Champaign Fire Department Celebrates 150 Years

A sign in front of a Champaign Fire Department station in downtown Champaign.

The Champaign Fire Department celebrates its 150th anniversary with a parade and other events this weekend.

(Jim Meadows/WILL)

Champaign’s Fire Department plans to celebrate its 150th anniversary this Sunday (July 19) with a parade and fire muster --- defined as a ceremonial assembly of firefighters. Residents will also get a chance to see some of the gear that's transformed the job of a firefighter over the years.

John Barker joined the department 25 years ago and is now Deputy Chief of operations. He was part of an open house held at the Champaign Fire Department's headquarters on July 8, the day that the CFD marked 150 years. Barker sat in his office, with black and white photos on the walls showing some of Champaign’s first firefighters. He said the job is constantly changing, and so is the technology.

“Thermal imaging cameras – we can look through smoke now," said Barker. "You know, before, you would go in and feel your way around and listen for the fire and feel for the fire and now you can see it.”

Barker said technology has also made firefighting safer. He points to air tanks and handheld radios. Even helmets changed over time, Barkersaid.

Lieutenant John Hocking has been with the Champaign Fire Department for 23 years. He said while people know that firefighters respond to emergencies, they may not realize that one of the department’s greatest accomplishments is preventing fires in the first place.

“We’ve probably saved many more lives in our prevention stuff, than we have just fighting the fires," he said. "There’s just no good way to measure, how many fires didn’t happen at all because there was education out there.”

That education includes training opportunities and programs for kids. Hocking says the Champaign Fire Department also runs the “Fire Factor” program, which teaches fire safety to University of Illinoi students and shows them what it’s like to be a firefighter.

Members of the Champaign Fire Department will be talking more about their prevention programs, and will have examples of fire equipment -- old and new -- on display Sunday, July 19th, as the department publicly celebrates its 150th year with a Fire Muster from 1 until 5 PM at the corner of Walnut and Washington Streets, behind the Orpheum Children's Museum.

The Muster will be preceded by a parade. It starts at noon with a fire engine caravan setting out from the University of Illinois Fire Service Institute in Champaign. The caravan will travel west on Kirby Avenue, north on Mattis Avenue, then east on University Avenue to Champaign Central High School.  As the caravan passes Champaign Central High School (around 12:30 pm), walking participants will join in to complete the parade assembly. The parade will then proceed east on Church Street, passing the Fire and Police Memorial at West Side Park, and the Champaign City Building.

Story source: WILL