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,

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