City of Freeport, Illinois


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Freeport Fire Department History

Until 1855, the City had no fire department of any kind, only what was commonly called a "bucket brigade" existed in the City of Freeport. After one particularly devastating fire on February 20, 1855, which engulfed the block bounded by Stephenson, Chicago, and State Streets, the City voted by referendum to secure a loan of $4,000 to purchase fire engines. In September of 1856, the two engines purchased were dubbed "Winneshiek" and "Blackhawk" and two fire companies were formed to man the new engines.

Historical Fire Department PhotoWhen the Civil War took many of the young men away from Freeport, recent German immigrants organized a volunteer army to serve Freeport. In 1866, Freeport voters defeated a measure to add a steamer to the fire fleet. A year later the City bought one anyway. It arrived August 30, 1867 and Steamer No. 1 Company was organized. Later, an engine house was built on the corner of West Stephenson Street and Walnut Avenue, which served the department well from 1868-1898.

Another steamer was purchased in the mid 1870s, and by 1881 there were 34 volunteer firemen. It was decided that it was time to support a paid fire department, so in 1883 John F. Rodemeier became the City's first paid fire chief. A quote from the book "Illustrated Freeport" in 1896 said, "Freeport can justly boast of a very efficient fire department and the fire loss is smaller in this city than in any city of its size in the country."

Historical Fire Department PhotoIn 1899, the present City Hall building was erected. The fire department was housed in the lower level of the building, along with the police station, the city jail, administrative offices, and the public library. When the architect of the new building, D.S. Schureman, requested that his name be put on the cornerstone of the building, city officials refused. Later, Schureman arrived at the suggestion that the new building, which would also serve as the library, should don names of figures famous in literature and science on its exterior, and city officials thought it a grand idea. Only later, when they realized that the first letters of the following inscribed names: Dante, Shakespeare, Spencer, Chaucer, Homer, Uhland, Rabelais, Emerson, Milton, Addison, and Newton, actually spelled "D.S. Schureman," did they realize they had been had, much to the amusement of the rest of the City. The names can still be viewed on the upper reaches of the building today.

In 1913, the council passed a resolution to renumber houses on certain streets in order to assist the fire department in answering calls. The fire department also retired two fire horses, Dick and Cap, 25 and 18 years old respectively. They were replaced by the first motorized fire engines which served at both the City Hall and Adams Avenue stations. The Lincoln Boulevard station retired its horses in 1919 and made the switch to a motorized fire protection.

Historical Fire Department PhotoDuring the Glen F. Kunkle administration, which lasted from 1949 until 1961, the City bought an ambulance to be operated and maintained by the Fire Department for emergency service to residents. Following Kunkle in the office of the Mayor was Joe D. Shelly (1961-1969), under whose administration the current Park Boulevard location of Fire Station No. 1, was purchased.

The current locations of the City's three Fire Stations are much the same as they were years before. Station No. 2 on Adams Avenue was built in 1892, as a two-story brick building, in which resided four men, a hose wagon and a team of horses. The current structure was built upon the same site in 1859. Current Station No. 1 was originally called Station No. 3, and resides in basically the same location as it did in the early days of the City of Freeport. Today's Station No. 3 was originally located in the City Cemetery, and assumed its present location on IL 26 South of Freeport in 1976.

Historical Fire Department PhotoAs it did in 1970, the City Fire Department currently consists of 48 paid fire professionals, employed "24 on, 48 off," excepting the Fire Chief, Deputy Chief, and Fire Inspector. The department engages in many public service programs and has added Hazardous Material Response to its list of duties.

Information contained in this brief Fire Department history has been obtained from various members of the community and Fire Department as well as the History of Stephenson County 1970, published in 1972 by Kable Printing of Mt. Morris, Illinois and the County of Stephenson.


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Freeport City Hall
314 W. Stephenson St.
Freeport, IL 61032
Phone: 815-235-8200 or 815-235-8203