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Batavia Fire Department—150 years of history

Aug 30, 2016 10:59AM ● Published by Neighbors Magazines

This September, the Batavia Fire Department will celebrate its 150th anniversary. Here are some of the highlights through the years.

On Sept. 18, 1866, an ordinance was passed by the township board to set up a fire department consist­ing of a bucket brigade. The Great Chicago Fire of Oct. 8, 1871 got Batavians to take a serious look at their fire fighting capacity. A citizens’ petition in 1872 autho­rized the purchase of a building, a hose cart, 500 feet of hose, and a hand-operated pumper. Water was drawn from cisterns, wells, or the river. The firemen began receiving $1.50 a call in May 1895. During that time considerable rivalry sprang up between the east and west side hose companies. The city eventually purchased a motorized fire engine and constructed a central fire station in 1917 consisting of men from both sides of the river.

William Thrun was Batavia’s first full time paid fireman; serving 24 hours a day with one day a week off. He rose to the position of chief and his family lived in the apart­ment above the fire station. Two additional paid men joined the ranks and alternated 24 hours on and 24 hours off duty, living on the ap­paratus floor and taking their meals at home. Frederick (Bud) Richter became chief on Thrun’s retirement.

In the early days of the Batavia Fire department, a number of downtown businesses were struck by flames including the Challenge and Newton factories, the East Side School, and a large section of the downtown business district. The Knights of Pythias Hall was twice hit by fire, once in 1913 and the other in 1936. In 1953, there was an estimated loss of $1,040,000 fol­lowing the Lindgren Pattern Storage fire. Other big fires in early records were the Thomle block, the east side business district, the Lindgren Foundry Co, the Challenge Wood Room, Dr. Daniels home, the Baptist church, and the Seneca Heat Treat­ing Plant.

Ironically, four of the largest fires in Batavia’s history all have occurred within a 1.5 block radius on the city’s southwest side. The Lindgren blaze, the Khalke Lumber Yard fire, the Batavia Foundry and Machine fire, and the recent Master Cast Foundry fire in 2014 are ranked as some of the city’s most serious fires. These fires required mutual aid from as far away as Aurora and Elgin. The Khalke Lumber Yard fire also destroyed or damaged several neighboring homes.

The Countryside Fire Protection District was established in 1958, and contracted with the city for fire service. Chief Richter retired in 1974 and was replaced by Robert Hodge who had come up thru the ranks of the department. In 1976, the voters approved a referendum to construct a fire station on the east side. In the late 1970’s the hospital based Tri-City Ambulance upgraded its operational procedures to change from emergency medical technicians to that of paramedics. 1976 marked the inauguration of the Tri-Com Dispatch Center with the then new 911 emergency number serving all the residents of Batavia. Serious fires that occurred during Chief Hodge’s tenure included the Pargas build­ing collapse and explosion of 1978; the loss of 12 units with a fatality at Batavia Apartments in 1977.

In 1982 William Darin, Deputy Chief of Edmond, OK was named the new Chief of the Department. 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 three fire stations of the of the Tri-Cities. In 1986, another public referendum was passed to construct a new west side fire station on Main St. Once completed, the new station led to the closing of the long-standing central sta­tion. Major fires to occur in the decades of the 1980’s and 1990’s included the Something To Eat Restaurant in 1989; the Chamber of Commerce Office building fire and fatality on Christ­mas Eve of 1989, the Batavia Found­ry & Machine fire in 1985, and a fatal home fire at 529 S. Forest Ave. During a 36-hour period beginning on July 17, 1996, the department responded to over 150 requests for citizen assistance following a record-breaking 14 inch rainstorm that struck the community. The Batavia Fire Department was called upon to respond to what would eventu­ally become the two of the 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. In April of 2005 the citizens of Batavia passed a referendum to rebuild both fire stations. The sta­tions were completed in 2007.

As the department moves into its 150th year of community service, its statistics show a dramatic change. Now protecting a city of approxi­mately 26,000 residents and a sur­rounding district of over 5,000, it operates from two fire stations with 23 full time paid firefighters, 12 full time contractual paramedic/fire­fighters and 35 paid-on-call firefight­ers. In 1965 the total call volume was 286 calls of which 144 were emergency medical calls. Today the call volume of over 3,800 of which 2,400 are emergency medical calls.

To commemorate the 150th anni­versary, there will be a Fire Depart­ment Open House on Sept. 18 from 11am to 2pm at the Westside Fire Station, 1400 Main St. Please come and celebrate 150 years with us.

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