Aurora's Firefighting History
Brief History of the AFD • Aurora's 1856 Young America Fire Co.
Roster of Aurora's paid firefighters • The AFD's 150th Anniversary The Aurora Fire Department today
A brief written history of the
Aurora Fire Department
Although the subject of establishing and buying equipment for a fire company was discussed in the Village of Aurora for several years, it took several major fires to finally bring about the purchase of equipment and the formation of a such a fire company. Although the village charter granted the authority to establish fire companies as early as 1853, the various Board of Trustees were reluctant to do so.
In May of 1856, eight buildings burned on the west side of Broadway between Main Street (now East Galena Blvd.) and Fox Street (now East Downer Place). In spite of this conflagration, it took two more fires, one in a Chicago Burlington & Quincy Railroad storage shed, and another destroying three buildings in the business district, to finally bring some action to establish a fire company.
The Board of Trustees passed an ordinance on June 26, 1856, which enabled them to "purchase a fire engine when a sufficient sum was subscribed by the public". The subscribers were to receive 10% interest on their investment, one half to be paid from the taxes of 1857. While the money was being raised, 61 prominent business and professional men signed a petition volunteering to serve on the new fire company. An organizational meeting for the new fire company was held on July 1, 1856 at Seligman & Brothers Young America Clothing House. The Name "Young America Fire Engine Company No. 1" was chosen and committees were named to nominate a slate of officers, to write a constitution and to select a uniform. Jesse Brady was elected foreman. The uniform chosen was a fire hat, red shirt with blue merino collar and cuffs with a white star on each corner of the collar, black patent leather belt, black pants, and a coat of red flannel. Each man paid for his own uniform and paid dues and fines for not attending meetings, drills and fires. A hose company to handle the hose cart was also formed. By August of 1856, a fire engine, a hose carriage, and 500 feet of leather hose, were ordered from Wright & Brothers of Rochester, New York for the sum of $1,100.
Samuel McCarty donated a lot on North Broadway between New York and Spring Streets to be used for the engine house, with the stipulation that liquor was never to be sold in the Village. After the foundation was laid for the Engine House, it was discovered that part of it was on another lot and it had to be removed and the building shortened. Finally, on August 22, 1856, Young America Company held their first meeting in their new quarters. Twenty years later, Aldermen Bishop and Titsworth became aware of the fact that the city had no title to this land because the city had not complied with the no liquor stipulation. The city finally obtained title to the land from Mr. McCarty in March of l876.
The new fire engine arrived in Aurora about noon on Saturday, October 4, 1856. A church bell was rung as a prearranged signal and all members of the Young America Fire Engine Company assembled in full uniform at the engine house. The equipment was inspected and cleaned. The engine was a beautiful sight to behold! It had a piano box (a flat or plain deck thought to resemble a square piano), large wheels, crane neck (an arched or steel device permitting the front wheels to turn 90? under the body), 22-foot folding brakes (wooden arms or bars running horizontally to the box on each side the body which firemen push up and down to operate the pump). The body was mahogany with fine gilt moldings and the words "Young America" draped in the national insignia painted on the front. Both engine and hose cart were painted red and striped with dark brown.
In the first test of the engine, the men sent a beautiful stream of water far above the cupola of the mill in spite of a strong wind. The engine was tested in several ways for over an hour and passed with flying colors.
A few days after the arrival of the Young America engine, a house located between Fox and Main Streets burned to the ground. The fire had gained too much headway before discovery and because the house was too far from the river, the firemen had no water source from which to pump. A year later, the same thing happened at the next fire when a house on the West Side burned down – not enough hose to reach the River and no other water available. The need for a better source of water supply was becoming evident.
On February 4, 1857, the Village of Aurora and West Aurora incorporated to form the City of Aurora. The fire equipment now became the property of the City of Aurora and the city ordinance created a fire department.and listed its rules and regulations. The City of Aurora, however, provided no funds to run the fire department.
The First improvements of the Fire Department
For several years, Young America Company did the best they could with their basic equipment and limited water supply. The leather fire hose became in such bad condition that they had to wrap it with cloth and rope to keep it from bursting. Although some of the firefighters suffered through the ridicule voiced towards them, many simply quit. The city officials eventually realized that it was their responsibility to provide fire protection for the city, but after years of discussions, they could not agree about what should be done.
The citizens on the West Side felt they were entitled to fire protection and were in favor of forming a second fire company and installing a “Holly System”. This was a system in which stationary high pressure “Holly Pumps” pumped water from the river directly into water mains and fire hydrants. Another group of citizens wanted to sell the Young America fire pumper and buy a new steam fire engine.. Lengthy debates were held over several years without coming to a conclusion. Finally, during an election held May 15, 1869, the voters were simply asked if they were in favor of or against a fire department supported by taxation. The proposal to have tax supported fire department was defeated by a 98 to 667 margin.
This group of city officials were not to be denied though and immediately after the election, they "found" $12,000.00 in the Treasury, which they appropriated to establish a fire department. Two-thirds of the money went to the East Side – they bought a steam fire engine, hose cart, hose and brass couplings. The balance of the funds went to the citizens on the West Side who favored the Holly System.
A fire company called the "Holly Hose Company" was formed and the Holly pump was purchased and installed in Carter and Hoyt's Foundry, located on the Fox River between Downer Place and Galena. A corner of the foundry property was leased by the city and a two-story frame building in which to store the hand-drawn hose cart, hose and other equipment was erected. John Eddy, who eventually to become Chief Engineer of the Aurora Fire Department, was elected as the first Foreman of the Holly Hose Company.
City of Aurora Steam Fire Engine Co. and the Holly Hose Company on the right
The new steam fire engine, named "City of Aurora" arrived in Aurora in June, 1869. The machine was built by the Amoskeag Manufacturing Co. of Manchester, New Hampshire and was referred to as a "Second-Class Double Plunger Engine", weighing 6,000 pounds (6,850 with water). The steamer required 40 men to pull it on level ground, 80 to pull it up hill. These engines, at the time, were considered as good as any in the market. Horses were frequently rented from a nearby livery stable to pull the steamer until 1874 when the city bought a team of horses to pull the "City of Aurora" Steam fire engine. The first time out to practice, the steamer collided with a horse and buggy, demolishing the buggy and injuring the driver and his horse. When not in use pulling the steamer to a fire, the horse team was used by the street department, hauling gravel, etc. Sam Edgerly was appointed as the first Engineer for the steamer and Benjamin Bisbey was named as the first Chief Engineer of the Aurora Fire Department
The old Young America hand pumper went to a new fire company named "Excelsior No. 2". This company was organized by William Reed, who later became Chief Engineer of the Aurora Fire Department, and consisted of 45 men, most of whom worked in the nearby C. B. & Q. Railroad Shops. On June 11, 1870, Excelsior Company No. 2 moved into a building constructed for them on Anderson Street between Main (now East Galena Blvd.) and New York Streets.
A law passed by the Illinois State Legislature in 1869, allowed the city to pass an ordinance imposing a 2% tax on the receipts of insurance companies incorporated outside the State of Illinois but doing business in Aurora. The revenue generated is used exclusively to support the fire department. This "foreign fire tax" is still in effect today.
Also during 1869, three of what was to become a total of nine large cisterns, each holding up to 1,000 barrels of water, were built throughout the city to supply the steam fire engine. These cisterns were refilled by pumping water from the Fox River into the first cistern closest to the river, and from that cistern into the next cistern and so on. This process often took all night to complete. These cisterns were used until about 1889 and permanently filled in during 1900.
In 1870, the city installed a 3,790 pound bell on top of the Court House (later the City Hall) for fire alarm purposes. At first, the bell was tolled just to sound the alarm of fire, but later the city was divided into fire districts and a code was established. Nine strokes of the bell meant a fire, followed by a number of strokes indicating the district. This bell is now on display on the grounds of the Aurora Historical Museum.
Eureka Hook and Ladder Company was formed in early 1871, but their hook and ladder apparatus was not delivered until October 9, 1871. Like the steam fire engine, horses were rented to draw this apparatus to a fire. It was not until 1874 that a new building was built for their equipment. This building was located next door to the No. 1 Fire Station on North Broadway.
In 1872, the Holly water mains were extended to the business district on the East Side of the river. Two more Holly pumps were purchased and installed in the Silver Plate Factory on Stolp's Island and at the City Mills located at the foot of Main Street at the river. Also in 1872, the Holly Hose House was moved to a new location on the east side of South Lake Street between Downer Place and Holbrook Street (now West Benton Street) and Aurora sold the Young America hand pumper to Benton Harbor, Michigan for $800.00. A hand-pulled hose cart was bought for the Excelsior No. 2 Fire Company, which they used until a steamer was purchased for them in 1875.
Excelsior Company No. 2's steamer was appropriately named “Excelsior No. 2”. Hugh Doran was her first Engineer. This steamer, from L. Button & Son of
Waterford, New York, arrived in Aurora on May 5, 1875 and used rented horses until 1883 when a team of horses was purchased by the city. This steamer was used for pumping water at various times even after its services for fighting fires in Aurora were no longer needed. It was traded in on an American LaFrance pumper in 1919.)
The Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad operated a fire company at their maintenance shops on North Broadway. The C. B. & Q. Fire Company operated a small steam fire engine manufactured in 1872 by Clapp & Jones of Hudson, New York. This steamer, named “C. H. Hudson”, and a hose cart, were recognized as part of the Aurora Fire Department from 1877 until 1882 when the volunteer fire companies were disbanded.
In the late 1800’s the "City of Aurora" Fire Company participated in the annual Illinois State Firemen’s Association Tournament. Fire companies from throughout Illinois would compete in this tournament to see who could pump water the fastest and the farthest. First prize in this tournament was a traveling “Buckhorn Trophy” - a pair of buck (deer) horns mounted with a silver plaque inscribed with the winners' names. This trophy was a traveling trophy which was to be permanently awarded to any fire company winning possession three years in a row. Aurora first gained possession of the buckhorns by winning the State Championships in 1878. That year they also placed second in the national competition. At Peoria at the 1879 State Tournament and at Monmouth at the 1880 State Tournament, Aurora won both championships and thus permanent possession of the famous buckhorn trophy and had to retire from future competitions. The buckhorn trophy is now on display in the Aurora Regional Fire Museum.
City of Aurora Steam Fire Engine Co. pictured shortly after winning the Illinois State state championship "Buckorn Trophy"
The "City of Aurora" steamer was loaned to Elgin in 1887 and after its return, was sold to a Chicago junk dealer in 1897 for $60 (which was $15 more than any other offer).
The beginnings of a paid fire department
On January 28, 1882, the fire department became a partly-paid organization under the jurisdiction of the City of Aurora and the volunteer fire companies were disbanded. The Aurora Fire Company soon became known as Hose Co. No. 1, the Excelsior Fire Company became Hose Co. No. 2, and Holly Hose Company became Hose Co. No. 3.
At this time, the hose carts of the Holly Hose and Excelsior No. 2 fire companies were converted into horse-drawn carts and horses were purchased for them. Full-time drivers were hired and paid $40.00 a month. These drivers stayed in the fire barns and were on duty 24 hours a day. The driver was responsible for not only getting the engine to the fire, but also cleaning the equipment after the fire, and keeping the firehouses clean. When not busy with these duties, the drivers and their horse teams worked on the streets hauling gravel, garbage, and such for the city. The firemen on the other hand, were paid a small salary and were expected to only fight fires. They worked other regular jobs by day, and slept in the fire barns at night. Whenever there was a fire alarm, they were expected to drop their work and meet the driver and engine at the fire scene.
During 1885, Aurora made a major development in fire protection with the installation of a water works system. The 20 miles of water mains with 245 hydrants brought water to all of the city. As Aurora expanded, the water system also expanded to meet the needs.
The city sold the Holly Hose House and lot to the White and Todd Lumber Company in 1886 and bought a lot across the street (South Lake Street) on which was erected a new brick building. Holly Hose Company, renamed Hose Company No. 3, moved into their new quarters in 1887.
In 1887, the area between the No. 1 Hose House and the Hook and Ladder House on North Broadway was enclosed. The Hook and Ladder equipment was then stored in this building and the police patrol wagon took over the old Hook and Ladder House.
In 1891, Company No. 3 received a new four-wheeled hose wagon from Gleason & Bailey of Seneca Falls, New York for $675. During that year, a captain, a driver, four firemen, and Company No. 3's old two-wheeled hose cart were established in a new brick building at North Union and Columbia Streets as Hose Company No. 4.
The next great advance in fire fighting technology was the in the use of “chemicals”. Aurora purchased a Muskegon Chemical wagon for Company No. 1 in September 1892. This engine works on the principal of mixing soda-water and acid to generate carbon dioxide gas which pressurizes the water tanks and forces the water out through the hose. Because chemical engine did not require any external water supply it could be ready to attack a fire within seconds of arriving at the scene, (it took the conventional Steamer three to ten minutes to get water pumping). This lead to an increase in the popularity of the chemical engine through the late 1800 and early 1900’s.
In December 1892, the city bought a 90-ft. aerial hook and ladder truck from the Michigan Fire Ladder & Engine Company of Grand Rapids, Michigan at a cost of $2,300 dollars. The truck was known as the “Arrow Aerial Turntable Hook & Ladder”and represented the latest in modern design incorporating improved mechanism for raising a ladder quickly and moving it from one window to another. This apparatus was to have been built expressly for the Chicago World's Fair, but Alderman Messenger got the company to sell it to Aurora and build another one for the fair.
1892 Arrow Aerial Turntable Hook & Ladder truck and the old fire stations on North Broadway.
During his years as Fire Chief, Adam Schoeberlein installed a new horse harness system. It was suspended over the horses and released in such a way that the horses were harnessed and out of the barn before the fire bell stopped ringing! When trained, horses were left unhitched in stalls directly behind the apparatus. At the sound of an alarm, the stall doors automatically opened, allowing the horses to run to their assigned places. Before the alarm bell stopped ringing, the well trained fire horses were out of their stalls and backed up in front of the fire wagons, each horse standing exactly beneath his suspended harness. As the driver pulls a ceiling rope releasing the harnesses onto the backs of the horses, a firemen need only to snap one snap to secure the collar around the horses neck before the engine is ready to go. The entire process, from the time the bell rang to the time the engine was out of the station, took less than one minute!
The fire horses were trained at the No. 4 fire barn on North Union Street. The horses were about two years old when purchased by the fire department and often served eighteen to twenty years. Each animal was permanently assigned to one station and one piece of apparatus, and never transferred. For a month, ten to twelve times a day, the new animal was led through his routine by three firemen. When the gong was rung or at a given signal, one man opened the door in front of the stall, another cracked a whip behind the horse’s heels. As the startled animal lunged forward, the third man grabbed his bridle, led him to his place underneath the harness, then let him go. At first, a new horse shied away or returned to his stall when released, but he soon learned to stand still while the harness was lowered and snapped into place. The horses loved their jobs and were well treated.
Departments took great pride in their fire horses, even insisting that the teams be color-matched. The firefighters often made pets of their horses. As one former fire chief said, “Of course we got attached to them. We saw those horses more then we saw our wives!”.
The old No. 1 Hose House was razed in 1894 and a new building was constructed on the North Broadway lot. The police patrol was also housed in Central Fire Station until 1912, the patrol driver and police occupied a small room on the first floor. This building, used as Central Fire Station until 1980, is now the home to the Aurora Regional Fire Museum.
Aurora's new Central Fire Station
The newspaper called the new Central Station, "A building to be proud of - leaving nothing to be desired in cost, appearance, finish or good taste." It was a two-story brick structure surmounted in front with a mosque-like onion dome. a chemical engine and hose cart occupied the south side of the building, and the police patrol wagon and ladder truck were located on the north. Behind the apparatus were eight horse stalls with a hay loft above.
Interior of the new Central Fire Station, note the horse stall doors visible in the rear
The old wooden building built originally for the Hook and Ladder Company, and later used by the police patrol, had been moved from its original North Broadway lot to a site on Fifth Avenue near Jackson Street in preparation for the building of the new Central Fire Station. In 1895, this building was repaired and remodeled and Hose Company No. 5 was established there with a captain, four men and a driver. The new No. 5 Company acquired Company No. 2's old hose wagon. Company No. 2 received Company No. 3’s old hose wagon when a new Babcock Champion Chemical Engine was delivered to the No. 3 Company in 1895. This new chemical engine, costing $2,000, was lightweight, and fully equipped with two hand chemical extinguishers set at the rear. Painted on the sides, under the seats were the letters “A.F.D.”, and on the tool box located on the rear step a “No. 3” was lettered. The entire rig was finished in red and gold, with the hose box painted black. Two brass lanterns hung by the ends of the drivers seat, and it had a 14-inch gong mounted in the floor boards so as to be easily pressed by the driver’s foot while he was holding the reins of the horses galloping to an alarm.
The aerial apparatus purchased in 1892 proved to be unsatisfactory as it was too heavy and clumsy to be used for ordinary fire calls. A new hook and ladder truck was purchased on May 4, 1896. Some of the ladders from the 1892 aerial were place on it. The original hook and ladder truck, bought in 1871, was made into an exercise wagon for the horse teams at the Central Fire Station. A separate team of horses was provided to pull the hook and ladder apparatus in 1898.
In 1903, the volunteers agreed to adopt the Civil Service System to govern the police and firemen. The Aurora Fire Department began to be regulated by a Board of Fire and Police Commissioners and the men hired had to pass a Civil Service test. The Departments are still under Civil Service, but the governing body is called Civil Service Commission.
On March 7, 1906, Company No. 1 got a combination chemical and hose wagon built by the LaFrance Engine Company of Elmira, New York. It was said to be the most modern piece of fire fighting apparatus developed so far. The wagon was painted bright red. It was larger than the other hose wagons, weighed 4,600 pounds and had rubber tires. Near the front of the box was a larger 40 gallon tank for chemical and above it was the reel for the chemical hose attached to the tank. This wagon carried ladders and hooks on the sides and 1,200 feet of fire hose in the box. With the combination of hook & ladder, and chemical and hose reel, the wagon was said to be able to extinguish small fires without calling out the entire department. Company 1's old hose wagon went to Company 2 and No. 2's old wagon went to No. 5. Company No. 5's wagon was converted to an exercise wagon for the horses. Eventually, all the hose wagons were equipped with chemicals.
The full-time paid department
After much discussion and an impassioned appeal by Chief Schoeberlein to the local business community, the city counsel approved the funds needed to support a paid fire department. On March 1 of 1906, Companies No. 1 and No. 3 became fully paid; Company No. 4 and Company No. 6 (hook and ladder truck) followed on January 1, 1907; Company No. 5 became fully paid February 1, 1908; and on January 1, 1910, Company No. 2 was the last fire company in Aurora to switch over to full-time, paid firemen. In these early years, the full-time paid firefighters worked 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They were allowed to go home for meals three times a day as there were no kitchens in the early firehouses. They continued to be given a one-week vacation each summer.
Aurora Fire Deparment, 1906
The Aurora Fire Department, in March of 1910, received a 65-foot aerial hook and ladder truck - an American LaFrance. During the years, several things were done to modernize it, including the addition of a motorized tractor in 1914, but the basis unit was in service for 36 years.
Motorization of the department -
horses to horse power
The mechanization of the fire department began with a motor-driven Rambler fire engine, manufactured in Kenosha, Wisconsin, bought for Company No. 2 and delivered November 3, 1911. On June 28, 1913, Fire Company No. 1 received a 6-cylinder White fire engine purchased from the company in Cleveland, Ohio. An American LaFrance tractor was attached to the hook and ladder truck on November 5, 1914. Company No. 3 got its second motorized truck in 1915, an American LaFrance, replacing the Rambler, which was transferred to Company No. 5. The No. 4 Company took delivery of a White fire engine on June 26, 1916 and No. 2 Company received a White engine on August 1, 1916. Chief Rang's auto was delivered in March, 1917 from the Reo Motor Car Company of Lansing, Michigan. The car was a two passenger Reo roadster painted red with the letters A.F.D. in black. With the delivery of this new chief’s car it retired the last of the fire horses and ended the colorful era of horse-drawn fire equipment in Aurora. Fire horses lasted only half a century, but their introduction heralded the most stirring and romantic time in fire fighting history. Nothing rivaled the excitement of seeing the horses come charging out of the fire barns, pulling the bright red and brass engines and hose carts with their wheels spinning and bells ringing!
Aurora's first motorized fire engine, a chemical and hose wagon on a 1911 Rambler chassis.
A new American LaFrance triple combination booster pumper was delivered to Company No. 1 on January 11, 1919. This type of pumper was another major development in firefighting as they were able to boost the water pressure at the scene of the fire and not have to depend entirely on the city water works station for sufficient pressure.
In an economy move, the No. 2 Fire Station on North Anderson Street was closed on April 1, 1919 and the men and equipment were moved to the Central Fire Station. The station on North Anderson Street was never reopened.
In April of 1921, Company No. 3 received a Stutz triple-combination booster pumper. Two firefighters were sent to Kenosha, Wisconsin during the final days of engine construction, where they were instructed in the operation of the pump and driving of the vehicle. In 1934, the Pirsch Company completely reconditioned the Stutz adding a new Waukeshaw engine, replacing the solid rubber tires, and widening and strengthening the frame. This Stutz pumper can now be seen at the Aurora Regional Fire Museum.
After the citizens of Aurora voted yes on the issue, the Aurora Fire Department with Herman Lohmann as Fire Chief, began the two platoon system on January 1, 1920. The men worked two shifts - one days and one nights. The day shift ran from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m., the night shift from 6 p.m. until 8 a.m. Every two weeks the shifts changed so that the men worked days for half a month and nights for half a month. By this time, kitchens had been built in the firehouses and all meals for the men on duty were eaten in house. Each fireman continued to get a one-week vacation each year.
In 1926, an American LaFrance engine which could pump 1,000 gallons of water per minute was bought for No. 1 Company and the 1919 American LaFrance was sent over to Company No. 4. In 1932, a used, reconditioned 1927 Pirsch pumper was purchased for Company No. 5.
During the years Lloyd Gramley was Fire Chief, the Aurora Fire Department felt effects of the great depression. On February 1, 1933, the City Council considered it necessary to furlough six firefighters and cut the salaries of the remainder by 30%. Of course, this meant that the fire department was seriously underpaid and undermanned.
On January 10, 1934, a fire broke out which destroyed the Woolworth Store on South Broadway. The fire took the lives of three of Aurora's firefighters: Captain John Petersohn, Captain Herbert Reiss and Firefighter Charles M. Hoffman. Several other firefighters were seriously injured, including Albert Burholzer, Bernard Meisch and Lieutenant Robert Bauman. Only one other Aurora firefighter, Captain Barney Weiler who was suffocated by smoke in 1929, has been killed in the line of duty at a fire. However, several other firefighters have died, while on duty in unrelated accidents or as a result of injuries sustained while on duty.
Firefighters cool down the rumble and search for bodies at the Woolworth fire in 1934.
Following the Woolworth fire, the City Council immediately brought back the six firefighters who had been furloughed and restored 10% of the salary of all the men on the department. Much credit was given to the men of the fire department during this period, despite being underpaid and overworked, the firefighters never slackened in their duties.
Not long after this tragic fire in 1934, the City of Aurora bought a Pirsch quadruple service truck. It was called "quad" because of its four main features: pump, water tank, hose body to carry 1000 feet of hose, and ladder racks with various lengths of ground ladders. The truck also carried rescue and lighting equipment. This truck was designed to serve as both an engine company and as a ladder company. In later years, it was sometimes affectionately (and sometimes not so affectionately) referred to as the "hayrack". Nevertheless, it answered all general alarms from the day of its arrival in the city until its retirement in 1964.
Engine 1, Truck 2, and the Chief; in front of the Central Fire Station in the late 1930s
In 1936, Company No. 5’s building on Fifth Avenue was declared unsafe by the city building inspector and he ordered the station evacuated immediately. Company No. 5 was temporarily moved into the Central Fire Station while demolition and then construction of their new quarters on the same site began. Citizens in the southeast section of town became alarmed over the lack of immediate fire protection. By March of 1937, a building across the street from the former No. 5 Station was leased by the city and became the temporary location of Company No. 5. In December of 1939, Company No. 5 moved into its new attractive brick bungalow-type fire station. This station closed in 1989
In 1942, the city purchased an American LaFrance 500 series triple combination 1,000 gallon per minute pumper for Company No. 1. (This engine is now being held in storage for the Aurora Regional Fire Museum).
On May 29, 1946, an American LaFrance “JO” series, 100-foot hydraulic-operated aerial ladder truck was put in service by No. 2 Company, retiring the 1910 aerial. The new rig was a “straight frame” four-wheeled ladder truck, as opposed to the typical six-wheeled tractor-trailer ladder trucks of the day. The “JO” model American LaFrance was the first successful “cab-forward” fire truck manufactured (the motor was located behind the driver and crew under the cab, eliminating the “nose” in front of the truck).
A 1946 American LaFrance aerial truck pictured in font of Aurora's old central fire station
In 1948, Company No. 3 took delivery of an American LaFrance 700 series pumper. This cab-forward engine accommodated four men, two in the front seat and two men on rear facing “jump” seats” behind. In 1950, an identical American LaFrance pumper was delivered to Company No. 4. In 1952, Company No. 5 received a third American LaFrance pumper identical to the others except for the addition of a two-way radio system. Previous to this, only Chief Edward Ryan's car had a two-way radio.
In October, 1951, Company No. 3 was moved from South Lake Street into a new building at the corner of Highland Avenue and Walnut Street (now West New York Street.) The building was a red brick, ranch-style, one floor building in a "T" formation layout, modern in every respect.
A 1948 American LaFrance engine pictured in font of Aurora's old station No. 3 located on Highland Ave. near New York St.
The fire department began a 72-hour work week on October 1, 1952. This was accomplished by hiring four additional men (making a total force of 47) and giving the men every seventh 24 hour day off and allowing them three successive days off twice each month. The average wage for the Aurora Fire Department was 66 cents an hour. The next change in hours was brought about by working three consecutive 24 hours on, 24 hours off and then a 24 hour day off, called a "Kelly Day", named for Mayor Kelly of Chicago who instituted the plan in Chicago. This meant a 64-hour work week.**when??**
Carrying on with Chief Ryan's program of replacing vehicles as needed, Chief Walter Hannon ordered a 1957 American LaFrance 1,000 gallon per minute pumper for Company No. 1, replacing the 1942 engine. A new No.7 fire station was approved and opened February 1, 1957. The one-story brick ranch style station, located at Augustine Avenue (now Kenilworth) and Harrison Avenue, provided much needed fire protection to the west side of Aurora. The 1948 American LaFrance and the 1921 Stutz were put into service at this station.
Under the administration of Chief Carl Numrich, the fire alarm office was moved into a bombproof room especially constructed in the south-side rear of the Central Fire Station. The room, staffed 24 hours a day, became the base station for the fire department's two-way radio system. By 1956, two-way radios had been installed in all of Aurora’s fire companies. This allowed two-way communication between the dispatcher at the Central Fire Station and the trucks within a ten mile radius. The Gamewell Fire Alarm System was completely modernized in the the late 1950’s. A new console-type enunciator and printer were purchased for the fire department and 11 new “telephone” alarm boxes were installed throughout Aurora which provided direct communication with the police department switchboard. New equipment for receiving automatic fire alarms from factories and large businesses, and a Montrol Traffic Control System were installed. The Montrol System controlled all the traffic lights in downtown Aurora, allowing the fire alarm operator to give the responding fire equipment green lights in their direction of travel. In addition to all of this equipment, the switchboard and contract number file (for contract fire calls outside the city limits) were also installed in the fire alarm office in the Central Fire Station.
On January 1, 1958, Aurora Fire Department began the three-platoon system, three shifts of men working 24 hours on duty and 48 hours off duty for an average 56-hour work week. This system is still in effect today.
In 1958, a Ford-Howe pumper with a 750 gallon per minute pump and a 500 gallon booster tank was delivered to the fire department. For a few months it was used out of Central Station serving the people outside the city limits who had contracted for fire protection with the Aurora Fire Department. For practical reasons, it was sent to the outlying No. 7 Station in 1959.
In October of 1961, during the administration of Chief Erwin J. Bauman, the fire department assumed control of the the city's emergency ambulance service . All members of the fire department received basic first aid instruction and two men on each shift were assigned to the ambulance.
The city adopted its first meaningful Fire Code in 1963, which has greatly aided the fire department in its program of fire prevention and led to the establishment of a Fire Prevention Bureau.
Due to the large increase of contracted fire protection just outside the northeast corner of the city, the 1958 Ford pumper was sent to No. 4 Station in October, 1962 and the 1950 American LaFrance was transferred to Station No. 7. By the mid 1960’s, the city limits expanded in the northeastern direction. To meet this need, the No. 4 Station was moved to a new building located at 800 Michels Avenue in 1965.
Aurora Fire Department held it’s first fire show in October l962. Demonstrations were held on using a CO2 extinguisher, how arerial ladders for home and car fires.
On June 4, 1964, a new American LaFrance 100 foot hydraulic-operated aerial ladder truck with enclosed cab was delivered to No. 2 Company and the 1934 Pirsch service truck was sold.
During a fire on Easter Sunday in 1967, Company No. 3's 1948 American LaFrance was destroyed when a high tension wire fell on it, engulfing it instantly in flames. The reserve 1942 American LaFrance pumper was used by Company No. 3 until 1968, when they received a new American LaFrance with a 1,250 gallon per minute pump and a 500 gallon tank. Company No. 1 received an identical engine at this time and their 1957 engine went to No. 5 Company.
In November, 1971, Companies No. 4 and No. 7 received new 1,250 gallon per minute American LaFrance diesel pumpers with 500 gallon booster tanks. Firefighters Ronald Edwards, Robert Molnar, Louis Morse and Fire Department Mechanic Irwin Allen went to the factory at Elmira, New York and drove the twin fire engines back to Aurora.
As the city continued to expand in a northwesterly direction, the No. 3 Station was relocated into a new building constructed on North Highland Avenue and Indian Trail The new station opened on December 1, 1972, the modern building is spacious enough to accommodate an additional fire company foreseen necessary in the future for that section of Aurora. An ambulance crew is also quartered there. The apparatus floor was made large enough for a work area for the fire department mechanic (in later years, a civilian.)
During Chief Bauman's 12 year administration, the fire department was constantly improved. Salaries were raised to a more realistic figure, every man was encouraged to attend firefighting schools and seminars, an Arson Investigation Bureau and Photograph Division were established. Central Station was extensively remodeled and expanded to include a large area used as a classroom and the department acquired modern small firefighting tools and equipment. Under State law, all two and a half inch hose couplings were made National Standard. Aurora accepted a firefighters' training program passed by the State legislature.
In order to present the history of the Aurora Fire Department, Chief Bauman authorized the establishment of a Fire Museum in September 1966, with Lieutenant Charles O. Goodwin as curator. Opened in October, 1968, it is housed in the large basement area of No. 4 fire station. It serves as a reminder of the colorful days of the horses and records the growth and development of the Aurora Fire Department. Aurora has had as many as 300 men and as few as 27 men on the rolls at one time. She sent 85 men and the "City of Aurora" steamer to Chicago under the command of Foreman William E. Reed to help fight the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and numerous times has gone to the aid of communities on the C. B. & Q. Railroad (now called Burlington Northern) where help was needed to fight fires. Captain Goodwin is still curator of the fire museum.
Charlie Goodwin examines the exhibits at the Aurora Fire Museum in the basement of Station 4
Ralph T. Kramp was appointed chief of the department on May 9, 1973 upon the retirement of Erwin J. Bauman. New emphasis was placed on training and the certification of each member of the department with the trade classification of firefighter, as recognized by the Illinois Protective Personnel Standard and Education Commission was made a requirement of the Aurora Fire Department.
In the latter part of 1973, over 4,100 acres of land, most of which lies between 83rd Street and Butterfield Road with Route 59 being the eastern border was annexed to the City of Aurora. Chief Ralph Kramp maintained a close working relationship with city officials and developers in making plans for the fire safety and fire protection of the area.
Included in the plans for the area were an enclosed multi-million dollar shopping center, many other businesses and hundreds of homes. On January 7, 1974, an old gasoline service station and restaurant building at the intersection of Routes 59 and 65 was renovated and opened as Temporary No. 8 Fire Station. The 1958 Ford pumper and a new 1974 International brush truck were assigned to this station with three men. Later in the year, a 1969 Cadillac ambulance was also assigned to the station with an additional man. The developers' plans included a permanent station to house two fire companies (a pumper company and an aerial ladder company.) Two stores in the shopping center complex opened for business in February, 1975 and in July, 1975, the mall area and many additional stores opened.
The alarm office was renovated by members of the fire department in 1974 and a new console was purchased and installed. The Emergency Voice Communication System replaced the Gamewell System.
Two new 1,250 gallon per minute diesel pumpers were ordered from the Pierce Company of Appleton, Wisconsin and Assistant Chief Donald Kramp and a factory representative drove the trucks to Aurora late in December, 1974. One truck was placed in service at No. 5 Station and the other at Temporary No. 8 Station in January, 1975. These two pumpers were the first to carry 750 gallons of booster water. On November 21, 1975, another new Pierce pumper was put in service at No. 1 Station. Company No. 1's 1968 American LaFrance was placed in No. 3 Station to be used as a reserve pumper. Company No. 3's 1968 American LaFrance was converted to diesel.
The new No. 8 Station was ready for occupancy on July 15, 1975. This station was designed to blend with the type of architecture planned for the area and is located at Gordon Gregory Drive and South Road. It is extremely modern and spacious. Two fire companies are assigned to this station. Company No. 8 used the 1974 Pierce pumper and Company No. 6 used the 1946 aerial. Other equipment at No. 8 station included the 1974 International brush truck. In the middle of July, 1976, a new Pierce platform aerial truck was received for Company No. 6. It is painted red, white and blue and called "Spirit of '76" in honor of our country's 200th birthday. The International brush truck was later moved to Central Station.
Aurora's new 1976 LTI aerial tower, placed in service as "Truck 6" and quartered at station 8 built near Fox Valley Mall
Several members of the fire department, including all men assigned to the ambulance, began Emergency Medical Training during 1974 at Mercy Center Hospital in Aurora. Full-fledged paramedics were graduated from this group and assigned to the "first response" ambulance equipped with telemetry equipment and two-way radio operating out of Central Station. To update the ambulance equipment, two new modular-type ambulances were purchased during 1974 and one during 1975. One of the 1974 ambulances and the 1985 ambulance was assigned to Central Station; the other 1974, without telemetry equipment, went to No. 8 Station. In the spring of 1977, a 1975 Chevrolet modular-type ambulance, which had been used as a demonstrator by the dealer, was purchased to be manned by Company No. 3 personnel when needed.
The paramedic program has become a very important part of the services provided to the citizens of the City of Aurora by the fire department. Since the original group was graduated, additional paramedics have qualified under an ongoing training program with Mercy Center. Ambulances manned by paramedics (16 paramedics) and fully equipped with telemetry equipment began operating out of Central Station, No. 3 Station and No. 4 Station during the latter part of 1980. The 1975 ambulance at No. 3 Station was completely recondition and fitted with telemetry equipment and a new 1982 ambulance has been ordered for No. 4 Station. The old ambulances will be remodeled to serve as rescue equipment or to carry special equipment tools.
A new audio communication system between the alarm operator's office at Central Station and each outside station, replacing the old bell-type alarm, was installed in 1977 (with the bell-type alarm kept as a backup). This system lessens the sudden jolt to the heart of the firefighter which the bell-type alarm produced -- an occupational hazard. It also allows instant inter- communication between the alarm operator and the fire station.
On October 12, 1977, Chief Ralph T. Kramp, a veteran of 30 years on the department, retired to accept a position as Chief of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory Fire Department. He regretted leaving before the new Central Station was constructed and the new “911” emergency number system was put in use -- both projects in which he was deeply involved, but felt it was time to try something different in the firefighting field. During his 4-year tenure as chief, the Aurora Fire Department grew from 80 to 125 men.
Mayor Jack Hill appointed Assistant Chief John Robert Mangers to the position of Fire Chief on October 1, 1977. He had been a member of the Aurora Fire Department for 27 years. He served as shift commander while he was an Assistant Chief since 1972 and was also active in planning the new Central Fire Station. He was reappointed in April, 1981.
Central Fire Station shortly before it was closed in 1980
Around the middle of June, 1978, Company No. 2 received a new Pierce platform aerial ladder truck. Costing $185,000.00, the truck has an 85 foot ladder fitted with a permanent waterway which extends the full length of the ladder. It is now not necessary for a man to carry heavy hose while climbing the ladder. The 1964 aerial truck is kept at Central Station as a reserve truck.
On Monday, August 14, 1978, the emergency number 911 was adopted by Aurora and its surrounding territory. All emergency calls go to the switchboard at the police department and trained personnel relay the calls to the proper departments via the audio communication system.
The contract for the new Central Station was awarded to Wil-Freds, Inc. of Lisle on January 16, 1979. Their bid was $1.7 million dollars, however, the completed building cost much more than that figure. Construction began in the spring of 1979 and the building was ready for occupancy in December, 1980. It is located just a few feet north of the old Central Station at the corner of Spring Street and Broadway. The building provides much needed space for offices, conference and training rooms, spacious apparatus floor and larger and modern living quarters.
The old Central Station had faithfully served the fire department for 86 years. and there was much publicity in the newspapers about its fate. After sitting vacant for seven years, a group was organized to save the old station and transform it into a museum. The Aurora Regional Fire Museum opened in Octobr of 1990.
After several months of negotiation, the city and Local 99 were unable to agree on terms of a new union contract to replace a two year contract which expired October 1, 1979. On October 9, 1979, union officials called a strike with 100% cooperation of all firefighters under the rank of Assistant Chief. At an apartment house fire on October 14, 19799, in which there was a civilian fatality, the Assistant Chiefs responded with the 1964 aerial ladder truck. Seeing the extent of the fire, the strikers gained consent to operate the fire equipment. Unfortunately, due to undetermined causes, the aerial ladder collapsed, causing serious injury to Firefighter Fred Winters and minor injury to two other firefighters. The strike ended October 17, 1979. The 1964 aerial was out of commission for repairs for nearly a year.
Aurora has seen the complete evolution in firefighting -- from the bucket brigade to the hand pumper, the steamer, the chemical wagon, the combination hose and chemical wagons, the motorized equipment without and with pumps -- to the modern diesels. Today the Aurora Fire Department comprises nearly 200 firefighters operating nine engines, six ambulances, and three ladder trucks.
The entire Aurora Fire Department pictured in a panoramic photo taken in July 2006 in commemoration of the AFD's 150th Anniversary
No history of the Aurora Fire Department would be complete without mention of the three organizations which are or have been important in the lives of our firefighters:
The Aurora Firemen's Relief Association was organized in 1880, an affiliate of the State organization. The Association was originated specifically "to afford relief to such of its active members as may become sick, injured or disabled." In the beginning, the Association held dances on an annual basis to raise funds for its purpose and it was an active social group. Now, however, the Association is well-funded because of the work of the men in the past and it operates on merely the monthly dues each man pays. Every man on the department belongs to the Association.
Most of the men on the Department belong to the AFL-CIO labor union, chartered August 8, 1918 as Local #99 of the International Association of Firefighters. On March 13, 1934, Local 99 dropped out of the IAFF, due to pressure for city officials, it is said. Under a new administration, permission to again form a union was granted and the local was given the number 420. At the International Association of Firefighters convention held in August, 1978, the Union was granted permission to use the old number 99 again. A Ladies' Auxiliary was formed in the summer of 1978 with the permission of Local #99. The Union strives for better wages, better working conditions, better equipment and better firefighting techniques.
The Aurora Firefighters Credit Union was chartered February 4, 1939 to offer its members financial assistance and a savings program. One hundred percent membership of the men on the Department was reached in 1973.
This history compiled by Lt. and Mrs. Charles Goodwin.