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  • Writer's pictureKatharine Korte Andrew

Early History of the Hinsdale Fire Department

Hinsdale Hose Company No. 1, the progenitor of the Hinsdale Fire Department, was formally organized in 1886 with Deming H. Preston as its chief. The Hose Company was entirely composed of volunteers and the Hinsdale Fire Department would remain volunteer based for many years after. While composed of volunteers, its equipment was paid for by the village. Around the same time, a volunteer Hook and Ladder Company, also “No. 1,” was created and the two organizations shared space in the Village Hall on First Streets.

On 6 March 1893, the two companies were merged under the name “Hinsdale Volunteer Fire Department.”

Hinsdale Fire Department around 1893.

This picture was taken in front of the Town Hall, which housed the Village offices. The Town Hall was located on the north side of First Street between Washington and Garfield. Notice how the streets were unpaved at the time.

Originally, the Hose Company limited its membership to 25 men and was actually quite an exclusive club, dedicated to social activities. They had the time for it, as Hinsdale suffered from a few bad fires in the 1890s and early 1900s.

In the 1880s, each member was supplied with their own bucket, axe, and five foot wooden ladder. The men kept their bucks at home and when the fire bell rang, each man grabbed their bucket and ran to the Village Hall. The bell on the top of the Hall was said to have cracked around 1900, after which the steam whistle on the power plant was used to sound the alarm.

Hinsdale Fire Department in 1910.

From left to right--

First Row: Pete Dehr, John Bohlander, Charles Ring, Ed Neidig

Back Row: Henry Bohlander, Robert Reed, John Schmidt, Denny Kenny, Edward Buchholz, Herman Drake, George Beaton, Henry Mann, Charlie Skeels, Bill Trapp, Charles Hedge, and Winfred Dorstewitz.

Hinsdale Fire Department Hose Cart at the Fourth of July Parade in 1910.

Left to right: John Schmidt, Denny Kenny, Henry Mann, Ed Neidig, Charlie Pfeifer, and John Bohlander.

This photograph is of the hose cart in 1910 and was taken on First Street just east of the fire house. Looking closely, we can see tennis courts in the background, this property was later occupied by Soukup’s Hardware and Village Gas. The hose cart was purchased for $125.00 and it included 700 feet of hose, two pipes and two nozzles.

The Fire Department never had a steam pumping fire engine, only the hose cart and the hook and ladder unit. Also, the horses were not part of the department, instead, the first team of horses to appear at the station after the fire whistle sounded were hired for $5.00 and the man with the second team were hired for $2 to $3. This practice continued until 1912.

Bliss Reed, a beer dealer, had a beautiful pair of white horses to haul his wagon. Since he stabled them in a barn in the alley between Washington and Lincoln Street, Reed was often the first to reach the Fire Department, so always winning the $5. Bliss said that his horses “danced a jig” when they heard the fire bell ring “because they knew they were in for some excitement.”

Charles Pfeifer, Hinsdale’s first undertaker and possibly the first fire chief, also used his horses to haul the fire equipment. His team was black, since they were used to haul the hearse in his funeral business. It is a legend that these horses, since they were trained to respond to the fire bell, once took off for the firehouse in the middle of a funeral–hearse and all.

Most of the fires before motorized trucks and telephones were total losses because it took longer for a fire to be seen, reported to Village Hall, the bell to be rung, and firemen to assemble from their homes, hitch their horses, and be on their way.

In 1893, Hinsdale had eleven fires with total damages of $20,350, nearly $2,000 a fire. Adjusting $20,350 for inflation–those 11 fires would have cost upwards of $701,000 in 2024.

Hinsdale Fire Truck, circa 1919.

This photograph was taken in front of Denny Kenny’s home at 35 S. Garfield between Chicago Avenue and First Street. The old hook and ladder was replaced around 1912 with a Model T truck pumper. Looking closely, you can see the chain drive and the hard tires, among the fire equipment.

The man dressed in white was Fire Chief Pete Dehr.

During this time, the key to the fire station was kept behind glass at the door to the station. When the fire whistle sounded, the first person there who could drive would break the glass, get the key, and drive the truck directly to the fire. According to lore, there was always a “wild sprint” by the young men of Hinsdale for the honor of driving the truck.

Hinsdale Fire Department, circa 1920’s. Taken in front of Hinsdale’s first movie theater, which opened in 1915.

Bill Shuster is on the left and Henry Domianus is on the right. The small truck was a 1918 or 1919 Model T Ford, while the larger truck is an early 1920s model. The large truck was the Village’s first pumper and chemical truck.

The first fire after the purchase of the new truck was at the power plant at the Hinsdale Sanitarium (Hinsdale Hospital–Adventist Medical Center Hinsdale). After waiting for some minutes for the truck to come, the spectators were amazed to see it arrive being towed by a Marshall Field truck!

Hinsdale Fire Department, circa 1931, with the Memorial Building in the background.

Left to right: Walter Busch, John Oestmann, Henry Reed, Henry Domianus, Chuck Morgan, Bill Schuster, Joe Higgens, unidentified, John Schmidt, Al Oberman, and unidentified.

In this photograph we see a brand-new truck on the left. On the right is the same 1920s model of truck.

Fire and Police Station, circa April 1935.

This fire and police station was built in 1935 and replaced the old frame station. On the left, behind the station, you can see one of Hinsdale’s blacksmith shops.

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