Sunday March 19, 1933

Two Old Firemen Get Together and Talk
Of Other Days and Such Matters As
Life, Death, Fire and Human Courage

'Cap' Al Heer and Chief Dave Ahern Have It Out Over Cigars

On various occasions a man likes to sit in a big easy chair in the living room of his home, puff at way freely and leisurely on a genuine Havana or well-word [worn] and aged pipe-and muse about days gone by with one of his old-time friends. Picture then the incident last week when Chief Dave Ahern, former fire chief in Dubuque, and Captain Al Heer, ex-captain of hose company No. 2, were seated together in the same room in the Ahern home talking about old time experiences on the fire department.

"Gosh, Al, we certainly had some real fires in our day," Chief Ahern said.

"You bet we did, Chief" Captain Heer replied. "But I'd give almost anything to live those days over again. I can see us boys now going to the old Iowa Iron Works fire at Ninth and Washington streets on May 8, 1902."

"Was it back that far? I thought it was in '05," Chief Ahern declared.

Wall Kills Three Men.
"No, it. was in '02, the eighth of May," the other replied. "Well do I remember that day, in fact I'll never forget it. I wouldn't be sitting here now If I'd had my way because Charley Wise, you remember the old volunteer, Chief?, . . well he wouldn't give up his place on the nozzle so I went back to the hydrant to have the boys turn down the water so we could change a broken section of hose. Well, while I was gone, down comes the wall and kills three men and Charley was one of them. He was a great old fellow."

"You bet be was, Al" Chief Ahern said, "but let's look at the record to make sure of that date."

That was the beginning of an afternoon at an ex-fire chief's home.

After taking a look at the record. the memories of the two ex-fire fighters were revived. They talked with renewed energy about other famous fires. An occasional exclamation on the part of one brought two more from the other when he would take his turn at relating various stories.

That continued until one complete afternoon was whittled away to another day of by-gone days.

Both men, noted for heroic acts while members of the department, never once mentioned anything that even hinted of their own deeds. But some of the men who were members of the department at the same time Chief Ahern and Captain Heer were associated with the profession related the following heroic act pertaining to Chief Ahern when he was captain of one of the engine companies. (Ahern was Captain of the Truck) Their story follows:

Heroic Incidents.
It was the night of the second Julien hotel fire that "Cap" Ahern I was a real hero. L. A. Schaum, a traveling salesman for a Chicago firm was asleep in his room on the fourth floor of the hotel when the fire was discovered. Schaum was a big, hefty fellow weighing in the neighborhood of 225 to 240 pounds he didn't wake up until the door of his room was in flames and the bed cloths were beginning to catch fire. He made a rush toward the door but seeing it was foolhardy to think of escaping that way, he turned to the window of his room. One floor down and a little to one side of his window was a fire escape. It didn't extend to his window so he was in a dangerous predicament.

"People in the street cried. Don't jump,' but what was the poor fellow going to do? Stay in the window sill and burn to death? Finally Schaum saw a fireman making his way along the fire escape to the landing below. It was 'Cap' Ahern. "Cap" collered [hollered] to Schaum that his only chance was to jump for the landing and catch on to him. Ahern said he would extend one arm and hang onto the fire escape with the other and told Schaum to catch the extended arm when he jumped. Schaum saw there was no other possible avenue of escape so he leaped. It was a perilous feat but the jump was accurate and Schaum landed on the fire escape. He managed to catch on 'Cap's' arm and later 'Cap' took the traveling man to safety in the street.

"Schaum was unable to learn for quite sometime just which fireman it was that risked his life but he came back to Dubuque about a year later to ascertain that bit of information. "Cap" took that piece of work just the same as though it was nothing out of the ordinary. He's a great old fellow, 'Cap Ahern."

And that's what firemen at the various stations think about their ex-chief. A survey of old fire department records reveal that Dubuque has had more than 50 serious fires during its history. The fires ranked from a $15,000 loss to an estimated $1,000,000 damage at the respective conflagrations..

Worst Era.
The worst era in Dubuque history occurred when the lumber yards were running full blast. Probably the worst conflagration the city has ever known occurred on June 9, 1894, when the LeSeuer Lumber company yards, the Standard Lumber company barns, the Knapp-Stout company lumber yards, John Glab's Vinegar works, and the old paper mill between Sixth and Seventh streets on Pine to Eleventh street were completely wiped out with a loss estimated at between $750,000 to $1,000,000.

When Chief Ahern and Captain Heer were discussing this particular fire, the former said: "It was a real fire. Every member of the department, together with hundreds of volunteers, was fighting the blaze. Every foot of hose in the department was used by the men but the strong wind from the southeast fanned the flames further on. I only hope there's not another one like it in Dubuque."

The old Standard Lumber company yard fire has left a constant reminder to the present fire department as from time to time firemen are forced to respond to dump fires on Fourth street extension near the ballpark and on Sixth street extension near the Interstate Power company plant.

Chief Ahern, in discussing the dump fires of the present age revealed that practically all of the land in that section of the country where the old Standard Lumber Co. mill was years ago is composed of sawdust and shavings from the old lumber days. Chief William Ryan, present head of the fire department, believes that ever since the yards were destroyed a fire has been smouldering in the various fills.

"One of these days" Chief Ryan declared, "I wouldn't be a bit surprised to see Fourth street extension, the street itself, go up in smoke. The same is true of the various dumps in that locality, but nothing can be done about those cases until it really happens."

Interesting Notation.
Included on records of the department, besides memoranda concerning the various alarms, can be found such notations as: "Horse was sick in answering false alarm at 2200 Rhomberg avenue" "Hose cart horse killed"; "Steam engine dumped at 14th and Central'; "New teams first run"; "Doughnuts (he was one of the best horses ever owned by the department), just threw a fit in the stable at Engine company No 4 at 7:05 p. m."; and "Pat (he was a horse, too), was sick after morning workout."

Another interesting item is the sale of the last four horses owned by the department. Those horses, Tony, Barney, Ned, and Jim, were favorites or not only the firemen but of the children and grown Dubuquers as well. More than one person shed tears the day the proud and well groomed beasts were auctioned by the city.

Dick, the famous horse which pulled Chief Reinfried's buggy to the fire, was another well known horse, but he was sold several years before the final sale was made.

Dreyhouse First Chief
Dubuques fire department was officially organized Jan. 1, 1874 [1884]. John Dreyhouse was the first chief, taking office Jan. 9 the same year. He held office until May 9, 1884, when Joseph Reinfried assumed the office. He held the office until May 1, 1887, when Joe Trieb became chief. Trieb was head of the department until May 1. 1889, after which Reinfried again took command until his death Oct. 22, 1918.

Ahern was appointed chief that day and remained in office until he resigned from the department Nov. 1, 1920. Mike Eitel was acting chief until Jan. 15, 1921, at which time Joseph W. Fisher was named department commander. When he resigned Aug. 16, 1930, William Ryan was appointed acting chief until Sept. 5, 1930, when his appointment became permanent.