OUR BEGINNINGS WERE HUMBLE...
...OUR DUTY & PRIDE KEEPS US GROWING!
The little community of what was to become Itasca was first settled by Dr. Elijah Smith in 1843. It prospered through the Civil War, the Victorian era of the 1890's, and into the turn-of-the-century. The first school was built in the 1860's, the post office was moved from the area of Thorndale and Wood Dale Roads (called Sagone), into the settlement in 1873. Smith had a general store built the following year. The railroad came to Itasca in 1873 and, in 1890, incorporation took place, making the community officially the Village of Itasca.
In the late 1890's and early 1900's the village was a cluster of wooden buildings including homes, stores, factories and businesses. There were some well known Itasca names. Chessman had steampower for a grain elevator, a box and tub factory as well as a carpenter shop with Mr. Cramer. Lawrence had a general store and post office in competition with William Baruth's general store. Henry Ahlenstorf sold boots and shoes. Ernst Schroeder and Henry Droegemueller were blacksmiths and wagonmakers. Lewis Magers owned a grain elevator and coal and lumber store. August Hartman ran the meat market and a barber shop, as well as a small "jail". The new 2-story school was built in 1895. This collection of wooden buildings built close together created many problems back in the day.
Fires that started in these wooden structures were almost impossible to put out. When a fire broke out, an impromptu bucket brigade was set up, passing buckets of water from the nearest water source, man to man, to the burning structure. This was all very unorganized and inefficient and resulted in a lot of property loss. In the 1880's the Lawrence general store caught fire. Mr. Lawrence had rented it to a Mr. Hendricks who lived, with his family, upstairs above the store. The Hendricks family took a trip to Germany to visit relatives. While they were gone a customer came to the store to buy kerosene and as the clerk was pouring out the kerosene, the-customer lit his pipe and threw the match to the floor. The kerosene fumes ignited, starting a fire that burned the building to the ground. Miraculously no one was injured in the blaze and unfortunately the bucket brigade could not extinguish the fire.
In 1908, in a second building built at the same location, a fire broke out in the basement. The building was occupied by the Kuhlman & Rosenwinkle Grocery and Dry Goods Store at the time. There was little the bucket brigade could do and the Bensenville Fire Department had to be called in to put that fire out. On December 30, 1908, Mr. Howe, of the Howe Engine Company, came to Itasca to negotiate purchase of a fire pumper. The village fathers decided that it was time to do something about their inability to fight their biggest enemy, fire. In 1909, thirty men from the community met to form a volunteer fire department. Some of those recorded as having attended that meeting were H.H. Franzen, H. Wischstadt, Henry William, and Ed Mess, Henry Geils, Frank Franzen, Herman Hoffman, Sr., Otto Pieper, Ed Holt; Frank Kirchoff; William Droegemueller, Frank Schuette, A.C. Goeddeke, Paul Pretch, A.H. Pieper, William Baruth, Sr., and Emil Westphal, Sr. The gathering was held at Baruth's Dry Goods and Grocery Store (the building is now Tree Guys Pizza). The back room of the store where they met was also used as the meeting hall of the village board. The meeting resulted in the formation of the Itasca Volunteer Fire Department. H.H. Geils, Chief became the first chief, Frank Kirchoff was the Secretary, William Droegemueller, took the responsibility of Treasurer. A.C. Goeddeke took the role of Engineer, Ed Mess and Ed Holt were the first pipe men and Frank Franzen and Paul Pretch operated as assistant pipe men.
The Early Years...
In 1910 the first fire engine, named Pumper No.1, was purchased from the Howe Manufacturing Company of Elkhart, Indiana. It was a rebuilt engine, originally manufactured in 1880. This first piece of fire equipment cost a whopping $550! $250 cash was paid as a down payment on the purchase and the balance was paid at 6% interest, according to a record left by Elmer H. Geils. The pumper was temporarily housed in Henry Mess' barn at 125 S. Maple, and later moved to the Mensching garage behind the stores on the southeast comer of Walnut and Line Streets. Later it was moved again to H.H. Franzen's barn at Maple and Orchard Streets (located behind the Victorian home now the offices of Dick Dolan).
Early firemen recalled that, although horses were generally used to pull the pumper, occasionally it had to be pulled and pushed to the fire by the firemen themselves. When the fire alarm was given, anyone having a team of horses in town would hurriedly drive them to the fire barn. The first team on the scene would be used to pull the pumper.
The fire alarm was given by a tolling of the church bell, or by word of mouth, until 1910. Then a 50 foot steel tower with a bell for sounding the alarm, was erected in the triangle with the flagpole and statue, across from the old village hall. The bell that was used is currently on display in front of the firehouse. Even with the new alarm and the pumper, fires in the wooden structures of the community still posed a constant problem. A fire started in the village jail, located just south of the Baruth's Dry Goods and Grocery Store. The one-cell jail was a total loss, but the fire department was learning, growing and training, for what the future had in store for them. In 1916, William Mess was elected Chief of the Department. He served in that capacity for most of 27 years. Other chiefs included Ed Ackmann, Elmer Franzen, Frank Franzen, Elmer Geils, F.J. Maluck, Herman H. Wischstadt, Elmer Mensching, Alvin Lueth, Vincent T. Caravello. John Connolly, James MacArthur, James Burke, John Buckley and currently John Schneidwind.
In 1916 the Itasca Fire Department was called to Roselle to help their Fire Department fight a fire at Roselle Miller and Lumber Company. Firemen of that period recalled it was one of the most spectacular and hottest fires ever fought by the Department. A few years later the Itasca creamery burned as well as the Kastning barn north of Itasca. Firemen had to rely on rain-filled cisterns or the creek for water to fight the blazes. Though a step up from the bucket brigade, a shortage of water and a shortage of hose often handicapped the Department. These were times before the water mains, hydrants, and water towers were built, which we take for granted. Finding water sources to fight fires was an enormous problem. Finally, construction of a waterworks system was started in 1925 and by the summer of 1926, a 500 foot well was dug and operating and water was being pumped to individual homes.
In 1931, firemen were called to a barn fire. This was during Prohibition, and bootleg liquor-though illegal was being made and stored in some barns. The driveshaft broke on the 1929 Pirsch as it was being backed up into the driveway. The still exploded in the burning barn, and had the truck been any closer to the exploding building, the firemen on the truck would have been in jeopardy.
The original clubhouse of the Itasca Country Club was built in 1925. Ten years later it was destroyed by fire. The building was rebuilt on the same site, only to be destroyed again in a two day blaze that flared up again and again in May of 1963. That fire was so hot the coins in the coin-operated machines fused together.
The firemen and their families held yearly picnics in the grove that was located at Oak Street and Bloomingdale Road on property owned by William Wischstadt. A wooden dance floor would be erected for the day. In 1911, firemen and their families came from as far away as Roselle and Bensenville. Picnics in later years were also held at Gages Lake, Salt Creek Forest Preserve, and Salt Creek Golf Club. In 1956, a new 750-gallon pumper, equipped with a 700-gallon auxiliary water tank, was purchased and housed in the Department's newly built addition to the west of the Old Village Hall.
The Old Village Hall (currently Helix and Wine With Me) was constructed in 1910. It housed the second piece of equipment added to the Department, a 1929 Peter Pirsch built by the Pirsch Company of Kenosha, Wisconsin. In 1954, the members of the Itasca Volunteer Fire Department decided to form the Itasca Fire Prevention District, a district that could be supported by taxes. The proposal was put on the ballot of the voters, and was approved. The Volunteers, meanwhile, from money earned with fund-raising, chipped in $5,000 to buy an emergency van. The Volunteers also had no gear to wear for fighting the fires. They came from their jobs in their working clothes. Some came from Bunge Hardware, the barber shop, the grocery store, etc. The Volunteers answered the fire call by running out the door of their businesses, leaving customers standing, to go to the Firehouse. On Sundays, frequently these men were called out of church to fight a grass fire-only to scuff their Sunday shoes and end up with small burn holes in the pants of their Sunday suits. At a pay of only $2.00 a fire call, it was expensive to be a fireman. This was solved in the mid- 1960's when the Volunteers were issued boots, pants, a coat and a helmet.
The Last 43 Years...
In 1979 FF Robert Bobka became Itasca Fire District's first, and hopefully last, line of duty death, from a training incident, that also severely injured FF Brian Usher.
In 1972, land at the southeast comer of Irving Park Road and Catalpa Street was obtained from the Village for the construction of a fire station. A building, costing about $300,000 was built, and the following year the Department moved into their new quarters. By 1989 the station was maintained 24 hours a day. A Fire Commission, to administer the testing, hiring, and disciplining, was appointed by the Board of Trustees and in 1990 the first three career Lieutenants were promoted. The department currently staffs three shifts, each with a Lieutenant, seven Firefighter/EMT's or Firemedics. The crew is supplemented, during larger calls, by nine paid-on-call firefighters.
The firefighters answer calls, maintain physical fitness and perform training drills daily. This is in addition to their daily duties of maintaining the equipment, housekeeping duties in the Station, and supporting the paramedic team whenever they are called out. In 1990, the Trustees of the District gave approval for the enlargement and remodeling of the Station. Doubling the size of the facility enabled adequate sleeping, cooking, and duty areas for the six person shifts. Offices were moved out of the basement and onto the first floor. A meeting room was added, as well as an office for the Trustees and Commissioners. The finished building, with a price tag of $1,100,000 was completed January 1, 1992. 1992 was also a big year for the career firefighters at Itasca. In that year the Firefighters and Lieutenants organized into International Association of
Firefighters Local #3461. Many of the benefits in pay, healthcare, pension, to name a few ,were obtained through organized labor bargaining.