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History of Berkeley Fire Department, 1924 through 1962
In the days before Berkeley had a Fire Department, any house that caught fire, usually burned to the ground. Former Berkeley Fire Lieutenant Joe Aronica, who wrote most of this history, remembered several of the tragedies; one which occurred in the 5900 block of Burr Oak Avenue early in 1924. Young Aronica's home was just across the street from the burning house and being a young boy at the time, the memory of this tragic evening never left him. He could clearly remember the neighborhood men running in and out of his home and neighboring homes with buckets of water in a desperate, but futile attempt to save the flaming home. It was a terrible sight that met his eyes the following morning, when he viewed the remains of what was once the home of a family of six. The only thing left standing, was the chimney and several water pipes. The remains, ashes, smoldered for several days.
This fire and simular fires, caused the people of the village greater awareness of its urgent need for a Fire Department and the basic equipment firefighters needed to effectively combat fires of the future.
One day, late during the year of 1924, Peter Conlon, Berkeley's first Police Commissioner, was on a motorcycle patrolling St. Charles Road, which at that time was a narrow, tarred, two lane road. He noticed a 1920 REO touring car exceeding the speed limit and gave chase. As he drew alongside of the speeding car, he sounded his siren and as the siren wailed, the driver of the REO became alarmed and lost control of the car. It veered off the road, and crashed into a tree in front of the Heinrick's farm house which stood on the site of 5211 St. Charles Road. The car, severely damaged, was abandoned by the owner and declared a total loss by the insurance company.
Hank Panknin, who later became Berkeley's first Fire Chief, asked the village for the wrecked car, so it might be converted into a much needed fire truck. The village granted this request and the REO was towed to the garage of Nick Larroca, on Taft Avenue at Maple Avenue, where the conversion began. This led to the organization of Berkeley's Volunteer Fire Department. The rebuilding of the REO, which took several months to complete, was engineered by Hank Panknin with other members contributiing their time and knowledge.
Berkeley No. 1
Two hose reels, each containing approximately 100 feet of one inch hose were connected to two 35 gallon water tanks, each tank armed with soda and acid. When a tank was inverted, the soda, acid, and water mixed. This creates a violent, chemical chain reaction, which in turn forces water from the tank and through the hose. When the first tank was emptied, an inversion of the second tank repeats the process. While the second tank is in use, the empty tank could be refilled with water, if available, and recharged with a new supply of soda and acid. Original truck equipment was several types of hand extingishers, an axe, 24 foot extension ladder, 10 foot roof ladder, spot light, and a hand operated siren. The REO motor was hand crank start, with its clutch and brake operated from one pedal. The "new" fire truck was driven to Forest Park, Illinois, where it was painted a brilliant red. The fire truck was based out of Nick Larroca's garage for the first year, with fire department meetings held in the basement of Nick's home.
A method of calling firefighters was needed, so in 1925, the Berkeley-Hillside Presbyterian church donated a huge bell. The bell hung from a horizontal bar just north of the Chicago Great Western Railway tracks on the west side of Taft Avenue. This location was the population center of Berkeley, which boasted a population of 700 residents.
In case of fire in Berkeley, the few residents who had telephone service, would call Nick, who would run out and ring the bell, summoning the firefighters. Those who didn't have phones had to run or drive to the bell and sound the alarm themselves. The use of the bell ended one very cold winter day, when someone in need of the Fire Department, rang the bell so frantically, it cracked.
In 1926, Berkeley constructed its first village hall, on Maple Avenue, at the old water tower. The building housed the village water pump and the first fire station. The REO truck was sheltered here and Fire Department meetings were held upstairs.
Front: J. Rhode, J. Saracino, C. Stapleman, H. Flagg, C. Speechly, E. Haffield, H. Burger.
Rear: R. Morris, N. Larocca, R. Faulkerson, A. Wayne, J. Hohe, D. Murray.
1929 was a great year for water distribution progress. Berkeley boasted new water mains, fire hydrants, and its own 100,000 gallon water tower in the village. Shortly afterward, a huge, 5 horsepower motor siren was mounted atop the water tower. A system of long and short blasts on the siren would alert Berkeley Fire Department volunteers, giving a general direction of the fire, namely north, or south of the Chicago, Aurora, and Elgin Interurban tracks.
With fire hydrants installed throughout Berkeley, an engine with a fire pump was feasible. In 1930, Berkely purchased its first pumper, a used Model "T" from Great Lakes, Illinois. (The U.S. Naval Training Center.) Due to lack of village garage space, the pumper was housed in Mr. Sidel's home garage on Maple Avenue across the street from the village hall. This pumper boasted a pump that could deliver 200 gallons per minute. In addition, it carried 160 gallons of water for its booster system. Late in 1930, the REO was retired, and the Model "T" took its place in the village hall fire station.
In 1938, work began on the present village hall, after Berkeley Merchant Sam Karlin donated the land site. When completed in June 1939, the building had a fire station stall, (now Berkeley's 911 center), a Police Department, complete with jail cells in the basement, office space for village personnel, and a large meeting room on the second floor.
During July 1939, a committee of residents, led by Village President Fred Faulhaber, left for St. Louis, Missouri, to inspect a used pumper which would replace the antiquated Model "T" pumper. After putting this fire engine, a five year old American LaFrance through tests in St. Louis, the committe decided to purchase this pumper for slightly less than $2,200.00. The open cab American LaFrance was a mosterous truck, with right hand steering. Its pump delivered 750 gallons per minute and had a 200 gallon booster tank. This engine was Berkeley's faithful servant for the next ten years.
On August 14, 1939, Berkeley Fire Department held its last meeting in the old Maple Avenue village hall. One month later, the American LaFrance pumper was moved to its new quarters at the new village hall on Electric Avenue.
During January 1949, Berkeley took delivery of its first new fire appartus. A Darley built, 1948 F5 series Ford with a 500 gallon per minute mid-chasis Darley pump, and 250 gallon booster tank. Upon delivery, the American LaFrance engine was retired.
Berkeley becomes an Emergency Medical Services provider
During 1951, Berkeley became an Emergency Medical Services (EMS) provider when a resuscitator inhalator was purchased and mounted on the Ford. Manufactured by the E & J Company, the letters E & J were taken from the names of its inventors, C. N. Erickson and Dr. G. A. Johnstone, M. D.
Early in 1952, the rear wall of the engine stall was removed in anticipation of acquiring a much needed ambulance. During October 1952, Berkeley received its first ambulance, a 1940 Packard. Although 12 years old with a 1948 motor, it performed well. Over the next five years, it took many life saving mercy runs to neighboring hospitals. According to retired Berkeley Fire Captain Harry Haney, Berkeley shamed the City of Elmhurst, Berkeley's westerly neighbor, which boasted a career fire department, into providing EMS; after Berkeley Fire Department began transporting Elmhurst residents, free of charge, to Elmhurst Hospital!
During April, 1953, Berkeley Fire Department purchased its second resuscitator-inhalator, a portable type manufactured by J. H. Emerson Co. Since it was portable, it was carried easily alongside a stretcher while the patient was moved, without loss of oxygen.
January 1958, Berkeley retired the Packard ambulance when the Fire Department took delivery of an Alexis built, 1958 International walk-in truck. The truck doubled as a rescue wagon and an ambulance. As an ambulance, it could transport three victims at a time. The portable resuscitator-inhalator was mounted conveniently so oxygen could be administered enroute to the hospital. It carried fracture boards, splints, blankets, sheets, and three complete first aid kits. As a rescue wagon, it was literally a workshop on wheels. Some major items included a gasoline powered generator, numerous flood lights, port-a-power jacking set, a smoke ejector, Scott Air-Packs, various types of fire extingishers, gas masks, an electric heavy duty sabre saw, shovels, handlights, axes, a batering ram, a complete set of hand tools, and numerous other items. During sub-zero temperatures, it often served as a warm-up shelter where the firefighters could thaw out at the fire ground.
Left to Right: Front: W. Lesak, R.Conner, L. Kouba, J. Aronica, R. Flagg, T. Klepek, G. Andrews, P. Tamburino.
Rear: O. Cismesia, H. Keene, D. Busack, W. Flagg, B. Barnard, B. Dixon, H. Cassidy.
The method of reporting fires and requesting an ambulance was moderenized in 1959. A telephone alert network was installed in each firefighter's home. When someone dialed the Fire Department number, approximately four phones in various locations rang. Any firefighter answering this phone, jotted down nature and address of the call for assistance. After hanging up, when the phone was picked up again, the phones in each firefighter's home would ring simultaneously. Moments after the initial call was received, each firefighter knew the location, nature of call, and the type of equipment they needed.
On Saturday, March 24, 1962, Berkeley approved a $75,000.00 bond issue which built the present three bay fire station and purchased a new fire engine.