- Batavia History
- Fire Department History
Fire Department History
On September 18, 1866, an ordinance was passed by the Township Board to set up a department consisting of 20 or more men who would serve under a captain and 1 assistant. With no equipment, these men fought fire by the bucket brigade method.
The Great Chicago Fire of October 8, 1871, had a dramatic impact on Batavia and its then 5-year-old fire company. Remembered by oldtimers as "the night it never got dark" or "the great red glow on the eastern horizon," Batavians obviously watched the legendary blaze, first in wonder as to what was really happening, and later as caregivers to a reported horde of refugees who made their way into town over the next several days with horror stories about what had happened.
With only buckets and no equipment, Batavia's Fire Company was not in a position to offer mutual aid to Chicago. The event, however, got Batavians to take a serious look at their fire fighting capacity.
A citizens' petition on June 21, 1872, forced the first steps toward the equipping of the department. A loan, not to exceed $3,000, was authorized by the Board and correspondence started relative to the purchase of an engine. A building was to be constructed on the Island for storage of the equipment, and the cost was to be included in the $3,000.
Considerable rivalry sprang up between the East and West Side hose companies after a hose house was built for each and a "central" building containing a third hose cart and equipment. The company stationed on the side of the river opposite the fire was to bring the central hose cart to the scene, and a 50 cent bonus was given the man who first unlocked the central house door.
The East Side boys received quite a few trophies during this era and these are still in the department archives.
Modernizing the Fire Department
The City purchased a motorized fire engine and constructed the fire station at 24 South Island Avenue in 1917. At that time the east and west side hose companies disbanded and the department established its membership with men from both sides of the river.
William C. Thrun was Batavia's full time paid fireman; serving 24 hours a day with one day a week off, for 30 years. He retired in July 1947, coming to the department in 1917. He rose to the position of Chief and he and his family lived in the apartment above the fire station.
Additional paid men joined the ranks when Fred Womack signed up February 1, 1947, and a month later Frederick C. Richter joined the ranks. The 2 men alternated 24-hour shifts of 24 hours on and 24 hours off duty, living on the apparatus floor and taking their meals at home. Chief Thrun at this time still lived in the upper level and worked every day. Richter became Chief on Thrun's retirement.
The early days of the Batavia Fire department were filled with many serious fires. A number of downtown businesses were struck by flames including large blazes involving portions of the Challenge and Newton factories, the East Side School building on January 10, 1893, and a large section of the downtown business district at Island Avenue and Wilson Street, the site later to be occupied by Batavia's downtown post office.
The Knights of Pythias hall twice was hit by fire, the first time on February 1, 1913, in 12 below zero weather, for a total loss. The second time occurred April 9, 1936, with an estimated $25,000 loss.
Batavia experienced a large fire July 17, 1953, when an estimated loss of $1,040,000 was recorded following the Lindgren Pattern Storage fire on South Mallory Avenue.
Other "big" fires in early records were the Thomle block, the east side business district, August 21, 1914; the Lindgren Foundry Company September 8, 1920; and the Challenge Wood Room December 23, 1926, where the loss was set at $45,000. Also noted were the January 23, 1927 fire at the Dr. Daniels home, the $20,000 fire at the Baptist church April 1943, and the $35,000 blaze at the Seneca Heat Treating Plant September 9, 1946.
Ironically, 3 of the largest fires in Batavia's history all have occurred within a 1.5 block radius of Mallory and Main Streets on the city's southwest side. In addition to the Lindgren blaze, the Khalke Lumber Yard on Main Street and the Batavia Foundry and Machine in July of 1985 also rank as some of the city's most serious fires. By many accounts, the Khalke Lumber Yard fire on April 10, 1934, which also destroyed or damaged several neighboring homes and required mutual aid from as far away as Aurora and Elgin was one of the most spectacular blazes ever fought.
Other serious mutual aid calls which Batavia responded to during Richter's tenure as Chief included Jennings Terrace nursing home in Aurora where an accident in the operation of Batavia's aerial truck while fighting the flames lead to the permanent disability of Captain Don Neusus; the Ace Hardware/State Bank fire in downtown Geneva in 1953; the Kroger Grocery store in downtown St. Charles in 1957; the Blackberry Inn fire involving a gasoline tanker near Elburn at Route 47 and Main Street in 1962; the Aurora Cotton Mill on Easter Sunday of 1967; Ray's Discount City in the Moecherville district in 1973; and Metal Dross on Route 25 in 1963.
Losses reached a new high for a 12-year period in 1964, and a record number of calls came in, nearly 300. Larger fires that year were the Riverside Tavern, Celanese Polomar block, the McDaniels home, the Fred Spuler home, and the largest loss of the year, new automobiles at the Wally's Body Shop incendiary fire.
Reversing the Trend
1965 reversed the trend, with a record low in calls and fire loss total. In the City, the Fred Fletcher home, the Richard Stadler home, the Robert Erickson garage, the Milton Peine garage, and a fire in the boiler room of Kritzer Radiant Coil were major loss blazes. In the District, the Erwin Andrews garage, the George Simpson paint shop, the Robert McChesney barn, and the house on the Krause estate were major losses. Seven mutual aid calls were made.
Mrs. Howard Jacob's death by fire in her home in 1964 was the first to be recorded in the City and District in 13 years. In 1951, Sam Flack and Lee Williams perished in a blaze at their home on North River Street.
On the departments 100th anniversary in 1966, the city and the 36 square mile area around it were protected by a department which operated 6 pieces of equipment; 4 pumpers, 3 of which had front mounted pumps, a combination aerial and pumper, and an emergency squad. The Countryside Protection District was established in 1958, a negotiated contract with the City for fire service became effective January 1, 1959.
The pumpers were a 300-gallon per minute truck rebuilt in 1941; a 1,000 gallons per minute American-LaFrance; a 750 g.p.m. combination pumper-aerial truck that has been modernized to carry a 65-foot ladder, a 500 gallons per minute unit that carried 600 gallons of water for rural fires, and a new 750 gallons per minute Alexis pumper.
New Rescue Truck
The rescue truck was the result of a 1955 1-night fund drive by the citizens of the City, which netted $3,500. Every organization and most churches assisted with the project. Compartments were built into a 1-ton chassis, and the efficient unit put into service in July 1955
In the 1965 report, dedicated to Streamer, the faithful Dalmatian mascot from 1950 until early 1965, Chief Richter presented interesting department statistics.
The total valuation of property and contents involved in fire calls in the combined area was set at $3,769,796. The loss by fire in 1965 was $27,068. The average fire loss in the city per alarm was $48.64; in the countryside, $328 plus.
Still, alarms answered number 263 and there were 23 general alarms. Of the 286 calls, 60 were fires with less than $1 loss, 50 with more than a dollar, and in 176 no fire was involved. First aid, accident, and emergency calls made up 144 of the alarms, with smoke scares and honest mistakes, 44.
The department traveled 1, 800.7 miles, made 207 inspections and investigations; used 42,802 gallons of water extinguishing fires; spread 336 square feet of salvage covers, raided 510 feet of ladders and laid 15,300 feet of hose.
In December of 1966, just months after its 100th birthday celebration the Batavia Fire Department faced great change with the announcement that the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory was to be sited on the city's east side and would eventually absorb over 22% of the land in the fire district and see the creation of a second private sector fire department within Batavia's jurisdiction when Fermi Lab established its own suppression force and joined Mooseheart in giving Batavia 2 private fire fighting force to back-up on a regular basis.
Chief Richter retired on March 1, 1974, after serving as Chief of the Department for more than 26 years. Upon his retirement, he was honored by a community banquet attended by more than 500 people. He was replaced by Robert Hodge who had come up thru the ranks of the department during a 2-decade long career.
In April of 1976, the voters of Batavia approved a referendum to construct a second fire station at the southeast corner of Branford Avenue and East Wilson Street. Final completion of this station was not realized until November of 1980.
In late 1976 the city council, at the urging of Chief Hodge, began a major upgrading of the department's apparatus fleet which included the acquisition of 2 1250 gallon per minute pumper trucks, a 100-foot aerial quint unit; and a new utility unit.
Also at this time, the hospital-based Tri-City Ambulance, which had begun operation from the campuses of Community and Delnor Hospitals to service the Tri-City area in 1973, upgraded its operational procedures to change from emergency medical technician status to that of paramedics.
In the late 1970s, the department continued to make further upgrades in its efficiency with many members taking classroom hours and obtaining the status of Illinois State Certified Firefighter II. With the encouragement of Chief Hodge, many members took additional training to become State Certified Emergency Medical Technicians to assist and back-up Tri-City Ambulance crews.
Serious fires that occurred during Chief Hodge's tenure included the Pargas building collapse and explosion in February of 1978; the loss of 12 units and the fatality of a 3 year old girl at Batavia Apartments in April of 1977; the Allan Ritchason home on West Main Street in January of 1979; and the Colson Department Store fire in downtown Street Charles.
New Dispatch Center
July of 1976 marked the inauguration of the Tri-Com Dispatch Center complete with the then newly proposed 911 emergency number serving all residents within Batavia, Geneva, and Street Charles. The new dispatch center for the Batavia Fire Department was quickly recognized as one of the most advanced in the state.
October of 1981 marked the early retirement of Chief Hodge due to health problems. He was replaced as Chief by an interim appointment of Lt. Robert Stran to the position.
In March of 1982 William Darin, Deputy Chief of Edmond, Oklahoma was named the new permanent Chief of the Department.
Ambulance Service Reorganization
In 1983, after a decision was made by Community Hospital to terminate its hospital-based ambulance service, the Tri-City Ambulance Service was reorganized to allow for units to be housed in the 3 fire stations of the Tri-Cities with contractual paramedic-firefighters providing the service under a public-private contract with Paramedic Services of Illinois. The addition of this new personnel was the first step in what would become a major expansion of full-time personnel assigned to Batavia fire stations over the next 2 decades.
Changes in the 1980s
In 1986, another public referendum was passed to construct a new west side fire station on Main Street directly across from the campus of the Batavia High School on a site donated to the city by Mooseheart. Once completed, the new stations lead to the closing and eventual sale of the long-standing Island Avenue station. The new owners eventually tore down the old station as part of a major remodeling program of the adjoining old city hall facility.
Major fires to occur in the decades of the 1980's and 1990's included the Something To Eat Restaurant and adjoining buildings on East Wilson Street in February of 1989; the Chamber of Commerce Office building fire which realized 1 civilian fatality on Christmas Eve of 1989; the Batavia Foundry and Machine fire in July of 1985; and a fatal home fire at 529 South Forest Avenue.
The response of Batavia firefighters was not limited to fire and ambulance calls as the decade of the 1990s rolled on. During a 36-hour period on July 17, 1996, the department responded to over 150 requests for citizen assistance following a record-breaking 14 plus inch rainstorm that struck the community. Likewise, the department was called upon to respond to what would eventually become the 2 largest mutual aid calls in Illinois history with the Plainfield tornado and the flood created by a break in Chicago's downtown underground tunnel system calling upon Batavia firefighters to lend assistance.
A Changing Department
As the department moves into its 150th year of community services, its statistics show a dramatic change since its 100th birthday. Now protecting a city of approximately 26,000 residents and a surrounding district of over 5,000 on a daily basis, it operates from 2 fire stations with 24 full time paid firefighters; 12 full-time contractual paramedic/firefighters; 36 paid-on-call firefighters; with a budget for 2017 totaling $5,472,227. Call volume for the year 2016 reached 4,004.