HISTORY OF THE BRAIDWOOD FIRE DEPARTMENT
The earliest accounts show that the Braidwood Fire Department first organized in March of 1875. It also shows the first officer to be Captain Thomas Hennebry. It is not clear what happened but the Department and its 12 firefighters disbanded in late April 1875. History also shows that steps were being taken to organize a fire department in April of 1876. It is unclear what happened with these steps. We do know that the present fire department was established June of 1877. It was established as a City Fire Department. We find that in April of 1879 the City Fathers were planning for the first water mains with hydrants for the City. They were also establishing how to pay for these new water mains. We find that also in April of 1879 Braidwood experienced its worst fire to date. The fire caused over $20,000 dollars in damages which was a big portion of downtown in the area of East Main Street. Consumed in the fire were at least two homes, two saloons, some corn cribs and the Depot. The wind was fairly brisk which fanned the flames if not for a shift in the wind and the work of the firefighters and town’s people more would have been lost. In May of 1879 the plans started to form with the purpose of improving the City’s protection against fires. In 1880 we see the first picture of our fire department taken at the 1st Firemen’s Tournament. In October of 1882 the City Council appropriated $1,000 dollars for the purchase of a chemical engine. The citizen’s volunteer fund will buy another. In December of 1882 the department has 25 firefighters and a plan is in process to elect new officers and adoption of its constitution and by-laws. In February of 1883 the Chicago Fire Patrol supported by the Underwriters agency was instrumental in obtaining a $200 dollar donation for the purchase of two chemical engines. With this the Insurance Companies will now take risks here that would never assume before. Also in February of 1883 the Forman of the Volunteer fire company is Ed Gall and the Forman of the City’s company is George Casterline. June of 1883 was a very busy and important month for the Volunteers and the City Departments. On the 15th of the month there was a parade by the volunteers with the purpose of soliciting funds for uniforms. On the 22nd of June 1883 the fire patrol composed of 32 men was organized in the city with Chief E. A. Crane. John Kain was appointed fire marshal by the City Council. On the 29th of June 1883 the uniforms for the Volunteer Fire Company consists of a red shirt with a blue shield, black leather hat and plain belt. The City Fire Company has a blue shirt with red facing, navy bine cap with a gold band, and black belt inscribed “Braidwood”. In September of 1883 the fireman’s parade and ball was a huge success. In November of 1883 a fireman’s tournament was held on Thanksgiving day the City Chemical Engine Company ran 200 yards with their machine in 36 seconds, the Volunteer Company made the distance in 46 ½ seconds. The Volunteer Company stumbled and fell which caused their delay. The City Company won a silver trumpet. In May of 1885 William Shipton was appointed Fire Marshal.
The Braidwood Volunteer Fire Department won the State Hose Coupling Championship. The earliest picture we have of our department is date 1886. In the early days of the Volunteer’s they were called to duty by a bell which was hung at the fire station. This bell is now mounted in front of the present station. The bell was replaced in the 1940’s with a siren that was mounted on the water tower in the middle of town. The siren was last used in 1980 when pagers were issued to all the firefighters.
On June 2, 1928 the Braidwood Fire Department (which was a city department at the time) purchased its first motorized fire truck. This was a 1928 REO Speedwagon on a Boyer body. This truck was one of the first of its kind in Southern Will County. It has a standard hose bed for the era as well as two chemical tanks. There was very limited water supply in the day and the firefighters relied on manually mixing a chemical solution and applying it to the fire. It has an open cab and remained in service until the mid 1950’s. In 1982 this vehicle was refurbished from top to bottom and still appears in parades to this day.
In 1947 the Braidwood firefighters built a pumper tanker on a 1935 Chevrolet chassis. In 1948 the fire department was reorganized into the Braidwood Fire Department Inc. They acquired a State charter and the City turned over the fire equipment. They joined the Chief Shabbona Fireman’s Mutual Aid Association. George Boyd became the Chief of the newly reformed fire department. As volunteers with no regular income they (the firefighters) would hold annual events such as the Fireman’s ball which is still held today. The firefighters would also seek donations by going door to door and fund raisers.
In November of 1950 fire department purchased a panel truck for Emergency Vehicle. In March of 1953 the fire department purchased a boat and trailer for water rescue. Then also in 1953 the firefighters decided that it was time the Braidwood Fire Department needed to update its fire fighting apparatus. At that time they were using the1928 REO the1935 pumper tanker fire engine’s The firefighters went door to door in both townships, when it was all done they were able to purchase two new fire trucks. They purchased a 1954 GMC triple combination pumper a year later. A year later they purchased a 1955 Chevrolet triple combination fire engine. Both vehicles were purchased from and built by Alexis fire equipment. The firefighters were able to retire their hand built fire truck and set aside the 1928 REO. On November 10, 1958 completed their first standard first aid course conducted by Mrs. Josephine Barnett.
In February of 1963 the fire department purchased a 1000-gallon tanker on a 1948 International chassis they also purchased their first base radio that same month. On March 11, 1963 through the fund rising purchased a panel truck, which replaced the 1950 panel truck.
In 1966 it was decided that the best way to help raise money for the department was to form a taxing district, which went to referendum and passed by the voters. Thus became the Braidwood Fire Protection District. The money from the newly formed district was a breath of fresh air. The firefighters were able to purchase badly needed equipment and plan to build their new fire station on land that had been donated to them, they would however still do their fund raisers to help supplement the department.
In 1968 the firefighters added their latest piece of fire fighting equipment a new triple combination pumper with a 750-gallon tank from Alexis Fire Equipment. With the purchase of this new pumper the 1954 GMC pumper was converted into a 1000-gallon pumper tanker in January 1969. In May of 1969 construction started on a new fire station. In November of 1969 they moved into the new station were the present station stands today.
In October 1970 the department purchased their first brush truck, a ¾ ton Chevrolet from Alexis Fire Equipment. In May of 1971 the second boat was purchased for water rescue. In September 1972 participated in the first Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) training. Also that same month Braidwood firefighters started attending Joliet Junior Collage fire science courses. In March of 1973 the department added a 1,500-gallon tanker from Alexis Fire Equipment and retired the 1948 International 1000-gallon taker. In October of 1973 Reed Township purchased a 1974 fully equipped Superior Coach Ambulance on a Pontiac chassis. This was the first ambulance of the Braidwood Volunteer Fire Department and the firefighters/EMT’s started responding to calls for an ambulance in Reed and Custer townships. In September 1974 BVFD purchased a 1 ton rescue van on a Chevrolet chassis, it was equipped with extracation equipment and life support equipment for a back up ambulance.
In April 1977 we lost our Fire Chief George Boyd who passed away, he had served in that capacity for 29 years. Chief Boyd had led this department through many changes in the Braidwood Volunteer Fire Department and the fire service. In June of 1977 Chester Grygiel was elected as the new Fire Chief.
In September of 1977 the arrival of BVFD’s first custom-built fire enginewas delivered. It was a 1977 1000-gallon pumper with a 1000-gallon water tank. It was built by Alexis Fire Equipment. This pumper replaced both the 1954 and the 1955 pumpers. In November 1977 the department purchased a new ambulance that replaced the 1974 Pontiac. It was built on a 1 ton Chevrolet chassis this was the first ambulance truck chassis. Also in 1977 Chief Chester Grygiel started a cadet program which brought in members at the age of 16 to start becoming a firefighter once they graduate from high school. In April of 1979 the BVFD purchased another ambulance, it was built on a GMC mobile couch chassis. It was equipped with the latest in life saving technology. This was needed to support our first paramedics. The 1977 ambulance was kept as a backup.
In 1981 the department purchased a 1981 Pierce Arrow for Pierce Fire Equipment in Appleton Wisconsin. This vehicle was a new design for the company in which extra compartments were added to the rear, which made it 2’ longer then any other truck they had built to date. In 1982 the department added a Pierce pumper tanker. It had a 1500 GPM pump with a 2500-gallon tank. At this time the 1968 pumper was sold. In 1984 the department purchased a 1983 Alexis pumper tanker, this truck was also a pumper tanker with the same size pump and tank as the 1982 Pierce. With the addition of the latest pumper tanker the department sold the 1973 tanker. Also in 1984 the dive team was formed. This was one of its first in the area. In 1986 the department purchased a new brush truck from Alexis their first new brush truck since 1980. Through the 1980’s several ambulances were purchased always replacing the oldest of the fleet, two ambulances were kept the norm, and which is the same practice used to the present day.
In 1988 Chief Chester Grygiel retired as Fire Chief. His oldest son Michael Grygiel was elected Chief. In 1990 the firefighters started getting paid for going on fire calls, ambulance calls and training. Also in 1990 the department decided it was time to expand the 100’ x 60’ building that was erected in 1969. In 1991 Chief Chester Grygiel’s second son Gregory Grygiel became Fire Chief. 1994 the remodeling of the station was complete and rededicated. It now had 8 bays’, which were designed to be two deep and extra office spaces, expanded training room, expanded kitchen and a day room.
In 1992 the department added a dive truck this vehicle was built by Road Rescue Company which is primarily an ambulance manufacturer. In 1996
the department purchased a new pumper engine a 1996 Alexis with a 1,500 GPM pump and a 1,000 gallon water tank. This became the first out engine replacing the 1977 Alexis. Also in 1996 the department joined Combined Area Response Team (CART), which serves as a tactical response team for confined space, high angle and below grade rescues. 1996 was also the department went back to having paramedic service for the community this was by schedule of members of the department standing duty. In 1997 the department took delivery of a New Heavy Rescue built by E-One Company. This apparatus replace the 1981 heavy rescue, which was then placed in service as a squad for the CART team.
In 2002 the department started manning the station with two paramedics and one EMT-B 12 hours a day. The hours were from 6 am to 6 pm, at this time the department started to hire paramedics to help fill in. In 2002 the department took delivery of a pumper/tanker built by Alexis Fire Equipment. It is equipped with at 2,000 GPM pump and 2,500 gallons of water. This replaced the 1983 pumper/tanker. The 1983 pumper/tanker was sold to a Canadian Fire Department. In 2005 the department took delivery of its first aerial apparatus, a 100 foot tower ladder with a 2,000 GPM pump. The tower ladder was built by Smeal Company. In September of 2006 the department started manning the station 24 hours a day 7 days a week with two paramedics and one EMT. This manpower is made up of Braidwood Firefighters/Paramedics and EMT-B’s plus hired part time Paramedics and EMT-B’s. Some remodeling of the station had to take place to accommodate this new full time service the day room was transformed into sleeping quarters.
In April of 2007 Chief Greg Grygiel decided to retire as Chief and May of 2007 Ken Heberer was elected Chief. In 2009 he would become the last elected chief as the Fire Protection District made it an appointed position. On June 1, 2010 Chief Heberer became the first full time Chief of the Braidwood Fire Protection District. Construction of additional bays and living quarters plus the remodel of the office area was started on June 1, 2010 and completed in August 15, 2011. The new addition included a state of the art training facility both in the class room and the training tower in the rear of the main building. A museum was added to the front of the building to display some of the items from the past. The jewel of the museum is the 1928 REO fire engine mentioned earlier. This new addition also allowed the increase of another firefighter from 3 to 4 around the clock an additional firefighter was added Monday – Friday 6am to 6pm. There is also room for expansion that should take the department into the future.