BUNKER HILL VOLUNTEER FIREMEN
The pride and joy of the Bunker Hill Fire Company #1 Volunteers is the first motorized fire apparatus purchased by the Bunker Hill Fire Department.
As early as 1867 citizens of the City recognized the need of a Fire brigade. It was stated in the Union Gazette then, that we are gratified to learn that our citizens are at length becoming fully alive to the necessity of an organization provided with suitable apparatus, for the better protection of our property from the devouring element. It is recognized that we have men in our midst who have had long experience in such organizations and the cost of the apparatus will be but trifling. A week later the news stated “The meeting of the Hook and Ladder Company was a failure.” We trust the matter will not be allowed to rest there.
February 1873, a fire at the Stove and Hardware house of George J. Smith on Washington Street, resulted in a loss of about $3,000.00 in stock. It was then stated that the late fire has been the cause of renewed discussion on the subject of adopting some means of protection against fires, some favoring the purchase of a Fire Engine, and others the organization of a hook and ladder company, and the digging of a cistern of suitable capacity.
January 1876, witnessed the greatest calamity which has ever befallen Bunker Hill. In the short space of one hour, property representing sixteen thousand dollars, and perhaps much more, was wiped entirely out of existence - taken from a family whose character for industry, integrity and generosity is well known in all this region. John Gaunt was the owner of the frame flouring mill, known as Gaunt’s mill, situated one-half mile north of town on the Carlinville road. The fire occurred shortly after twelve o’clock noon. A few minutes later and there were two or three hundred people upon the ground, but the heat was so intense that it was impossible to reach the mill, and every effort was made to save the store. There was no organization, however, and but few buckets were at hand.
February 1876, the City Council held a called session on Monday. Mayor Cummings stated that the meeting was called to take action in reference to fire supply. The Mayor was authorized to procure twenty-four rubber fire buckets; and was instructed to appoint a committee to procure necessary appliances for fire purposes, including ladders and truck, axes, ropes, etc.
February 1877, at about midnight, the alarm of fire was given and upon investigation it was discovered that the wagon and blacksmith shops belonging to Mr. Frank Dike were on fire. The Fire brigade responded promptly, but upon arriving at the scene it was found to be useless to make any attempt at saving these buildings, and hence they turned their attention to the adjacent buildings, which were in imminent danger of being fired. All present worked with a will; but despite of their most strenuous efforts, the flames communicated with the hook and ladder house, some twenty feet to the south. So it appears the Fire brigade has now been formed.
1880, Bunker Hill has an efficient Hook and Ladder comprising 33 members, under Walter Hedges as Chief. The Company has a truck, several ladders and hooks, and several dozen rubber and leather buckets. The Company wears a neat and tasty uniform.
September 1881, the hook and ladder Company held a special meeting on Monday evening. It was decided to meet in full uniform at the Company quarters at four o’clock Thursday and take the truck to the warehouse for the purpose getting the firebell, which will hand in the bell-tower with suitable ceremonies in ample form. The fire signals will remain the same. A general alarm, followed by one, two, three or four bells, to designate the district in which the fire occurs. Seven slow bells will be rung the second Monday evening in each month for the regular business meeting of the Company.
1928 was a year of big fires in the Bunker Hill Area. In May the Coffee Shell gas station and garage was a complete loss. This two story structure had previously housed the David Morris Wagon and Carriage shop. This historic business dated back to the middle of the 1800’s. The fire started next door in the Chadwick home. In June the largest mercantile business in Macoupin County at Dorchester burned to the ground and was a total loss. It was valued at $80,000 to $100,000. And all four buildings were lost.
Bunker Hill City fathers recognized the need for more modern Fire Apparatus. A bond issue for $6,000 was quickly raised and approved. An order for a General-Reo Triple Combination Pump, Booster Tank and Hose car, complete with 1000’ of 2½ double jacket Fire hose was given to the General Fire Apparatus Company of St. Louis, Mo. This engine was equipped with a 500 gallon per minute pump and a heavy duty six cylinder Continental engine. The Chassis was a 1928 Reo Truck. Cost of the apparatus minus the trade in of a Hand Pump and Hose Reel was $5,501.00. The order was placed 10-5-1928.
The Reo and its firemen suffered a great embarrassment upon making its first fire call. A home with a well located next to the porch was on fire. The supply hose was lowered into the well, which required the engine to be placed next to the porch. When the wind switched, the heat and fire forced the Firemen to chop the supply hose loose from the pump to save the apparatus. The house was lost but the Reo, with scorched paint and a corner of the seat burned through, was saved. The Reo would labor with the damaged seat until the late 60’s when the seat would be reupholstered.
The Reo’s next embarrassment would come later when it was stuck in a mud hole. The Reo’s wheels are decorated with very large and long axle caps. Unfortunately they are made of a soft aluminum. Someone discovered a hedge fence post nearby and reasoned that by prying on the axle, maybe the engine would be moved enough to escape the mire. Unfortunately he placed the post against the axle cap and bent the darned thing flat on one side. The Reo would have to suffer with this indignity until another cap was located in the late 80’s. A cap was found in the early 80’s on an old Reo truck, but the owner would not remove it unless the complete truck was purchased for $600.00.
1949 brought the desire of forming a Rural Fire Protection District to bring protection to outlying areas. The Rural Fire Protection District election was favored by a big majority. Dorsey, Prairietown, Woodburn and Shipman areas would now be served by the Volunteers. The original trustees were three, Arnold Goebel, Ed Sienko and Louie Bertels. District Fire Chief would be J.E. Emery. The new Rural Fire Protection District officially began business on May 1, 1950 and the Reo and all other equipment belonging to the City was transferred to the District by order of the City Council on June 5, 1950 at a cost of $4,500.00.
A new F-6 Ford motorized Fire apparatus was added in 1952, later the motor was defective, so the motor was replaced with a stronger one in 1955. When the Ford was purchased the Reo was relegated to back-up status. In 1958 a new GMC truck with a 500 GPM cross mount pump was purchased. This led to the Reo being taken out of Service. In 1961 the Reo was sold to the Volunteers for $100.50.
The Reo was relegated to storage in the Firemens’ Fish stand. Unfortunately it would suffer with another embarrassment. The Fish stand is unheated and the Reo didn’t have any anti-freeze in the motor. The cast iron block could not withstand the freezing water and burst. Oh! Woe to the prized Reo. The radiator and engine were taken apart and set in the back of the truck for a year of so awaiting repairs. In 1966 the Firemen decided that the Reo must be restored mechanically. Master Mechanic and welder, Russell Wood, came to the rescue. It’s been said that Woody could fix anything but the “Crack of Dawn” or a “Broken Heart” and he set to work on the engine block. With his brilliant knowledge and experience in welding and a few stainless steel welding rods, Woody stitched the metal back together to make it as good as new.
Next came the job of reassembling the engine. Ollie Schwallenstecker had just joined the Volunteers and was between jobs. In about two or three days he had the engine back together and running like new. Only problem was that it overheated. Ollie took the radiator off and gave it to Pete Cairns in Brighton for a cleaning. When he went to pick it up, Pete inquired where the radiator had been. Ollie said, “It’s been lying in the back of the truck out in the Fish stand for a long while.” “Well,” Pete said, “there must have been a whole family of mice living in there as I took out about a bushel of grass and leaves. No wonder it wouldn’t cool.”
For many years the Volunteers were strapped for space to store equipment, repack and replace hose on the apparatus. In 1971 the District Trustees purchased the building immediately east of the Fire House and started planning for a new Fire Station. In 1972 plans and specifications were approved and construction began in 1973. The building was welcomed as a valuable asset to the Volunteers. With the larger doors and more adequate space new Pump specifications were drawn up and a 1,500 GPM cross mount Ford Fire Engine was purchased in 1976.
After getting the engine running again, the Reo made the rounds of many local parades. Next for the Reo was attending a display for old fire engines at the Illinois State Fair. Also the Fire Engine display at the St. Louis Forest Park became a regular stop. The Reo was original from the tires to the top of the Brass Bell. But it lacked something. Not wanting to embarrass the Reo again, it was decided to give it a new coat of “Fire Engine Red” paint and new “Gold Leaf” lettering and trim. In 1991 the Volunteers started removing the hoses, ladders, axes, tools and fittings from the Reo. With new paint, lettering and plating the Reo should never be embarrassed again.
Now the Reo was in demand more than ever. It is transported on a permanent trailer to go to special events. After making the rounds once again, the Reo was recognized as one of the finest of Antique Fire Apparatus in Illinois. For about the last ten years the Reo has been requested to be displayed at the Illinois State Fair Grounds Fire Museum. About 1997 Governor Ryan signed a proclamation establishing a Illinois State Fire Fighter Memorial in downtown Springfield. The Reo was called on and was proudly on display at the Memorial dedication ceremonies.
Motorized Apparatus at the Bunker Hill Fire Co. #1 Fire Station in 2001.
Pierce-International 1200 GPM Cross Mount Panel, Mid-Ship Pump
Ford First Responder-Medical Van
1985 Peterbilt 4,800 Gallon Tandem Axle Tanker with Quick Dump
1983 800 Ford Rescue Box
1976 900 Ford 1,000 GPM Cross Mount Panel, Mid-Ship Pump
1963 4 X 4 Brush Truck with 300 Gallon tank
Present day Volunteers are especially proud of supporting their First Responder program. With the addition of a 1993 Ford First Responder-Medical Van donated by the Jersey Community Hospital in the summer of 2000, approximately 80% of the Company participates in this program on a Voluntary basis. This unit responds on all Department calls. Although equipped with complete Medical resources to administer immediate first aid, this unit is not authorized to transport patients. Newest medical equipment in the vehicle is a portable defibrillator for treating Cardiac Arrest patients and a GPS locator. The GPS locator is used to give the precise location of an emergency to allow a helicopter to find and land next to the injured. GPS means Global Positioning System.