Fire Chief Tim Butler

Fire Chief Tim Butler
Thanks for checking out my web log! My radio call sign in Saint Paul is "Car 1." Join me as we go "On Scene" to the fire stations, training evolutions, emergency incidents, and community events in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Let's share perspectives on the issues facing our Department, our community, and the American Fire Service!

Friday, October 21, 2011


Good Morning, Everyone.

Today marks the 111th anniversary of the most deadly fireground incident in Saint Paul Fire Department history. On October 21, 1900, five Saint Paul Firefighters were killed at what would become known as The Midway Fire.

It was shortly after midnight on a Sunday morning when fire broke out at the A. B. Hinman packing plant on Vandalia Street just 200 feet north of University Avenue. The packing plant was a 4-story, wood frame building, and produced a very hot fire. A brisk southwesterly wind fanned the flames, which quickly spread to an adjacent icehouse, then to a single-story building owned by the Northwest Lime Company. By 2 AM, the flames had spread to a large 3-story brick warehouse owned by the McCormick Harvester Company. The McCormick warehouse was full of packing crates and heavy machinery.

Crews worked hard to establish water supplies from the few available hydrants in the area. Long hose lays were required. Extra companies were summoned - some coming from very distant stations. Being all horse-drawn apparatus at the time, these companies truly had some "long runs."

At about 2:45 AM, the top floor of the McCormick warehouse suddenly collapsed, which caused the south wall of the building to topple outward. 8 Firefighters were buried under the debris. Additional companies were summoned to help in the rescue effort - some coming from downtown. Heavy farm machinery was mixed in with the bricks and beams. It took 9 hours to dig out the buried Firefighters. 3 escaped without serious injuries, 4 died on the scene, and 1 died from his injuries 3 days later.

Dead on scene were Second Assistant Chief William H. Irvine; Lieutenant Francis M. Edey of Engine 13; Second Pipeman Bertram F. Irish, Engine 13; and Driver Louis Wagner, of Engine 13. Second Pipeman Andrew J. Johnson of Engine 9 died of his injuries the following Wednesday.

Assistant Chief Irvine was born in Saint Paul in 1859. He joined the Department in 1884. He was promoted to Assistant Chief in 1898. He lived at 235 West 6th Street with his wife and 2 teenage daughters.

Lieutenant Edey was born in 1854, and was originally from Canada. He joined the Department in 1888. He served as a Pipeman and also worked in the shops as a painter. He served on Engine 1, Engine 5, Engine 9, and Hook and Ladder 6. He was promoted to Lieutenant in 1898. He lived at 847 Raymond Avenue with his wife and son.

Driver Louis Wagner was born in Wisconsin in 1868. He grew up a farm boy, and worked his early years as a thresher and a wagon driver. He joined the Department in 1898. He worked at Station 9 before being assigned as the driver of Engine 13. Louis was married and had 2 young children.

Second Pipeman Burt Irish hailed from Maine, where he was born in 1872. When his parents moved to Saint Paul, he finished school and helped run the family grocery store on the corner of Selby Avenue and Saint Albans Street. He joined the Department in 1898. He lived at 814 Raymond Avenue with his wife and young daughter.

Second Pipeman Andrew Johnson was born in Sweden in 1869. He came to the US when he was 12, and settled in Bloomington, MN with his family. He worked as a farm hand and carpenter before joining the Department in 1898. He worked on several Hook and Ladder companies and on Engines 8 and 9. He was unmarried, and lived at a boarding house at 137 East Congress Street.

The Midway Fire was finally extinguished at 4:00 AM, after it had caused more than $300,000 in damage and destroyed the lives of 5 Saint Paul families. The fire was ruled an arson, and although several suspects were investigated, no one was ever convicted of setting the fire.

This morning at 0800 hours, the men and woman of the Saint Paul Fire Department will pause for a moment of silence to remember Assistant Chief William Irvine, Lieutenant Francis Edey, Pipemen Bertram Irish and Andrew Johnson, Driver Louis Wagner, and all 58 Saint Paul Firefighters who have given their lives to serve the citizens of Saint Paul. Please feel entirely free to join us in that remembrance wherever you may be.

Most Respectfully,

Monday, October 17, 2011


I cannot believe we are more than halfway through October!! October is Fire Prevention Month, and I do hope you'll take a few minutes over the next couple of weeks to reduce the risk of having a fire in your home or business. This year's Fire Prevention theme is "Protect Your Family from Fire."

What a SUPERB theme for Fire Prevention Month!! Although we all would like to think that our homes are the safest place to be, our homes are actually the most DANGEROUS place to be in regards to fires. 3/4 of all structure fires occur in the home. Most fire-related civilian injuries and fatalities occur in the home - nearly 80%!

Sadly, it's our own habits and behaviors that cause most fires. Inattentive cooking is the leading cause, but smoking, careless use of candles or open flames, and combustibles placed too close to heaters or fireplaces are also significant causes of home fires.

So....during the next two weeks, would you take just 30 MINUTES to Protect Your Family from Fire? Here's how:

+ Ensure you have operating smoke detectors. Doing so improves your chance of surviving a fire by more than 50%! Check your battery-operated smoke detectors. Hit the test button once a month to ensure they still work, and change the batteries once a year. Don't remember when you changed the batteries last?.....then change the batteries during October. Older detectors may not work as well as they should. Most detectors only last about 10 years. If yours are old, change them....and write the date of installation on the back of the detector so you can check on their age in the future.

+ Ensure you've discussed a home escape plan with your family members. Practice getting out from each bedroom, the kitchen, and the family room. Anticipate the need for 2 ways out of every room, and identify a meeting place outside so that everyone can be accounted for if they are escaping from different rooms.

+ NEVER leave cooking unattended, and NEVER put water on a stove top fire! Some experts suggest having a portable fire extinguisher handy near the kitchen. If you're comfortable with that - then do it! For most people, the simple advise is still the best advise: GET OUT, call 9-1-1, and the Fire Department will take of the fire.

+ If you smoke, thoroughly crush all butts and dispose of all smoking materials in DEEP ash containers. Be responsible for your discarded matches, lighters, and butts. Remember: if you lit the cigarette and a fire ensues......well, then you lit the fire, didn't you?

+ Be careful when using candles and incense. Place them away from all combustibles, and keep children away from them. Snuff them out thoroughly if you need to leave the room where they are in use.

+ Space heaters should be treated like open flames: keep combustibles and children away, and turn them off if you need to leave the room where the heaters are in use.

+ Finally: although not specifically fire-related, please ensure that there is a carbon monoxide detector installed within 10 feet of every sleeping area in your home. Carbon-monoxide is not detectible by sight, taste, or smell, and results from incomplete combustion - usually (for homeowners) in gas-fired appliances. During the heating season, when heaters and furnaces are in continuous use and homes are "buttoned up" against the cold outdoor weather, people are especially susceptible to carbon monoxide poisoning. A detector installed near the bedroom areas of your home can alert you before it's too late.

Each of these steps takes just a little time...some as little as 10 seconds! Almost all of these them take less than an hour or two. That's a small investment for protecting your family from fire.

If you have any questions about protecting your home, contact the Saint Paul Fire Department at 651-224-7811. We can help. If you live in Saint Paul, Firefighters will even come to your home and work with your family to reduce your risk of fire. Call us about this program - called Project Safe Haven. Over 600 families already have! We will help your family develop and practice a family escape plan, install smoke alarms, and answer any additional questions you have. Together, we can "Protect Your Family from Fire!"

Thank you, and have a safe and enjoyable month of October!


Today marks the 125th anniversary of a Saint Paul Fire Department line-of-duty death.

On October 17, 1886, Truckman Peter Akerman fell down an elevator shaft while fighting a fire on the smoky upper floors of a building in the Sherman Block fire at 6th and Wabasha Streets. Peter was assigned to Ladder 1.

In the History of the Police and Fire Departments of the Twin Cities, published by the American Land and Title Register Association, Truckman Akerman is identified as Peter Okerman. He was described by the authors as capable and well-liked, and they reported that he was unmarried and lived at the fire station on Saint Peter Street near 7th.

A "Truckman," by the way, was a Firefighter title assigned to Ladder companies. Nowadays they are sometimes referred to as "Truckies," although personnel holding the Firefighter title in Saint Paul work on all types of fire, rescue, and medic units.

Imagine fighting a fire in 1886! There were no electrical hazards to worry about, because there were no electric lights inside to guide occupant egress or to provide illumination for rescuers. There were no streetlights or strobe lights outside to help orient Firefighters (which can help at times nowadays). There were only minimal safeguards or railings around elevator shafts, no personal protective equipment, no flashlights, and no power tools or elevated platforms. (Ladder 1 did carry a 55 foot wooden ground ladder for those stout-hearted men. Imagine raising that heavy monster to the building!).

But times and conditions are not all that different today. We still have minimum lighting conditions inside buildings. Denser, hotter, more toxic smoke still cuts visibility to zero, and can still disorientate and suffocate within seconds. In some of our buildings there still are inadequate railings and safeguards in place, or missing stairways, or holes in floor. Modern construction materials and methods have resulted in hotter, faster burning fires and faster collapse of floors, roofs, and stairways. Searching for and rescuing fire victims today is still a particularly dangerous function on the fireground, especially in larger buildings and multi-unit apartment buildings. There is no robot or automated device that can do this task still comes down to teams of Firefighters crawling on hands and knees in pitch darkness, using touch and sound to find victims and stay oriented.

At 0800 hours this morning, the Saint Paul Fire Department members paused for a moment of silence to honor the memory of Truckman Peter Akerman and all 58 members of the Saint Paul Fire Department who have given their life in the service of this Department and the Citizens of Saint Paul.

Take Care.

Saturday, October 15, 2011


Good Morning, Everyone!

We are half-way through Fire Prevention Month, and I hope you've taken a few minutes to "Protect Your Family from Fire!"

Ensuring that you have properly operating smoke alarms (detectors) and carbon monoxide detectors can dramatically reduce your family's risk of being injured or killed, speed up detection of the fire, and generate a faster response time from the Fire Department (resulting in significantly less property damage).

Research has shown that a properly operating smoke alarm can cut your risk of dying in a home fire by more than 50%! (When combined with automatic fire sprinkler systems, that risk is cut by more than 80%)! Yet sadly, the majority of smoke alarms don't work due to old or missing batteries or because the detectors are obsolete. Simple steps to Protect Your Family from Fire include: testing detectors monthly, changing your batteries once per year, and replacing detectors every 10 years.

It's important that our non-English speaking residents receive and understand these life-saving tips, and now there's a way to get this information to them. Twin Cities Public Television (TPT-TV, Channel 2) is broadcasting information about carbon monoxide detectors and smoke alarms in multiple languages. Here's the broadcast times/dates/languages:

* Sunday, October 16 at 7:00 PM in Hmong, 7:20 PM in Karen, and 7:40 PM in Somali

* Sunday, October 23 at 7:00 PM in Vietnamese, 7:20 PM in Lao, and 7:40 PM in Khmer

* Sunday, October 30 at 7:00 PM in Spanish and at 7:30 PM in English

Please pass this information and scheduling along to others. Having neighbors, co-workers, family, and friends who know this basic information goes a long ways towards strengthening our community, and making our apartment buildings and neighborhoods a safer place to live.

Thank you for investing your time this month to Protect Your Family from Fire, and if you have questions on how I can assist you in that work, please let me know, or call the Saint Paul Fire Department at 651-224-7811.

Tim Butler
Saint Paul Fire Chief