Excerpts from kmov.com:

The story begins in 1736, when Benjamin Franklin founded the Union Fire company. By 1871, a Union Fire Company was launched in Centreville, Illinois with 32 members.

This is where the story gets a bit confusing, because the town 10 miles south of Centreville also named themselves Centreville.

Incredibly, this went on for about 50 years before the southern Centreville realized they had a problem, so in 1890 they changed their name to Millstadt, and the Centreville Fire Department eventually evolved into the Millstadt Union Fire Company.

Millstadt is a proud, historic town of German ancestry. As other fire departments came and went, Millstadt stayed the course.

Today, the Union Fire Company of Millstadt is the oldest continuous volunteer fire department in Illinois.

Operations began with hand-operated pumps, which the men pulled to fires, with hose reels on wheels and leather fire buckets. And they responded to much more than fire calls.

Millstadt Fire Chief Kurt Pellman oversees 32 active volunteer members, including his son. Technology has provided pagers now to alert his force in case of a fire. But back in the day, technology was a bit different.

“We would blow the town sirens three times if we had a fire,” Pellman recalled. “If it blew a fourth time, everybody came in.”

Among the Millstadt volunteers is Ralph Schaefer, whose great grandfather immigrated in the 1870s. Robert Stumpf’s family came from Germany in the 1840s. He has served with the unit since 1956, including time as fire chief. Butch Hettenhausen’s family arrived in the mid-1800s, and has spent his life volunteering.

“Old trucks used to have boots in them,” Pellman said. “You had to hope you got the final pair. Our only protection were raincoats. Nobody ever heard of a breathing apparatus.”

“We had two boots and three coats,” remembered Stumpf. “We pretty much went in without any protection.”

The Union Fire Department covers 96 square miles, a large swath of southern Illinois rural land. They rely on and have received tremendous support from the community over the years. Millstadt has remained a tight-knit town.

Through all the years, the fires, and the volunteers, what stands the test of time is the men who braved it all. Firefighters who didn’t show up for community events back in the day were fined 50 cents. Don’t even consider missing a funeral procession.

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