Excerpts from the daily-chronicle.com:

The DeKalb Fire Department – which began as a volunteer-only department in 1869 – is celebrating 150 years of operation in the city. Community members, retirees, and all on the roster are invited to attend a celebration Oct. 12 at Northern Illinois University’s Barsema Alumni Center. Tickets cost $50 a person and can be purchased at www.eventbrite.com before Friday.

Albert Riippi remembers being a firefighter in DeKalb in 1949 before modern technology came into the picture and said that when a feather mattress was burning, he’d choke down smoke and crawl into the building without a mask. 

Riippi, who turns 93 on Halloween, had a long career with the DeKalb Fire Department. He was in from September 1949 to March 1952 when he left to pursue a dream with the National Football League. After injuries sidelined him, he returned to DeKalb in August 1959 and worked with the fire department until February 1986, retiring after seven years as fire chief. He played for the Green Bay Packers and served in the Navy on Okinawa during World War II, and has seen his fair share of historic fires. He was the on-duty captain during the fire at St. Mary Church in 1974, and also worked the fire at Grant Towers in 1972 on the NIU campus.

He wasn’t yet 21 when he wanted to go into the police service full time, so he decided to don the firefighter’s coat instead, and said he always liked being part of a team. He said he made about $215 a month as a firefighter at the now demolished fire station that sat on the corner of Fourth Street and Lincoln Highway from 1903 to 1979 and was built for $10,200.

During Riippi’s time and for many years after, the station operated by a box alarm, pre-radio and internet. Phone lines across the city connected to a box alarm, with large bells that would ring if someone pulled the alarm near their home. The department still has the box alarm displayed in the basement of Fire Station No. 1.

Firefighters said they try to host Riippi among other local retirees once a week for breakfast at the fire station, and said they consider themselves family.

The department’s first chief was William Miller, who was barbed-wire inventor Isaac Ellwood’s brother-in-law. He served when the department was volunteer, from 1870 to 1903. Pictures of him adorn the living room at Fire Station No. 1, which was built in 1971. Station No. 2 on South Seventh Street was built in 1956, and Station No. 3 on Dresser Road in 1994.