Fire Department History

In 1998, the Riverside Fire Department celebrated its 100th Anniversary. The first recorded house fire in the Village of Riverside occurred in 1871. Possibly the largest early fire in Riverside was on April 23, 1887 that destroyed the Riverside Hotel annex. This large structure housed dining rooms and a ballroom and was connected to a 124 room hotel. Since the Village had no organized fire department or firefighting equipment, the City of Chicago sent a pumper to Riverside to help fight the fire. The pumper was loaded on a railroad flat car and sent on its way. Unfortunately, the pumper fell off the rail car and never made it to Riverside. The fate of the hotel annex was equally dim since it then burned to the ground.

The Beginning


The organization of the fire department started with the acquisition of hose carts that were stored in the fire station. When a fire started, someone would run to the school house to ring the school bell. When the residents heard the bell, they would run to the fire station and haul the carts to the scene of the fire. This worked well until a fire occurred during inclement weather and few residents volunteered to help their neighbors.

This approach to the fire department changed in 1895 when fire destroyed one of the largest homes in the Village. The damage to the home was blamed on the fact that few of the residents of the Village decided to assist in extinguishing the blaze. A demand was made by residents that the Village form a fire department that was pledged to answer calls. Because of the outcry, Louis Thomas, a local plumber, called a meeting at the plumbing shop. From that meeting, the Riverside Volunteer Fire Department was formed. Thomas was elected Chief at this meeting and he served in that capacity until 1903. The biggest accomplishment of Chief Thomas' first year was convincing the Village Trustees that a horse should draw the fire equipment to the fire scene, instead of it taken to the fire by volunteers.

The Village Fire Department is Formed


On November 7, 1898, the Village Trustees recognized the efforts of Chief Thomas and adopted an ordinance establishing the Village Fire Department. In 1901, Chief Thomas approached the Village Board to request monetary compensation for the members of the department. The Board decided to pay the Fire Marshal $1.50 for the first hour of each call and $1.00 for the second hour. The Assistant Fire Marshal was paid $1.00 for the first hour and $.75 for the second hour, and the firefighters were paid $.75 for the first hour and $.50 for the second hour. This move made Riverside one of the first towns of its size in Illinois to pay their firefighters.

A significant fire occurred on March 24, 1917 when the Scottish Home burned. Although the home is located outside the Village limits we were the closest fire department at the time. The fire was 2000 feet away from the nearest fire hydrant and the fire department had only 1500 feet of hose. By the time help arrived from the Berwyn Fire Department, fire had already consumed the main floor. Despite their difficulty extinguishing the fire, firefighters were able to save the lives of all but four of the 100 residents.

The Fire Department's Improvements


By 1939 the fire department had progressed greatly. It now had two motorized fire engines and one ladder truck. The same year, the Chicago Board of Insurance Underwriters gave Riverside a National Board Grading of Class Six. The Board said the fire department was "good," although it recommended an immediate improvement in the alarm system. The Riverside Fire Department continued to advance and improve throughout the years. In 1974, the fire department had trained members as Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) and began responding to calls for medical assistance. The original ambulance was a station wagon that was primarily used as a police car. When it quickly became apparent that the station wagon was not suitable to use as an ambulance, the Village purchased a modular type ambulance in 1975. In order to pay for the ambulance and the equipment, the Riverside Firefighters Association started to raise funds to assist with the costs. This fraternal organization continues to raise funds to purchase equipment for the fire department and to provide programs for Village residents.

A New Name


In 1996, the name of the fire department was changed to the Riverside Department of Fire/Rescue and Emergency Services. This change was made to better reflect what the fire department does. In 1998, the fire department began staffing one fire engine with part time firefighters during the daytime hours on weekdays. The equipment is newer, more sophisticated, and the response to calls may be a little quicker. The fire department continues to provide Emergency Medical Services to the Village. Two paramedics (provided by a contracted service) now staff the ambulance 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The fire department still operates as paid-on-call, but consistently maintains members who are well-trained - usually receiving training every Wednesday night - and professional. The dedicated members of the Riverside Fire Department continue to respond to the station when the call is received, fight the fire, and return to their regular jobs when the fire has been extinguished.

Special thanks to the Riverside Fire Department Centennial Book Committee. For more information on the history of the fire department, contact Bill Sherman.