May 29, 1927: Death of Duluth Fire Department Chief Joseph Randall

On this day in Duluth in 1927, Chief Joseph Randall of the Duluth Fire Department died—nearly 17 years to the day after the death of his predecessor, John Black. The 63-year-old chief had been in poor health for several months due to a heart attack he suffered while fighting a fire in Duluth’s Sellwood Building before suffering a heart attack. Randall, who joined the DFD in 1886, was the department’s first assistant chief when black died. Randall’s chief accomplishment as chief was overseeing the transition from horse-drawn apparatus to automobile fire-fighting vehicles. The first gas-powered vehicle the department purchased was a 1910 five-passenger black Kissel Kar powered by a 50-horsepower gasoline engine and cost $2,000—more than $52,000 in today’s money—and it didn’t even fight fires but served as the chief’s command vehicle. By 1923 the entire department was motorized, and the last horse was retired. Appropriately enough, Randall’s body was carried to the cemetery in a fire-hose truck draped in mourning. His funeral drew such a crowd it had to be held in the Shrine Auditorium, and the procession was said to be one of the city’s largest, second only to that of beloved pioneer and civic leader Leonidas Merritt. Randall had wanted Second Assistant Chief John Fischer to replace him, and indeed new Public Safety Commissioner James Foubister support Fischer in that role. But First Assistant Chief Sievert H. Hansen was made chief with the support of his allies among the other four city commissioners. Hansen and his friends on the City Council all belonged to the same group: the Ku Klux Klan. Fischer was a Catholic. Hansen served as chief until his death in 1933.

Duluth Fire Department Chief Joseph Randall. (Image: Duluth Public Library)