Lemont Fire Protection District History
Like many communities Lemont’s earliest efforts at fire suppression consisted of the classic “Bucket Brigade.” When there was a fire in town, local churches and schools would toll their bells alerting townspeople to bring their buckets to help out by attempting to stop the spread of the fire.
In 1883 when the construction of the water main system began the Lemont townspeople began an organized fire brigade. The Department had two houses then, one on Singer Hill at State and Eureka, the other house was downtown which housed the chemical wagon. The Village Board provided 1,000 feet of hose which was stored in the town hall. A hose cart was ordered from Chicago and stored in the Singer & Talcott barn at N. Stephen Street. Lemont had no paved roads at the time and the firemen pulled the hose cart and pump by hand. They also had to pull a 100 gallon chemical wagon. The chemical wagon provided a quick attack on a fire with smaller sized hose.
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On July 22, 1885, the Fire Department was established as an executive department of the municipal government of the Village of Lemont. The Fire Department was incorporated March 14, 1886. At the first meeting of the Volunteer Fire Department, the following officers were elected: President, J.W. McCarthy; Recording Secretary, Edward Mitchell; Finance Secretary, Mike Flavin; Treasurer, John Hayes; and Sergeant-at-Arms, William Muranan. Joseph Gerharz was appointed Fire Marshal. Jacob Meyers and Joshua Bell were appointed Assistant Chiefs. The Volunteer Fire Department consisted of two companies of eleven men each. Company #1 was the Hose Company, or in typical Lemont fashion known as the “German Company”, responsible for bringing the hose and pump to the fire and directing the firefighting efforts. Company #2 was the Hook & Ladder Company, also referred to as the “Irish Company”, responsible for getting the ladders to the scene of the fire, saving lives and when possible certain personal property. In order to get volunteers, blank petitions were placed in George Bodenschatz’s drugstore at the northwest corner of Stephen and Canal Streets.
There were many fires during the early days of the Village of Lemont. Chief Gerharz and his assistants did have previous firefighting experience and were concerned with developing a good outfit. They often sounded practice alarms to keep the volunteer firemen in shape. The group of men joined together to form an outfit that has served the community with pride and professionalism up to today. On January 12, 1897, four delegates from the Lemont Fire Department attended the Fireman’s Association of Illinois Convention, held in East St. Louis, for the first time.
Tthe years passed with growth and also the introduction of the first motorized truck, October 6, 1919, an International chassis. A firehouse was constructed on Singer Hill in 1921. The Department purchased rubber boots, coats and leather helmets for the volunteers in 1928. As the years passed, many improvements and additions were made to the Lemont Fire Department. However, the years also brought the absence of many brother firemen who had passed away after giving many years of service to the Village of Lemont.
On June 8, 1956 the Department moved to their new firehouse located at 416 Main Street. The first emergency unit and the 4500 gallon tanker were also purchased that year. During the year 1957, the Department responded to 65 fire calls and 2 drownings. The Lemont Fire Protection District was established on June 27, 1960. With the adoption of Ordinance 11, on February 26, 1962 a Fire Department was established in the Fire District. Routine fires and various improvements to the District were made during the following years.
In 1973, the Lemont Fire Protection District covered 33 square miles in Will, DuPage, and Cook counties. The District owned 3 pumpers, 1 light unit, 1 emergency unit, 1 brush fire truck, 1 boat and one 3200 gallon tanker. There were 52 active members. The District is also a member of the DesPlaines Valley Mutual Aid Association, consisting of 20 departments providing mutual assistance when needed.
During the years 1973 to 1998 the Lemont Fire Protection District experienced a tremendous amount of growth. To accommodate this new growth, Fire Station #1 was constructed on New Avenue in 1976. Of significant importance, this was the year the District began to provide paramedic ambulance service by joining the Will/Grundy Emergency Medical System. An interesting fact: Lemont ambulance service was the first in the Will/Grundy System to carry drug supplies for advanced life support. The last years of this decade saw a devastating tornado and one of the largest oil refinery explosions/fires in Midwest history.
In the early 1980’s because of the industrial growth, the District recognized the need for the formation of a “Hazardous Materials Response Team” to respond to chemical related emergencies. During the mid-80’s, the number of alarms increased as the community grew. The first full-time employee, Richard Stech was hired in 1986. The first full-time firefighters were hired in 1989: Jerome Smollen, George Rimbo and Jay Nickleski.
In response to the community growth of the 1990’s, Station #2 was constructed on Bell Road, dedicated to the late Assistant Chief Clarence Losey. Also during the early years of the decade, Lemont experienced another severe tornado and a marked increase in the volume of requests for services. It was at this time that the demand on services led to the need for Station #3, on Marmon Drive, dedicated to the men and women of the Lemont Fire Protection District, present and future. With the retirement of Chief Robert Kowalski, the Board of Trustees hired its first full-time Chief. Terrence Droogan was hired in August of 1993 to manage the current and expected future growth and to lead the District into the 21st century. Richard Stech was named Assistant Chief. In 1994, the Board of Trustees established a full-time Fire Prevention Bureau and hired a full-time Director of Emergency Medical Services. In 1995, a full-time maintenance division was formed employing a certified emergency vehicle technician. July of 1996 was memorable for heavy flooding that affected the downtown area and nearly destroyed Station #1 on New Avenue. This was one of the many challenges faced by the men and women of the Lemont Fire District as we drew near the end of this century.
The first part of the twentieth century Lemont’s community continued to grow and the demand for the additional services led to the construction of Station #4, on Walker Road in 2006. Today, the Lemont Fire Protection District encompasses 26.4 square miles in Cook, DuPage and Will counties. The District employs 48 full-time Firefighters/Paramedics, 15 full-time Fire/EMS Administrative and support personnel and 13 part-time Administrative and support personnel. Present apparatus includes: 3 pumpers, 1 MVP pumper rescue, 1 ladder truck, 2 tenders, 4 ALS ambulances, 1 hazardous materials truck and trailer, 1 dive team trailer, 11 staff and support vehicles.
In it’s 136 year history, the Lemont Fire Department/District has had a total of 19 Fire Chiefs:
- Joe Gerharz
- Joe Meyer
- William O’Neil
- George Losey
- John Gerharz
- Thomas Ludwig
- Ignatz Sniegowski
- Slvin Steinke
- Ed Kaminski
- James Sierzchula
- Simon Bromberek
- George Smollen
- Robert Kowalski
- Terrence Droogan
- Andy O’Donnell
- Carl Churulo
- George Rimbo
- Francis Jareczek
- Dan Tasso