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The Chillicothe Voice

Chillicothe Fire Department Serving the Chillicothe area since 1923

Apr 26, 2023 10:28AM ● By Dave Price, Assistant Chief of Fire Prevention/Fire Marshal

Cities all across America are sometimes remembered and referred to by simple phrases that commemorate or chronicle catastrophic events, both natural and man-made. For example, The Great Chicago Fire of 1871. No more needs to be said to visualize the devastation to Chicago on the 8th and 9th of October that year. The same with the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, the Oklahoma City bombing, the World Trade Center Twin Towers attack, or the Kingman, AZ propane fire and BLEVE. To historians, citizens, and firefighters, no more needs to be said to bring back the facts and the visions of those events and the days thereafter. The Chillicothe Fire Department is no different, albeit on a much smaller scale.

To the citizens of Chillicothe, the mention of the Halloween fire of 1890 brings back the images of the near devastation of the business district that night. Quite a bit has been written about this fire. How about the fire a few years later when the Kelly building burned, or the Webbs Inn fire?  Both in their own right were landmark fires for Chillicothe. Lesser known fires but still etched in the memories of the fire department include the Santa Fe Railroad depot fire in the early 60s, and the Gold Star Home factory fire. Who remembers the night of March 23, 1950, when the First National Bank of Chillicothe caught fire and burned?  With a loss of over $100,000 and many local business offices, this fire had the potential to be another “Halloween” fire and devastate the downtown. Through many hours of hard work, and the help of the North Chillicothe Fire Department and two engines from Peoria, the fire was stopped before it could spread to other buildings downtown. The Stumbaugh building next door was the only other building to be damaged, and it lost its roof. Or, most memorable was the Christmas night in 1979 when Pearce Grade School was set on fire. If the Myers family hadn’t been leaving the Chief’s home at 5th and Pine when they did, and smelled the smoke, we might have lost the whole building and not just the basement area where the fire started.

Fires are not the only events that are recalled with very few words. There was the Santa Fe Railroad accident when the passenger train traveling East derailed and slid off the tracks coming down the hill West of town in the early 60s. Several injuries were reported from that accident. Or, when the oil pipeline burst in the Woodland Heights subdivision one night and coated several houses with thick black oil, and only through the hard work of the fire department was a natural disaster averted by stemming the flow of oil before it reached the creek that fed into the Illinois river.

Yes, over the course of the past 100 years, Chillicothe has had its share of memorable events that can vividly be recalled with only a word or two. But what about the more positive events that brought notoriety to the fire department?  Not many people know that our department was featured in an article in the national trade magazine Fire Engineering in the February 1979 issue. Earlier in 1978, there had been a delivery truck traveling through Chillicothe on Rt. 29 carrying several barrels of sulfuric acid. One of these barrels tipped over while moving and spilled the contents, leaving a trail of acid through town. This resulted in two motorcyclists being injured and several cars damaged by the acid. The article, submitted by Captain Ernie Gilomen, pictured two Chillicothe Fire Fighters, Bill Brennan and Bill Finnegan, entering the truck wearing protective gear and setting the barrel upright. More recently, the Board of Trustees voted to donate one of our surplus fire engines to the Country of Ukraine to aid in its war effort and the work of the firefighters there. This event made the NBC Nightly news and cast Chillicothe in a very positive light. At this time, the engine is seeing action in the city of Mykolaiv, Ukraine. 

And then, the inevitable always happens. We recruit good young firefighters and at a cost of several thousand dollars fit them with state-of-the-art protective clothing and issue them radios and pagers, spend additional hundreds of dollars and hours training them to be experienced firefighters, and then some of them apply for and are chosen, to join full-time fire departments and leave the Chillicothe Fire Department to enjoy a career as a full time paid firefighter. These events are not common, but each time it happens, it is a time for celebrating. For you see, it shows the rest of the fire service the caliber of volunteer firefighters Chillicothe recruits and trains. It is a time to celebrate the individual accomplishments of these firefighters. Here is a (partial) list of Chillicothe firefighters who have gone on to join full-time departments:

Cliff Miracle St. Charles, MO

Craig Dodson St. Charles, MO

Mick Blunier Peoria, IL

Ed Strunk Peoria, IL

Brian Cline Peoria, IL

Tobi Roderick Peoria, IL

Marcus Simmons Peoria, IL

Hassen Drissi East Peoria, IL

Ryan Hotz Macomb, IL

Dwayne Cox North Carolina

Betsy Hurd Ozark Fire Protection District, MO

Greg Hurd Aurora, MO

Joel Gollnitz Normal, IL

Pat Sprinkle Edwards Air Force Base, CA

On May 6th, 2023, the Chillicothe Fire Department will celebrate 100 years of service to the Chillicothe area. Please join us at an open house at our Fire Station #1 in Chillicothe to be held from Noon till 4pm and enjoy the fire truck parade at 2pm. We will be celebrating 100 years of service and honoring the men and women who are presently serving and have served and made our department what it is today.