.m., a $13,000 fire hit Home Furniture Company at 120-132 W. Division Street (now Western Avenue).
During 1925, Irving Sibrel’s last year as Fire Chief, the South Bend Fire Department underwent some radical changes. On January 16 at 11:57 was the last fire alarm box pulled in over the old fire alarm system. The fire was in a frame garage at 1727 S. Walnut. The cause of the fire was unknown but it was responsible for $700 damage.
Two days later, the new Alarm Station and Gamewell Fire Alarm System in the city went into service. Edward Gillen, Alfred Lenta and Benjamin Wagner worked 8-hour shifts in the Alarm Station. On January 22 at 4:10 p.m., the first box alarm was turned in over the new system. The box at Dayton and Carroll, was pulled in response to a fire at 317 Dayton that was started by a stove. There was no damage.
Major fires in 1925 were as follows: January 5, 1:34, the O.W. Schaffner Electric Store, 127 W. Jefferson, was destroyed by a $20,000 fire. February 5, 7:48 p.m., fire destroyed the G&L Army Navy Store, 307-309 Michigan cause was unknown but did $30,000 in damage. March 5, 9:40 p.m., a $12,000 explosion rocked the Studebaker Corporation, there was no real fire loss. April 13, 6:07 p.m., the T. Cusack Company Painters, 608 Niles, was hit by a $12,000 fire. April 21, at 11:30 a.m., the Studebaker Corporation had a short circuit in an auto. A.J. Pike was fatally burned. June 24, 9:37 p.m., a fire at the Max Adler Clothing Store, 102 S. Michigan caused $85,000 damage. July 2, 7:40 p.m., fire at the Atlas Baking Company Plant, 315 W. Monroe, loss of $6,000. August 17, 6:56 p.m., 614 N. Studebaker, 4 boys were badly burned while playing with matches when a nearby gasoline drum caught on fire. October 21, at 3:10 a.m., B&S Sandock Furniture Store, 1217 W. Washington Street, was partly destroyed by fire, loss $60,000. December 27, 10:25 p.m., the R. Elbel residence, 605 Portage Avenue, was damaged in a $13,000 fire.
Roy Knoblock succeeded Irving Sibrel in 1926 as South Bend Fire Chief. On February 1, at 2:35 a.m., a fire that started in the Brandon-Durrell Company store at 131-133 S. Michigan destroyed a square block before it was discovered. Ten firms were demolished; combined losses were $50,000. While battling the flames in this 5 alarm fire, Captain Camile DeVleeschower fell off a roof and was killed. He was 56 years old, from Company #4. Fire Chief Knoblock, Earl Rupe, Anton Sroda, Albert Kraszewski and Louis Lederer were also injured in this fire. Another fire on this date destroyed the Standard Oil Company, 604 S. Scott Street. The neighboring city of Mishawaka sent a pumper to help. The loss in that fire was $100,000.
South Bend firefighters sustained other injuries that year in the line of duty. On September 2, city firemen attempted to remove and old Ford touring car that had been destroyed by fire and stored in a shed in the rear of 119½ S. Hill Street. Suddenly the gas tank exploded and Lt. Alex Fredericks, Harry Johnson (Engine #3), Lt. Andrew Anderson, Albert Lederer, George Geltz, Ed Peters and Sylvester Gorka (Chemical #1) were badly burned.
Other major fires in 1926 were as follows: January 4, 4:59 a.m., a 3rd alarm fire at the Armour and Company Cold Storage Plant, 531 S. Chapin Street, which spread to 515 Chapin causing $60,000 in damage. Rubbish near a furnace was the cause of a fire on February 13 at 7:28 p.m. at 410 N. Hill. Chief Knoblock was injured when he fell into the basement. Losses were $250. On February 23, the same address was hit by a fire that caused $7,000 damage. March 2, 4:28 p.m., an overheated furnace caused $7,671 damage to S. Prosley’s store, 1402 Prairie Avenue. May 15, 9:34 p.m., defective wiring caused a &7,800 fire at 1328 S. Michigan. F. Strickler, P. Alford, A. Lederer, H. Brandley, W. Gnoth and substitute fireman G. Geide were all overcome with smoke and gas. July 24, 5:31 p.m., the Citizens National Bank, Sample Furniture and Ries Furniture Company, 312 S. Michigan, were damaged in a $10,000 fire. September 16, 11:34 p.m., a 3-alarm fire caused $13,000 damage at 120-122 N. Michigan that had been occupied by I.W. Lower Decorating Company, Alex Korski’s Shoe Repair and Connell Printing. September 26, 2:49 a.m., a $7,100 fire fatally burned A.V. Church, 207 S. Scott. October 16, 7:36 a.m., 3rd alarm fire at 310-312 N. Michigan caused $18,700 damage. December 15, 3:45 p.m., a 2½ story apartment building, 502-508 S. Columbia, was destroyed. The blaze was attributed to a child playing with matches.
On February 17, 1927 a new 750 GPM Seagrave pumper costing $15,500 was put into service at the Central Fire Station. Fires destroyed the Liberty Clothing store at 301-305 S. Michigan causing a loss of $20,000 on January 17 and on December 9, fire destroyed the bowling alleys in the LaSalle Hotel annex at Michigan and LaSalle. Loss of $60,000. During 1927 there were 973 alarms, 25 false and the department had traveled 6,960 miles using 218,100 feet of hose, 10,090 gallons of chemicals, 15,521 feet of ladder and total property damage was $210,696.
The South Bend Fire Department continued to update its equipment throughout the years. On November 20, 1928 a new chemical truck was put into service at the Central Fire Station. The truck consisted of a Studebaker chassis and a Boyer body and tanks.
On May 4, 1928, one of the city’s oldest landmarks, a two story frame structure at 202-206 S. Chapin, suffered a loss of $10,000 in a 3-alarm blaze. The building was formerly used by Ben Meadow as an auto wrecking shop.
On December 9, at 2:32 in the morning, four young children were rescued and carried to safety by their father, Louis Nyari, when their home at 2130 S. Carlisle Street was destroyed by fire.
Perhaps the most tragic event in 1929 occurred with five children and their grandmother were trapped and burned to death in their beds. The tragedy happened April 18 at 10:00 p.m. The cause of the fire which gutted the home at 1214 S. 36th Street was attributed to the explosion of an oil lamp. The grandmother, Mary Goodley, was 79 years old and the ages of the children were 14, 13, 10, 8, and 12 months.
Another fire on January 4, 1929 left seven families homeless when fire swept through homes at 122-126 E. Paris Street. Twenty-three persons were driven from their beds on February 24 when flames gutted a 2 story rooming house at 416 S. Main Street. The loss incurred in that fire was $4,894.
The only 5-alarm fire in 1929 occurred on January 22 at 3:32 a.m. A fire at the southwest corner of Michigan and Colfax destroyed
Hook’s Drug Store, Hollywood Candy, the Coffee Ranch and the Waffle Shop. Losses were in excess of $100,000.
A gas explosion on March 31 claimed the life of A.T. Linder and seriously injured E. Linder in their residence on Healthwin Road. On September 7, a fire of undetermined origin destroyed the entire stock, equipment and warehouse of the South Bend Roofing Company at Longley and College; losses were estimated at $10,000. A 4-alarm fire on December 15 caused $40,000 damage to the Breskin Pain Company and the Moran Electric Company at 530-532 S. Michigan Street.
On August 1, 1930, twelve men were added to the South Bend Fire Department as well as some new equipment and a new station. A Studebaker Buffalo 750 GPM pumper was put into service August 23 at Station #6 and Fire Station #11 was put into service on September 1, at Lincoln Way West and Elmer Street. The Studebaker Buffalo ladder truck #2 went into service at station #4 on September 3.
A fire on February 3, 1931, claimed the lives of the four Hoover children, ages 5 months, 2, 4, and 5 at Hepler and Ironwood Road. Three firemen were injured on March 31 while responding to a rural fire alarm on Ironwood Road when Chemical #1 turned over on South Bend Avenue. Lt. Homer Perkins, Guste Giede and driver Clayton Taylor were injured.
On July 21, the Playland Park ballroom was destroyed by a 3-alarm fire. Losses were in excess of $40,000. An explosion caused $14,000 damage to the Krekelas Shoe Shop and the Greenland Lunch Room at 120 W. Washington on December 7. Total losses in 1930 were $190,651.
In 1931, Fire Chief Roy Knoblock received a new Studebaker sedan, and the new Peter Pirsch-Pierce Arrow pumper was put into service at Fire Station #5 on September 2. Mrs. Lulu White was fatally burned on September 20 while on September 26 three firemen were injured while pursuing a fire. Pumper #2 crashed into a streetcar at Michigan and South Streets injuring George Witucki, Ben Wegner and Ed Neizgodski. Total property damage that year was $95,291.
In keeping with the times and the rapid evolution of firefighting techniques, the South Bend Fire Department purchased a new Boyer-Pierce Arrow pumper on February 9, 1932. It was put into service at Station #10. With the help from the new more advanced equipment, firemen from South Bend, Dowagiac, Elkhart and Cassopolis battled to save the business district of Cassopolis from destruction in a fire that started at 8:30 p.m. December 13. Four businesses were destroyed in the blaze which caused $40,000 damage.
On March 21, a 3-alarm fire destroyed the White House Restaurant, 411 S. Michigan Street. Captain Louis Lederer was hurt when he fell from an icy ladder. The blaze at the White House Restaurant cause $20,000 damage. Total damages from fires in 1932 were $126,130.
While police and firemen salaries were cut from $152 to $125 in 1933 (during the Great Depression), the amount of work and risk involved in each job increased. On August 12, a $20,000 fire fatally burned Fred Bruen, age 57, and injured two firemen. The blaze began at 5:15 a.m. and raged through a large dairy barn and shed at St. Mary’s College. All the livestock were saved from the fire. C. Hay was overcome by smoke and F. Hagerty was slightly burned.
On February 8, the four story Lincoln Hotel in Niles, Michigan was destroyed by fire. South Bend sent ladder #2 and pumper #7 to help. Total losses exceeded $50,000.
A. Vitale was burned to death on May 7 in Roseland, Indiana (a small town just north of South Bend), when he was unable to get out of a burning automobile.
The only 5-alarm fire occurred on May 15 at 11:08. The fire damaged the Vern Jankowski Drug Store and the Seifert Paint Store at 1303 W. Washington Street. The loss was $20,000.
Sparks from a motor damaged the Bendix Corporation, 401 Bendix Drive, on December 24 and fatally burned D. Nye. $5,000 damage was done. On December 26, a cigarette cause a fire estimated at $3,000 at the St. Stanislaus Church School building, 1914 Sibley Avenue. Total damages in 1933 were $78,048.
In 1934, city residents and businesses lost $80,203 in property to fires. More than $8,000 damage was caused and three families were driven from their homes by a blaze at the Feingold Clothing Store, 742 W. Indiana Avenue, February 3. A fire started on an oil stove fatally burned Mrs. G. Petcher, 813 E. Colfax, on February 25. On March 25, a fire at noon in the heart of Niles, Michigan business district destroyed the three story Henderson building, a loss of %50,000. Pumper #6 from South Bend was sent to help fight the blaze.
On May 24, a fire swept through the third floor sewing room at Riley High School. The fire was attributed to a short in an electric iron. Total loss was $5,000. A bolt of lightning started a fire at the Kritz and Teeter Grocery Store at South Bend Avenue and Ironwood causing $20,000 damage.
On December 11, Hugh Stryker, age 63, of 703 E. Wenger was fatally burned when he tried to start a fire in his cooking stove with gasoline. Another fatality occurred three weeks later on December 23 when a fire swept through a home at 529 S. Kaley Street. Mrs. Blanche Case was burned to death in the blaze while her husband was saved by Steve Kristowski.
On January 18, 1935, Roy Knoblock resigned as Fire Chief after serving 9 years in that position and serving a total of 28 years in the South Bend Fire Department. He was replaced by William Freeh. The largest loss incurred in 1935 occurred on January 10 when a triple explosion of three power nitroglycerin bombs completely demolished the Palace Cafe, the Krauss Jewelry store and Dixie Frock Shop, all on the northwest corner of Michigan and Colfax Streets. A dozen other stores in the vicinity suffered lesser damage. The total losses suffered were in excess of $175,000. An indictment was filed against the owner of the Palace Cafe, James G. Stasinos, for conspiracy to defraud his insurance company. A jury acquited Stasinos after a three-week trial.
Four city firemen were injured on April 23 in a 4-alarm fire that swept through a junk warehouse at 518 Pine Street. On October 2, three more firefighters were seriously injured when pumper #7 crashed into a streetcar at South Bend Avenue and Hill Street. John Howard, Boyd Lower and driver Daniel Rothrock were injured. Three days later, veteran fireman John Howard, age 62, died from the injuries he had received. He had been with the South Bend Fire Department for over 30 years.
On April 23, the fire bell that had hung in the Central Fire Station tower for 35 years was removed by J.D. Woodworth and a crew of 5 men. This relic of the old volunteer fire department weighed 2400 pounds and was donated to the Center for History (we still have it in our Archives!).
Two disastrous fires struck South Bend in December, 1935. A 5-alarm fire on the 26th damaged Mode Milery, Public Shoe Service, Grand Leather, Becker Beauty Shop, Schiff Shoe Company, Robertson’s Department Store, D. Cohn Shoe Company and the City National Bank, 209-227 S. Michigan Street. Later that month, the H.L. Green Company, 219-221 S. Michigan Street, was destroyed by fire causing a loss of $150,000. While fighting the blaze, 51 city firemen were taken to Epworth and St. Joseph Hospitals suffering from smoke and poisonous fume inhalation, exhaustion and exposure to the sub-zero weather.
The first major fire of 1936 was on February 20 when a blaze raged for 5 hours at the Methodist Episcopal Church in Walkerton, Indiana. Firemen from Plymouth, North Liberty and pumper #8 from South Bend assisted the Walkerton Fire Department in battling the blaze in sub-zero weather. Losses were estimated at $50,000.
On September 10, Verna Jean Williams, age 4, was burned to death when a kerosene stove exploded in her house at 2619 W. Irvington. Mr. and Mrs. Williams, sons Clark, age 2 and George, age 1 were also badly burned. Careless use of matches proved fatal to J. Humers, 504½ W. South Street, on October 9.
A cigarette was believed to be the cause of a 3-alarm fire on April 8, 1937. $19,908 damage was done to an abandoned streetcar barn at Columbia and the Grand Western Railroad tracks. The barn was the property of the Northern Indiana Railway Company. The careless use of cigarettes and matches also claimed the life of J.W. Talbot, 103 W. Wayne Street on December 14. The 68 year old attorney was found at his desk in his office on the third floor of the Platt building.
On July 30, engine #2 of the South Bend Fire Department moved from the station on 403 W. Sample Street to the new headquarters at 817 s. Lafayette Boulevard. The new Seagrave 12-cylinder pumper was put into service at Station #6.
A fire was started by a bolt of lightning that was accompanied by a severe electrical and rain storm on October 5. Flames destroyed the top floor of the Russ Company, 1500 S. Franklin Street. Losses were estimated at $9,716. On October 20, a 5-alarm fire believed to have originated in an overheated oil burner caused $80,000 damage to M.J. Gilbert and Sons Men’s Clothing Store at 813-817 South Michigan Street. Total property loss in 1937 was $208,592.
On January 1, 1938, the city raised the salaries of local police and firemen from $150 to $170 a month.
On February 8, William H. Engel, age 43, a streetcar motorman, was killed when he was hit by a chemical truck that was on its way to a fire at Jefferson and Notre Dame Avenue. Captain Percy Alford was in charge at the time and Leo Anderson was the driver.
Sparks from an acetylene torch were believed to be the cause of a 3-alarm fire at the Birdsell Wagon Works on September 15. The main building at 405 S. Columbia, along with two other buildings were damaged to make a combined loss of $75,000. Total losses that year were $103,941.
Charles DeVleeschower took over the position of Fire Chief in 1939. He was assisted by Joseph Farkas and Lottie (Wladyslaw) Wagner.
DeVleeschower’s term of duty started out with a 5-alarm fire on January 8 that caused $25,000 damage to the Dean Building at 115 S. Lafayette. The first fatality of the year occurred on November 13 when E. Ludwiczak, 425 N. Walnut, was burned to death in his one story frame garage. The fire began in an oil stove.
Four city firemen and bread truck driver, Frank Turney, were injured on December 14 when ladder truck #2 crashed into the bread truck at Blaine and California Avenue. The injured firemen were Lt. Peter Piechorowski, Marion Dutrieuz, Joseph Sieradzki and Joseph Kujawski. Total losses for 1939 were $142,372.
A fire at Notre Dame’s famed Golden Dome caused $10,000 damage on January 28, 1940. Seven companies answered the alarm. While battling the blaze, G. Giede and R. Ramhap were injured. A fire that started at Frank’s Factory Parts Store, 401 S. Michigan Street, spread to adjacent businesses resulting in damage of $45,000. Other businesses affected by this 3-alarm fire were National Clothiers, Original Coney Island Restaurant, Ruth’s Tavern, H.R. Borr Luggages and David Tomber Trailer. J. Andert and F. Florkowski were injured.
While fighting a fire at the Studebaker Corporation, E. Wilkwitz and T. Woltman from #10 engine company were thrown from the truck on February 14.
On February 22, a 4-alarm fire was discovered on the third floor of Kaley School, 1613 N. Olive Street. Three-quarters of the roof was burned away and the 300 students and teachers marched safely out of the building. The property loss was $15,000.
Nine trucks were destroyed on March 22 when a fire swept through the garage of the Belleville Lumber and Supply Company, 3922 W. Sample. The losses exceeded $75,000. On May 17, a fire in the Bock Welding and Boiler Works, 1610 W. Washington (in the old Cassady Plow Factory) caused $72,000 damage. A 4-alarm fire on July 7 caused $58,000 damage to the South Bend Iron and Metal Salvage Plant, 429 W. Indiana. A week later, a frame building at 1510 W. Washington that housed the Asbestos and Asphalt Products Company Warehouse was destroyed in a 4-alarm fire. Losses exceeded $28,000.
On October 22, Fire Station #7 received a new fire engine after the shops in the Central Station remodeled old pumpers #2 and #4 into an American LaFrance truck.
There were 1401 alarms answered in 1940 and fires resulted in $233,355 damage.
On January 10, 1941, W.C. Mahoney suffocated in the LaSalle Hotel. The fire began when he fell asleep while smoking in bed.
On March 21, a fire swept through the three-story brick structure that housed the main store warehouse of Sailors Furniture Store, 114 W. Western Avenue causing a loss of $14,611. J. Torok cut his wrist while attending the fire.
A $17,000 American LaFrance aerial ladder with a 100-foot steel ladder was put into service at the Central Fire Station on July 13. Earlier in 1941, the fire truck that was formerly stationed at #7 was completely remodeled and repainted.
On August 8, the old Casino Building near the main entrance to Playland Park was destroyed by fire that caused $15,000 in damage.
On September 22, Mrs. Sarah Ann Paul, age 95, was burned to death and four other persons seriously injured when a fire gutted the crowded ten room boarding house at 2014 S. Main Street. The cause of the fire was attributed to a cigarette. $30,000 damage was done to the Davis Laundry and Cleaning Plant at 117 S. Lafayette on October 14. Total property damages for 1941 totaled $111,773.
The first major fire of 1942 occurred on January 27 when a two-story brick building at the southwest corner of Michigan and Monroe was gutted by fire. The 3-alarm fire damaged the Bearcat Store, Federated Teachers Service (in Coates Drug Company) and the Taube Printing Company. Loss of $10,000.
A fire causing $75,000 damage occurred on May 20 in the Heat Treat Division of Plant #2 of the South Bend Tool and Die Company at Calvert and Franklin Streets. A 5-alarm fire caused $21,000 damage on July 18 at the Smoger Lumber Company at Western Avenue and Laurel Street.
Fires claimed the lives of two people in 1942. On April 24, Mrs. S. Reck, 606 Euclid Avenue died in a $50 rubbish fire and on Christmas Day F. Wallace, McErlain Rd. burned to death while lighting a fire with gasoline. Total material losses in 1942 were $344,422.
Six people died in fires in 1943. On New Year’s Day, Elton T. Hughes, owner of a tavern at 1811 S. Michigan burned to death in a fire at 1703 S. Michigan. On January 28, Mrs. Mary Patton, 70, suffocated when she was trapped in a fire in her four room garage apartment at 411½ S. Main Street. Ashes in a paper container caused the fire. D. Roher, age 3, of 211 N. Elm fell in a cold air duct against the furnace on March 23 and died a day later from burns he sustained. An autotruck overturned in the 3600 block of W. Jefferson on April 2 and C.O. Alford, age 12, burned to death. A short-circuit caused $2,300 damage to a frame dwelling at 211 St. Peter and Mrs. M. Wright was burned to death in the blaze. On August 27, Mrs. Eva Goodrick, age 51, of Ireland Road burned to death when a fire started in a corn crib.
In addition to the fatalities, several firefighters were injured in the line of duty. While fighting a blaze in the basement of the Walgreen Drug Store, 201 N. Michigan, on March 14, L.Robinson, R. Ramhap and J. Hadrick were injured. The fire caused $25,000 damage. A 3-alarm fire on April 11 at Goldblatt’s, 202 N. Michigan, caused $80,000 damage and injured A. Howard, J. Kasa and F. Aftowski.
The largest property loss occurred in August in a 3-alarm fire at the Radio Equipment Company, 1202 Lafayette. Total losses exceeded $196,000. On December 15, a fire in an old two-story building in the 600 block of W. Colfax caused a loss of $10,000. $9,000 of the content loss was attributed to bottles, cases and display material owned by Drewery’s Brewery. Total losses that year were $453,946.
Ten people died in fires in 1944. On January 2, John Wilson, age 73, burned to death when flames swept through the two-story building that housed the Lockmondy Coal Company, 218 S. Grant. Damages were $1,500. The two small sons (ages 7 and 9) of Mr. and Mrs. William Hall burned to death in their beds at 125 S. Lake Street on January 9. Two year old W. McMorris, 2527 W. Orange, suffocated on March 16. The most tragic fire occurred on December 17, killing 6 persons, injuring 17 and leaving 30 homeless after a 3-alarm blaze gutted the Page Hotel, 123 W. Colfax.
The Jefferson Hotel caught fire on February 13 and suffered $30,000 damage. The 30 guests staying in the 125-room hotel were rescued by firemen A December 14 fire caused $75,000 damage to the Norwalk Trucking Company Freight Warehouse at 843 S. Rush Street. Total damages for the year were $233,716.
Fires claimed five people in 1945. F. Lee, age 45, of 520½ S. Scott Street, died from suffocation on January 28 as did Mrs. L.M. Roger, aged 47, of 2217 S. Wabash Street. On January 31, 65-year-old A. Bender of 2110 W. Washington Street and 11-year-old A. Jones suffocated in a fire on April 22 and on November 26, E.W. Kerch, 921 E. Cedar, was fatally burned.
There were several spectacular fires in 1945, the largest occurring on April 8 when a fire in Plymouth, Indiana destroyed the Plymouth Lumber Company, 2 houses, 1 large garage and the Pennsylvania Railroad freight house. Fire departments from South Bend, Warsaw, Bremen, Bourbon, LaPaz and Culver assisted the Plymouth firefighters. Total losses exceeded $700,000.
On January 3, a 3-alarm fire in the Planters Peanut Store, 301 S. Michigan Street, caused $30,000 damage while a 4-alarm fire the same day caused $74,000 damage to the Belleville Lumber Supply, 3922 W. Sample Street. A $30,000 fire hit the Elder Public School building at 1120 S. Michigan Street on January 6.
A fire that started in the grill of the Bowlmor Recreation building , 302-312 N. Michigan, worked its way to the second story bowling alleys, causing $10,000 damage on February 22. On March 12, a 2nd-alarm fire that broke out in the Kingman Confectionary, 2218 Mishawaka Avenue, spread to the Strong Hardware Store at 2220 Mishawaka Ave.
On September 29, a 4-alarm fire swept through the 3 story brick building at the northeast corner of Michigan and Washington. The building formerly housed J.H. Bunte Shoe Store, Clark’s Restaurant and Indiana Transit. $150,000 damage was done.
Nine patients were carried through smoke-filled rooms to safety on December 15 after fire broke out at the Wells Convalescent Home, 219 N. Lafayette. The losses were $8,148. Total losses in 1945 were $472,867.
Three lives were lost in fires in 1946. On January 10, S.J. Kicko burned to death in his truck owned by Northern Wholesale Grocers Corp., after an accident. Smoking cigarettes in bed claimed the life of G. Tonstall, 120 N. Chicago St., on February 14 from burns suffered in a fire on January 23, and A. Younglas, 112 W. South, died from burns on January 29.
On February 15, a 3-alarm fire gutted a two-story brick building in the rear of 215 E. Wayne that housed Apex Electritype Corporation and Michiana Press. Loss of $50,000. $17,000 damage was done on August 5 to the Voorhess-Jontz Lumber Company, 1800 W. Ford Street. Total damages for the year were $237,933.
On July 15, 1947, Fire Chief Charles DeVleeschower resigned. Mayer Dempsey chose Arther (Deed) Howard as his replacement. There were four fire-related deaths that year. On April 6, Mrs. R. Hunt, 309 S. Carroll, was asphyxiated by gas and on May 31 V. Airgood, 402 Lincoln Way West was fatally burned. In a fire at 615 N. Francis Street, Mrs. R. Waechter was badly burned while R. Waechter, age 3, burned to death on September 25. On November 12, J. Ijaz, 418 Fillmore Road, age 72, burned to death.
On January 16, a fire caused nearly $25,000 damage to American Household Furniture Company, 420 S. Michigan. While fighting the blaze, Captain J. Andert of #5 Engine Company burned his hand. Three days later fire caused another $25,000 damage, this time to the George Motors Nash Sales Agency, 226 S. Lafayette.
Fire swept the Jolly Spot Bar, 210 E. Jefferson on March 9, causing $12,000 damage.
The largest fire of the year was a 4-alarm on March 15 when flames raged through the three-story Garnitz Company Furniture Store, 128 S. Michigan. $175,000 worth of property was damaged.
On September 3, a fire in the auditorium of Nuner School caused $35,000 damage. On December 19, a 3-alarm fire gutted a two-story building in the rear of the Eagles Lodge at 321 N. Michigan. The building formerly housed the Trigon Company, South Bend Machine and the Direct Mail Letter Service. The losses exceeded $100,000. Property damages for 1947 totaled $517,384.
Alex Andrzejewski took over the position of Fire Chief in 1948 and was assisted by Monserez, Andert and Hadrick. In addition, salaries for first-class firemen were increased and 30 men joined the force.
The largest property damage fire occurred on January 21, 1949, when a two-story brick building housing the Davies Laundry and Cleaning Company, 117 S. Lafayette was destroyed. Total losses exceeded $150,000. On February 2, a fire caused $35,000 damage to the Thom McAnn Shoe Store and the Aristocrat Beauty Salon, 108 S. Michigan.
The first fatality of the year occurred on February 19 when an automobile burst into flames after an accident. G. Bellany, age 31, of Route #2 burned to death. The second fatality was 72-year-old Mrs. I. Mabie, Berry Road, who burned to death on March 24.
Robertson’s Department Store, 211 S. Michigan, suffered $25,000 smoke and water damage after an early morning blaze on the second floor, August 26. $40,000 damage was done to the Pennsylvania Railroad freight warehouse at Main and Bronson on October 17 while $25,000 damage was done to the First Baptist Church, 233 S. Main, on December 10.
On Christmas Eve, Spiegel’s, another downtown clothing store, was hit by fire and suffered $23,000 damage. Total property damage for 1948 was $394,224
In 1949, Alex Andrzewski’s second term as Fire Chief, the monthly salary for police and firemen was raised to $286.15. The first fire of 1949 occurred on New Year’s Day causing $14,650 damage to the River Park Post 303 American Legion, 2410 Mishawaka Avenue.
Defective wiring started a blaze at the Sanders Lumber Plant, 1011 S. Walnut, on February 8, causing $20,000 damage. The next day, a fire swept through the South Bend Printing Supply Company, 1115 S. Mishawaka Street, causing a loss of $16,000.
A naphtha explosion fatally burned Edwin Garrett, age 53, at the Washington Shoe Repair, 116 W. Washington Street, on March 19.
On June 10, a tar storage tank that was being welded, exploded at the Reith-Riley Construction Company, 1145 Prairie Avenue. G.W. Akin, age 49, died on June 22 from burns sustained in the accident and L.O. Soales, age 45, succumbed on June 20.
The final fatality of 1949 occurred on November 1 when 37 year-old William Scott, 551½ S. Scott Street, was burned to death.
Sixteen men joined the Fire Department on December 30. The total fire losses that year were $249,000.
Fire Station #10 opened on January 3, 1950 complete with a Maxim pumper. Squad truck #10 was renamed ladder truck #4.
There were several other changes in the Fire Department that year. On April 6, Engine #5 moved from the 54-year-old station at 1040 Lincoln Way East. The new station cost $28,722. On June 13, a $16,232 600-gallon triple stage, high pressure Maxim pumper was put into service at Station #4. The year old Maxim 740-gallon pumper that was originally at Station #4 was moved to Station #7 the next day.
A fire on February 24 at the St. Joseph County Airport destroyed the maintenance building and the airport’s 2 fire trucks. Five South Bend companies assisted in fighting the blaze that caused $40,000 damage.
Six people were left homeless as a result of a fire on November 25 that gutted an apartment building and grocery store. The second alarm fire was started from a defective chimney and caused $7,000 damage.
There were 4 fire-related fatalities in 1950. W.R. Wilks, 2241 W. Washington Street, was burned to death on January 8 and 49-year-old Mrs. R. Messinger, 210 Chapel Lane, was fatally burned on October 24. Two brothers were fatally burned on December 3 in a gasoline blast in a service station at Lincoln Way West and Blaine. The fire started as they were scrubbing the floor with gasoline. Ronald Stellman, age 18, died a few hours after the blast while his brother succumbed on December 10.
The first major fire of 1951 occurred on January 12. A $500,000 blaze swept through the Well Manufacturing Company in North Liberty, Indiana. Five persons were burned in the blaze that required assistance from South Bend, Walkerton and Lakeville.
$30,000 damage was done to the Hurwich Wrecking Company, 1610 Circle Avenue, on February 4, and on February 6, a fire started in the wooden forms used in the construction of a new science building at Notre Dame causing a loss of $8,000.
A fire believed to be arson swept through the M & M Fixture and Supply Company, 413 S. Chapin, on February 21. Because of the suspicion of arson, the insurance company did not pay the $26,000 in damages.
Richard Duck succeeded Alex Andrezewski as Fire Chief in 1952. January 22 marked the first major fire of that year when a 3rd alarm blaze caused nearly $50,000 damage to the Westminster Presbyterian Church, 621 W. Lindsey Street. The church had been recently remodeled.
A spark from an arc welder that ignited some oil was believed to be the cause of a fire at the South Bend Bailing Company, 1420 S. Walnut Street. $15,000 worth of property was lost.
On September 24, Fire Station #3 went into service at 1616 Portage Avenue. The building cost $52,000. Other innovations in the
department included the purchase of an $18,519 American LaFrance 1,000 gallon high pressure pumper for the Central Fire Station. The Maxim pumper formerly at Central was transferred to Station #5 and the pumper that was formerly at Station #5 was relocated to Station #13.
A 3-alarm fire on October 13 caused $42,450 damage. A two-story warehouse owned by the Co-operative Auto Parts, 1510 W. Washington, four garages and Cherry Hall (located in the rear of the Hungarian Presbyterian Church) were destroyed in the blaze. The warehouse and prefabricating plant of the Colpaert Reality Corporation, 5117 W. Sample Street were destroyed in a $100,000 fire on December 18.
A new rank was inaugurated in the fire department in 1953 with Captain Anthony Miller and Captain Kenneth Waterson promoted to battalion chiefs.
Two fires took the lives of three persons in 1953. A defective oil heater was listed as the cause of the fire that took the lives of David Mantych, 33, and his wife Eleanor, 34, on February 15 at 2126 N. Johnson. On April 15, a short circuit in a lamp cord caused a $2,000 fire that claimed the life of John Pawlak, age 52, of 434 S. Harris.
The first major fire of 1953 occurred on January 14, at the Palace Theatre, 211 N. Michigan. Two pianos, an electric organ and stage scenery were burned beyond recognition in the $20,000 blaze.
During the summer of ’53, there were four major fires that consumed $215,000 of property. $80,000 damage was done to the Fire Municipal Supply Plant, 2508 S. Main, on June 21 and on July 28, a fire at Forest G. Hay Funeral Home, 1201 S. Michigan, caused $80,000 damage. A flash fire gutted the laboratory in the old chemistry building at Notre Dame on August 26 causing $30,000 damage. The next day, the Bendix Products Division suffered a $25,000 fire.
A discarded cigarette in a trash can started a fire September 13 that caused $11,000 damage to the American Legion Post #303, 2410 Mishawaka Avenue.
The final fire of any major consequence was on October 23. If monetary value was placed on pride, this fire was perhaps the largest loss of the year although it only caused $450 damage. Embers from a chimney ignited some dry wood in Fire Station #11 and rookies responded with the old #29 Studebaker.
1954 opened on a particularly sad note when Battalion Chief Anthony Miller died on January 18 from a heart attack induced by smoke inhalation. Miller, age 45, had been battling a 5-alarm blaze at the Meyers Building at the northeast corner of Michigan and Wayne. The cause of the $200,000 fire that destroyed the building was attributed to an explosion in the combustion chamber of the boiler. Chief Miller had been with the department for 17 years.
There were three other major fires that year. $28,000 damage was done to the Donahue Lumber Company, 1718 Circle Avenue on May 1 while a fire at the Stouffer Graphic Arts Equipment Company, 425 LaSalle, caused $20,000 damage on May 29. The fire was started by an electrical element. On June 25, a gas blast in the apartment building at 704 N. Allen Street critically injured John L. Radican, age 20, and caused a loss of $13,000.
Defective wiring and an overloaded fuse box started a fire on February 28, 1955, in the Adams Food Market, 808 Grandview, causing $4,500 damage. Firefighters had to return to the area 7 hours later when flames flared up again between a rear wall and the roof. Another fire of undetermined origin brought the department back once again on March 3.
Fire Station #15 was dedicated on October 23, 1955 at its location at 2221 Prairie Avenue. The building cost $48,000, not including the $18,450 Seagrave pumper. On December 1, a new $18,000 Mack 1,000 GPM pumper was installed at station #6.
In 1956, Alex Andrzejski was reinstated as Fire Chief, a position he had held four years earlier. During 1956 the department answered 2,052 alarms to fires that caused $185,804 in damages.
The only 4-alarm fire of the year occurred on May 31 in the U.S. Gypsum Company, 1702 S. Franklin. Five firefighters were injured while battling the blaze that caused $100,000 damage.
Arson was committed in an attempt to cover up a burglary at South Bend Bailing, 1420 S. Walnut Street on July 12. The loss from the fire was $4,500. A 3-alarm fire occurred on October 5 at the J. Thomas Fruit Company, 523 S. Taylor, causing $2,000 damage. The fire started when children discarded a burning match.
Faulty wiring was the cause of a $14,000 blaze in an apartment building and the Empire Printing Company, 418 S. William. A defective oil stove at the Hurwich Iron Company, on Circle Avenue caused $15,000 damage.
In order to better respond to multiple alarm fires, the South Bend Fire Department installed its own ambulance in a 1955 Studebaker on April 1. Other innovations in the department included installing a new 100 GPM Maxim pumper at the central station on July 19. The new equipment cost $23,899.
Studebaker was once again hit by fire on May 8 when foundry plant #2 suffered $75,000 damage. A 4-alarm fire struck South Bend Watch Company, 1720 Mishawaka Avenue, causing $25,000 damage. The fire was started by a welding torch.
Children playing with matches started a fire in a nearly complete home at 1814 Oak Park Drive causing a loss of $12,000 on August 12. Sparks from an incinerator set off a $20,000 blaze at Bendix Aviation Plant, 3300 W. Sample, on September 4 while a disgarded match in a waste paper basket caused $10,000 damage to the K. Lanes residence, 1233 W. Washington, the next day.
The fire department suffered a great loss on September 14 when Earl (Jap) Null, age 52, of 914 S. 26th Street died after a sudden heart attack. He had been with the department for 20 years, the last few at Fire Station #9.
A 3-alarm fire on September 19 caused $40,000 damage to the Northwest Laundry and Cleaners, 314 N. Scott St.; and another 3-alarm fire at the Trigon Spec. Corporation, 1105 S. Lafayette, caused $45,000 damage. The fire was started by a compressor in the recreation room.
A flash gasoline fire started on November 25 when a cigarette butt that had dropped on the floor ignited gasoline that was being drained from a cab at Indiana Cab Company, 710 Niles Avenue. A garage mechanic, David Mahone, age 22, was injured in the blaze that caused $22,000 damage.
An overheated stove was responsible for starting the fire at 719½ Dunn Street that caused $600 damage and killed 5-month old Melvin Bradberry and his 18-month old brother Lorenzo.
By 1958, the city of South Bend had grown to 131,700 and the South Bend Fire Department had expanded to include a 14th station. A new 1,000 GPM Maxim pumper that cost $23,997 was put into service at the central fire station on November 7 and on November 22, a $37,000 fire alarm operating center was installed at 212 E. Wayne Street.
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On August 17 , Robert Cooper, 1321 N. Elliott, was found dead on his davenport following an $11,500 fire and on December 19, an apartment house at 125 LaPorte suffered a $10,000 fire.
Transients started a fire at a vacant brick home at 1076 Lincoln Way East causing $18,000 damage on November 17.
The final fire of the year was on December 31 at Eddie’s Restaurant, 1345 Ironwood where firemen battled the blaze in sub-zero weather. The fire started when grease became ignited in a vent in the kitchen. Losses were $190,000.
In 1964, the South Bend Fire Department received a new dispatching system that was reputed to be the quickest and most modern system in Indiana. The 40 to 60 feet outside antennas that were formerly located at each fire station were replaced with a twelve inch antenna at the rear of each receiver to accommodate the transistorized radio system. Nicknamed “Quick Call,” the system cost $4,400.
The first major fire in 1964 was caused by careless smoking. On January 7, a $22,900 fire destroyed a three story apartment house at 319 W. Wayne. On June 18, a discarded cigarette started the fire that caused $100,000 damage to Slick’s Ideal Laundry, 317 Lincoln Way East. On August 15, Miss Judy Hartsell was killed in a fire at 906 W. Colfax that was started from a carelessly discarded cigarette.
An arsonist was responsible for the March 2 fire at the Roosevelt Hotel, 330 S. Michigan, that caused $115,000 damage. Later that evening, the arsonist was apprehended by Captain Gallagan after a daring downtown chase.
Several days later, another fire of suspicious nature caused $90,000 damage to McGann’s, 324 S. Michigan.
At the close of 1964, two fires ousted two separate families from their homes. The losses were $15,500 and $13,000 respectively.
On January 20, 1965, a 38 year old former South Bend fireman, Louis Hedl, threw a can of gas and a match into the basement of Otto and Cliff’s Tavern, 826 N. Eddy, causing $4,500 damage. Hedl had retired from the department because of a mental infirmity.
On February 5, ten year old Courtney Steele returned to his home at 1218 E. Howard Street and discovered it was on fire. He quickly led his three sisters, ages 3, 4, and 7 out of the house and then scrambled onto a low roof at the rear of the house and entered a window into the bedroom where his 1½ year old sister was overcome by smoke. He threw her out the window into the arms of William Smith, a neighbor. The flame was caused by faulty wiring in the stairway and caused $3,000 damage to the home.
A fire at Wygant Floral Company, 327 Lincoln Way West, on March 25, caused $100,000 damage. The fire was a result of a direct short in the wiring of an amplifier in a phonograph.
Arsonists hit Harrison school on March 27, causing $6,000 damage to the second floor science room.
On October 23, overheated grease in the broiler at Rocky’s Restaurant, 558 Lincoln Way East started a fire that caused $18,000 damage. The 250 customers and employees were safely evacuated.
On February 11, 1966, the 250 primarily female employees of the Essex Wire Company were sent home from work after 33 women were stricken by carbon monoxide gas fumes at 635 S. Lafayette. Bad wiring was responsible for a $2,000 fire at Donny’s Inferno, 224 E. LaSalle on April 11.
Mrs. Melva Jean Wright, age 42, of 721 Clearview Place, died on May 2, from burns she suffered April 13 in an explosion and fire at her house.
Twelve firemen were injured and 18 families were left homeless after a fire gutted the Tri-More Apartment Complex at 805 W. Colfax. Losses exceeded $105,000.
One thousand students and faculty from Jackson High School were safely evacuated after a fire broke out on the stage in the school’s auditorium on November 3. The curtains on the stage were ignited from a Kleig light and the resulting fire caused $3,100 damage.
The final fire in 1966 started on December 22 when some electrical wiring in the men’s restroom shorted at Playland Roller Rink, 1671 Lincoln Way East. Losses exceeded $20,000.
On May 4, 1967, Mayor Lloyd M. Allen sold Central Fire Station, the Alarm Station and Fire Station #3 to Arnold Joers and Dale A. Brink for $87,250. By May 29, Central had settled into a new quarters at the Municipal Services Facility at 701 W. Sample. Station #5 was phased out and Company #5 went to Municipal Services. The old Station #2 at 817 S. Lafayette was abandoned and engine company #2 and #5 were put out of service.
Two firemen died of heart attacks in 1967. On February 3, Peter T. Sabinas, 57, was found dead in his bunk at Station #4 while Robert E. Perry, age 42, died on July 11. Perry had been a firemen for 20 years and worked at Station #10.
There were several significant fires in South Bend in 1967. On January 15, the Capri Restaurant, 1357 N. Ironwood, suffered a $60,000 fire. A faulty extension cord caused $10,000 damage to the Howell Construction Company, 1530 Kemble, on January 17 and on January 28, Bruggner’s Cigar Store suffered a loss of $10,000. A $40,000 fire hit Welter Pontiac, 1900 Lincoln Way East, on February 10 and a $50,000 fire swept through the Ekler Lumber Company, 1406 S. Franklin, on April 16. Vandals damaged and started a fire at Monroe School on April 21 causing $15,000 damage. A six-unit apartment building at 332 W. Jefferson was gutted on June 18, causing a loss of $31,000.
Seven firemen were injured in a $80,000 fire at State Lunch and Macris Watch Repair, 132 W. Washington, on June 27. The Isabelle Restaurant, 527 W. William, suffered a $8,500 fire on September 8. The largest fire of the year occurred on September 9 when oil in steel tanks ignited at the Tempor Inc. Heat Treat Plant, 1115 W. Sample. Losses were in excess of $100,000.
During the 1967 summer riots, Negro mobs hit the west side of town tossing fire bombs, rocks and bottles on July 25. There was $45,000 damage done. On October 26, Scotty’s Dog ‘N Suds Restaurant, 2524 S. Michigan was gutted by a $20,000 fire.
On Christmas Day, Thomas Quirk, age 34, was severely burned in his home, at 926 S. 21st Street. Quirk, a fireman, was stationed at Station #7. Losses in the blaze were estimated to be $7,000.
In 1968 a new Station #2 was opened on Marion Street and Stations #8(Olive Street), #6(Portage Avenue) and #7(Notre Dame Avenue) were abandoned. The first major fire of 1968 was on February 8 when a fire destroyed 1224-1226 Western Avenue. The blaze started in the electrical equipment and was responsible for $69,000 damage to the offices of Dr. Laskowski and the West Printing Company.
The first 4-alarm fire was on February 22 when Whiteford Trucking Company, 2120 W. Sample, suffered a $145,000 fire. On March 29, while Captain Gallagan was out on a complaint, he discovered a fire at 1312 Woodside. A wooden shingle roof had ignited from sparks from the incinerator chimney. There was no screen covering the chimney. The William Hagerty residence suffered $44,000 damage from the fire.
Faulty electrical wiring was to blame for a $56,000 fire that destroyed a home at 3303 E. Jefferson on May 21. Another personal property fire occurred on June 7 at 1940 Brookmeade causing $39,000 damage and fatally burning Betty McCaffery.
There were three fires of suspicious origin in 1968, however, only two of them could be proven to be arson. On August 18, the First Unitarian Church, 101 Northside Dr. suffered $17,000 damage in a fire of suspicious origin. On October 18, a robbery at 3600 Mishawaka Avenue was covered up by arson and a $27,500 fire at Nichola’s at the corner of South Bend Avenue and Hill Street on October 2 was determined to be arson.
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