The Chicago Fire Department is well known for obvious reasons, however, for a long while it was not the only company in town. The Citizen’s Fire Brigade was formed by a group of businessmen and insurance companies in 1857. In 1871, the Brigade was reorganized as the Fire Insurance Patrol. The Patrol’s job was to go into buildings after firemen and protect goods and assets from water damage and thievery. It was especially concerned with protecting major industrial interests in the city.
At least 23 cities in America were protected by such emergency salvage companies financed by insurance underwriters. The last city to still have an active Fire Insurance Patrol was New York, which was recently disbanded in 2006.
We know of six former Fire Insurance Patrol stations in Chicago. We’ll begin out of order with Patrol #5, which was last located at 1044 N. Orleans Street. It opened in 1926, replacing an earlier station on Walton (see below). The ornament at the top-center of the building is a limestone rendition of the Patrol’s badge.
This station’s size is probably explained by its virtue of being located near the (then) heavily industrial areas of the Near North Side. This station was taken over by the Chicago Fire Department at some point after the Fire Insurance Patrol disbanded, and is still in use.
This was the original home for Patrol #2, at 221 W. Walton. It was located here from 1892 to 1926, and was replaced by the station on Orleans. You can still clearly see the “Fire Insurance Patrol” marking above the doorway.
We have no idea why this Patrol’s number changed from 2 to 5 when the station moved to Orleans; did the numbers just change, or did that unit move to the station on Desplaines, where Patrol #2 was later located?
Left: This is Patrol #7, at 3107 W. Fullerton in Logan Square. This small Art Moderne style station was built 1930. Designed by noted architect Alfred S. Alschuler, it has been converted into a church.
Right: Patrols #3 & 4 were located here, at 5004 S. Union Avenue. The grey concrete rectangle above the doors once read “Fire Insurance Patrol.” This station, like Patrol #5, was taken over by the Chicago Fire Department at some point, and remains a Chicago fire station.
DN-0085270, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago Historical Society.
Patrols #1 & 2, 100 S. Desplaines, 1928.
Patrols #1 & 2 at 100 S. Desplaines. Similar in design to the station on Orleans, this station’s size is explained by its proximity to the Loop as well as the industrial areas of the Near West Side. Also similar to the Orleans station, the cornice features the Patrol’s badge. This station was not taken over by the Chicago Fire Department, probably because they already had a firehouse a mere two blocks south on Desplaines.
There is another station that we have not yet photographed, which is Patrol #8, located at 3923 N. Ravenswood. Located in the middle of an otherwise residential block, it was up for sale as of summer 2008. Patrol #6 was located in the vicinity of Jackson and Damen, but the station no longer exists.
The Chicago Fire Insurance Patrol’s peak strength was in the 1920s, when the Patrol operated nine companies and responded to more than 11,000 alarms per year. The Patrol was disbanded in 1959, and has since been largely forgotten about, even though most of the stations still remain.
Chicago Public Library. “Chicago: Brief History of the Chicago Fire Department.” Chicago Public Library. Available from http://www.chipublib.org/004chicago/timeline/firedept.html. Internet; accessed 7 December 2007.
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