Lieut. Frank Eitler - May 29, 1978 (Photo by Barbara Olson)
Next Wednesday marks the one-hundredth anniversary of the birth of Frank "Ike" Eitler, who was among the fifty-plus World War II veterans who joined the department shortly after returning from the service. Appointed December 5, 1947, he served nearly 34 years until his retirement on October 1, 1981.
Hamden Paid Firemen's Sick Benefit Assn. Dinner at Headquarters, October 10, 1950
In this October 10, 1950 photo, Firefighter Frank Eitler (middle row, second from left) is pictured with some fellow department members. Most were World War II veterans, except Lieut. Ruwet, who was in the First World War.
In an era when promotions were very few and far between - the ratio of firefighters to lieutenants being 12:1 - Firefighter Eitler was promoted to lieutenant in 1972 and assigned to Platoon 3.
Lieut. Eitler's wife Helen, a school teacher, inspired him to do something that no other officer had done before (or maybe since). The cascading effect on future department leaders may never be fully known or appreciated.
On every morning of every day shift, right after the station chores were finished, the lieutenant handed out tests to all members of his crew, including anyone working extra that day. His tests consisted of firefighting questions, including hydraulics, ladders, basic first aid, department policies, street and landmark locations, and some strategy and tactics.
Lots of firehouse research took place during test time. It did not matter to Lieut. Eitler if his firefighters knew the answers right off the bat, but he expected correct answers on the completed tests. Locations were of particular importance in those days before the department adopted a standardized map book, when drivers were expected to know the location of every street.
Not surprising, Lieut. Eitler's tests always generated some good-natured protests: "I bet the guys at 5's don't have to do this," or "Why should I have to know where Hogan Road is?" Actually, the knowledge gleaned from those daily tests was quite beneficial to his men, providing valuable information for the fire ground and preparing a number of future lieutenants for promotional exams.
Ray Reilly assists Lieut. Eitler in cutting a birthday cake in this 1978 photo. A longtime test-taking member of Frank's crew, Ray came in first out of 35 on the 1981 civil service exam for lieutenant. A fellow crew member came in third. Subsequent civil service exams resulted in a half dozen more of Frank's crew members making lieutenant, and more than half of them went on to chief officer.
1978 - "Lawn Day" at Station 3
"You take care of your crew!"
Lieut. Eitler recognized that his most important asset was his crew and he did his best to keep them safe on the fireground. He mentored new members of his crew so they always knew what was expected of them and he was always available when advice was sought.
Friday was "lawn day" at Station 3. Even though officers never performed yard work, the lieutenant often pitched in to do some final trimming when the weather was hot and his crew was beat by the heat. He was that kind of guy.
Lieut. Eitler also did his best to keep his crew safe in the firehouse. If someone committed a minor screw-up, the lieutenant became the "Guard-All Shield" between his men and the brass. Whatever the problem was, "I'll take care of it!" he'd announce. And he never allowed his good nature to be abused. "But don't let it happen again!" Thus, "Ike" was an effective and respected officer – a model for some who followed in his footsteps.
"Ya gotta keep your sense of humor!"
The inside joke was that Ike needed a bullwhip to get his troops to work faster. In this staged photo it would appear that when the lieutenant reminded Guy White that it was his turn to clean the kitchen, Guy grabbed the lieutenant's bullwhip. So the lieutenant kept Guy at bay with a frying pan. At least that is how this photo was captioned when it was tacked up on the station bulletin board. Frank loved it.
And, if you understand that this photo and the description are really a joke, perhaps it best illustrates the positive relationship shared by Frank and his crew. It worked in the firehouse, and it worked on the fireground.
Frank Eitler - 1992
Always a regular at the annual dinners following his retirement, Frank was still looking very good in this photo taken more than ten years after he retired.
Lieutenant Frank Eitler (HFD, Ret.) passed away on September 27, 2000. He and his wife Helen were survived by their son, Frank Jr., and were predeceased by their daughter, Sally Jerome, who passed away on her 32nd birthday in 1980, following a long battle with cancer.
Below are a few of the dozens of Frank's tests, which were printed on those "dittoed" sheets with the purple-red ink. See how well you do. The guys who worked with Frank might remember some of these questions - and maybe even some of the answers. The tests are more than 40 years old (i.e. pre-Fire Fighter I), so some of the questions may seem a bit "dated" according to current practices.
While we're on the subject of firehouse testing, the following event comes to mind.
Right after the department went on the 42-hour workweek in 1970, department training officer Deputy Chief Daniel Hume came up to Station 5 one afternoon. In the upstairs dayroom, Firefighters John O'Hare and Fred Fletcher were watching TV while three Mt. Carmel volunteers played setback at one of two large round oak poker tables located where the officer's room is today.
Deputy Chief Hume handed some papers to O'Hare and Fletcher. "I want to get an idea of where additional department training may be necessary, so I've put together some basic firefighting problems for you guys to solve." He explained that the questions were very basic and should be easy to answer.
Ff. John O'Hare
Fletcher and O'Hare sat down at the other oak poker table and proceeded to tackle the basic firefighting problems that Chief Hume had prepared for them. The three volunteers continued playing cards, but kept the noise down while the two career guys worked on their tests and Deputy Chief Hume read a magazine.
When Fletcher and O'Hare were done, Deputy Chief Hume put their answer sheets in his folder. "Now boys," he admonished, "this is the first shift I've given this test to. I don't want you guys giving the answers to the other shifts."
That was all O'Hare needed to hear. "Oh don't worry, Chief," O'Hare replied with a straight face, "I didn't know any answers."
Fletcher quickly turned away puffing on his cigar as the boys playing cards erupted in laughter. Hume grumbled and went off in a huff. True story!
Platoon 2 at Station 4 in April 1988. Standing beside Engine 4 are, left to right, Firefighters Ron Desroches, Bill Fitzmaurice, Bob Anthony, Harold Prescher, Lieut. Mike Ambriscoe, and Cmdr. (B/C) Joe McDermott.
Great shot of John Corbett in the Superintendent's office at the Repair Shop at 2's. John hit a major birthday milestone a couple of months ago and is doing well. John served as Local 2687 president from its 1979 formation until December 31, 1992. We're thinking of you, John!