History of the Carbondale Fire Department

The City of Carbondale, Illinois, was founded 1852 as a railroad-centered community. The Illinois Central Railroad was believed by many of the early settlers to be a  means of attracting commerce and revenue to the area. With this in mind, the City fathers elected to locate this new settlement in the wilderness, 300 miles south of Chicago and 60 miles north of the convergence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers at Cairo, Illinois.

All of the structures of this era were constructed almost entirely of wood. One common means of heating was using fire, whether coal, wood, or oil heat, and candles or oil lamps for lighting. Although the City’s progress advanced rapidly, it was hindered many times by these sources of heat and light that often caused uncontrollable fires that ravaged homes and the public square.

Illustrating the destructiveness of these early runaway fires are three accounts from the 1850s. Among the destroyed structures were Isaac Rapp’s carpenter shop, the Carbondale Hotel, which burned during the Civil War era, and the William Spiller home on the public square.

On Christmas Day in 1872, a catastrophic blaze destroyed several businesses on the public square known as the Chapman Block. In April 1876, the Illinois Central Railroad passenger station was consumed by fire after being struck by lightning. In 1880, the local sawmill, which was moved to Carbondale from Alexander County by Daniel Bush, went up in flames. This was a significant blow to the City since much of the lumber used in constructing the early houses and businesses was processed there.

The subsequent catastrophic fire recorded in history was the Normal Building (now known as Old Main). The Normal Building, completed on June 30, 1874, was the first building of the Southern Illinois Normal University (S.I.N.U.) and would be the cornerstone of the most significant enterprise in the Southern Illinois area.

The first recorded decision to buy any fire apparatus was on April 5, 1897, when the City Council met and voted to purchase a chemical fire apparatus manufactured by a fire company in Chicago. The device was to be a No. 5 Champion Chemical engine complete with 12 rubber buckets and two 15-foot ladders with a total price of $900, plus $17.71 extra for the chemicals. On June 1, 1897, a contract was made with W.G. Hampton to store the fire engine and furnish a horse team to draw the engine to the fires. For these services, Hampton was to be paid $2.50 per month.

On June 6, 1902, a motion was made to purchase 500 feet of four-ply rubber fire hose and one fire cart. The motion did not initially pass but was finally carried out on September 2, 1902. Later, the Carbondale Hose Company was approved to purchase two more hose carts and 1,000 more feet of hose.

The problem now facing the City was a method of notifying all the firefighters in the event of a fire. So on June 6, 1905, the City Council approved $25 for purchasing a fire department whistle to be blown each time a fire was reported. The whistle would sound from one to four blasts to notify the firefighters what area of the City the fire was located in.

In July 1905, the council approved the purchase of another hose cart for the fire department. This apparatus, a cart loaded with hoses, could be drawn to the scene of a fire. The wagon was bought from Stoelzle and Compton for $450.

After 1905 the department purchased many smaller pieces of equipment, but not until the 1920s did they buy a motorized fire truck. Two trucks were purchased between 1929 and 1935. A 1936 Diamond T pumper was purchased from General Fire Truck Co. for $4,400. This truck was sold to the village of Cutler in 1954, located in a field in Marissa, and purchased on August 20, 1994. Retired Carbondale Firefighter Tom Wenzel owned the truck. He and his son, Tom, restored the truck, which is now displayed at Fire Station 2.

The summer of 1959 brought the arrival of two-way radios, which were installed in the new American LaFrance pumper. 1960 brought an innovative leap to the fire department with the addition of an aerial ladder truck for $51,000. Also, this year, the department received new base radio equipment. The City recognized the need to fill their air pack bottles and 1975, obtained an air compressor from Mako Engineering Company for over $4,000. Later that same year, a new pumper was received from McBride Truck Company with a three-stage pump and automatic transmission for $58,000.

In the same way, that fire apparatus has progressed through the years, the fire department welcomed its first female firefighter in 1998, Dana MacCrimmon. Firefighter MacCrimmon served in the department as Firefighter and Fire Prevention Program Instructor and as the Director of the Southern Illinois Camp for Burned Children for eight years before passing away after becoming ill upon returning to the fire station following a fire call. Firefighter MacCrimmon proudly served the citizens of Carbondale and remained a role model for future female firefighters.

Although there have been many changes through the years, the mission of the Carbondale Fire Department continues to remain the same ~ to preserve life, promote fire safety, and protect property and the environment.