Excerpts from the Champaign News Gazette:

On Wednesday, the Champaign Fire Department celebrated its 150th birthday. On Thursday, the city’s oldest living firefighter will celebrate his 91st.

Pete Lipscomb worked as a firefighter from 1951 to 1985, 34 years of the department’s history. On Tuesday, he toured station No. 1 and shared some of the changes the department has seen since he started nearly 64 years ago.

Lipscomb said the department never had anything like the state-of-the-art trucks it does now. When he first started, the truck was open-cab and had a siren right next to the driver’s head, which was often Lipscomb.

“That’s why I have these,” Lipscomb said, pointing to his hearing aids.

The department also didn’t have technology to help find addresses, so firefighters would have to study maps of the city. During their downtime, the crew would test each other on city locations. If the driver got lost, they would have to look for the flames, Lipscomb joked.

The equipment is also a cut above now. In the early days, only one person per shift had a smoke mask, and the others would just fight the fire and take breaks to go outside to catch their breath.

“That’s why I have COPD,” he said.

Firefighting has changed even more in the past 150 years, said deputy chief John Barker.

When the Champaign department first started in 1865, it was made up of volunteers, and horses would help firefighters get places in a timely manner. In the 1880s and ’90s, the department started paying firefighters.

Back then, the city had a bucket brigade, which would carry pails of water from a hand-pump to help put out fires. Firefighters also worked to tear down parts of buildings, so the fire would end there and not extend to the rest of town.

Instead of 911 calls and dispatches, the city would ring a bell on top of the city building, indicating which part of town was on fire.

Later, the city had a steam fire engine, Barker said, but that was replaced by Champaign’s first motorized engine 100 years ago, in 1915, after a fire on Lewis Street caused $800,000 worth of damage, which is $18.8 million in today’s money.

There will be a fire apparatus parade and firefighter muster,  Noon to 5 p.m., July 19, to include a parade of fire trucks that will leave the Illinois Fire Service Institute at noon, travel west on Kirby Ave., north on Mattis Ave., then east on University Ave. to Champaign Central High (ETA: around 12:30 p.m.).  The muster starts at 1 in the parking lot at the corner of Washington and Walnut streets.

thanks Dan


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