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!

Monday, October 17, 2011


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.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Tim. Loved the story! ...and see, I do read your blog! We did your checklist also!