Excerpts from the Daily-Journal.com:

The demolition team tearing down the old Kankakee Roper factory site came across a bit of history last week. The sign was still intact when they pulled away some of the red brick veneer: West Kankakee Fire Department.

It was a reminder that West Kankakee was once its own entity, with its own fire protection district. That sort of history is in the books, but it’s also stored in the memories of Jim Maass, the fire chief at this station from 1961 until 1982. He’s 92 now and started with the west side department in 1947. He understood the premise: There was no pay at all for the firefighters or ambulance crew members. “You did the job because you wanted to help people,” he said.

“The Roper Corporation built that fire house for us,” he said, “It opened in 1957. And they probably got a break on their insurance having a fire department so close, but they were still very good to us. It was their boiler house man who set off the siren for us.

He can still describe the station on Illinois Route 17 West. He remembers the three bays, one for the ambulance, or what was called the inhalator then. It was named after a breathing assistance device used before CPR was developed.

¬†“We kind of made our own out of a 1954 Ford bread truck,” he said. “Then, later, we bought a real 1963 GMC ambulance. That went to the Kankakee department when we were annexed.” The other two bays were reserved for engines. “I think there was a 1947 Dodge and and 1958 International.”

He remembers the calls, too.

“The worst one was probably the downtown Kankakee fire. The 100 block of South Schuyler [Avenue], the west side of the street. We fought it all day and all night.”

The worst for Maass, though, was the Limestone school fire, Dec. 1, 1966.

“I wanted to get up and look at where the fire was coming through the roof. It was just peeling that roof open,” he said. “I was up on a ladder, 21 feet, and the next thing I knew, I was on the ground. I shattered my elbow. Heck, it broke my helmet into three pieces, but I think it saved my life.”

The elbow still hurts today, but talk of the camaraderie among fire fighters still brings a smile to his face. Even as he talks about some of the nightmarish scenes he witnessed.

“There was a case when we were called to a car running into a train. The guys asked me to come and look. The driver… she was hurt pretty bad, they said. There was a lot of blood and her scalp seemed to be just hanging on. “I told them to tie a clean towel around it and get her to the hospital. That’s where they told us it wasn’t quite that bad. The lady was wearing a wig, and we hadn’t come across anything like that back then.”

thanks Dennis

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