Clarendon Heights Fire Protection District History

Formation of the Clarendon Heights Fire Protection District began in 1954 when the residents of an area originally known as the South East Acres Civic Association were notified by the Village of Westmont that they would no longer provide fire protection to the area.  The Village of Clarendon Hills followed suit two years later.

As it became increasingly clear that the area was going to need fire protection services, the residents changed the association name to the Clarendon Heights Association and then again to the Clarendon Heights Fire Association.  One last attempt was made by the residents in 1956 to secure fire protection from either Westmont or Clarendon Hills but efforts proved unsuccessful.

A referendum was held shortly thereafter seeking to form the Ruth Lake Fire Protection District but the referendum failed by a vote of 263 to 194.  Not deterred, the Fire Association incorporated and elected a President, Bill Bergman.  By the end of 1956 there were ten volunteer firefighters and Erv Drallmieier was elected the first Fire Chief of the fire department.

In 1957, the Ladies’ Auxiliary was organized and became a valuable part of the fire department assisting with many fund-raising projects.  In December 1957, a 1934 Dodge pumper was purchased from the Milton Fire District for $1,450 and numbered Engine No. 1.

Engine No. 1


In March 1958, the first official incident of the fire department was recorded – a prairie fire.  Petitions were again circulated in May 1958 seeking to form a fire protection district.  A 1936 International pumper was purchased from the Chicago Ridge Fire District for $200 and became the second piece of apparatus for the fire department and was known as Truck No. 2.

Next on the fire department’s list was obtaining a building to house the growing fleet.  The Fire Association leased garage space for $1.00 from John Heidenreich and the first fire station was located at 5824 Bentley.  In July 1958, the referendum was held and passed forming the Clarendon Heights Fire Protection District and the first fire district Trustees were appointed – Art Nissen, Elton Pearson and Art Winkler.  The fire district boundaries were 55th Street on the north, Richmond Avenue on the west, 67th Street on the south up to Clarendon Hills Road then north up Clarendon Hills Road to 63rd Street, the north side of 63rd Street to Madison then north back to 55th Street.  The fire district contracted the services of the volunteer fire department for $1.00.

Clarendon Heights Fire Protection District Boundaries

(on a modern-day map)


In April 1960, John Heidenreich became the second fire chief.  1960 was also a busy year for the fire district in regards to vehicle acquisitions.  A 1950 Ford panel truck was purchased from a local electrician and was used to transport rescue equipment as well as injured firefighters.  This vehicle was designated No. 3.

Then a heavy construction contractor out of McCook, S.A. Healy, donated a 1947 Dodge tanker truck which carried 1000 gallons of water.  This became the District’s first tanker and was designated No. 4 and later No. 6.  In August 1960, a 1948 Ford pumper was purchased from the Pleasantview Fire Protection District for $3,000.

1947 Dodge tanker truck donated by S. A. Healy


1948 Ford pumper purchased from the Pleasantview Fire Protection District


The District was quickly outgrowing the space on Bentley and it was evident that a larger facility was needed. Through donations, fund raisers and $10,000 in borrowed funds the fire district had enough money to build a new fire station.  The building was built by members of the fire district, who not only donated their time but also provided the funding to complete the station.  On April 30, 1961, the fire station officially opened.

The Clarendon Heights Fire Protection District experienced the largest incident in its history on September 1, 1961 when TWA Flight 529, a four-engine Lockheed Constellation L-049 aircraft crashed into the corn and soybean fields just west of 6100 Clarendon Hills Road just after 2:00 AM killing all 78 on board. The flight had taken off from Midway Airport and was bound for Las Vegas when, while climbing to 5000 feet, it suddenly pitched violently upwards resulting in an accelerated stall from which the crew was unable to recover.  The cause of the crash was a  technical failure of the elevator control (controls the aircraft’s pitch) resulting in loss of control of the aircraft.  At the time the crash was the 3rd worst in U.S. history and currently ranks as the 32nd worst.  A Memorial for TWA Flight 529 can be found across the street from the crash site in the Village of Willowbrook’s Prairie Trail Park.

TWA Flight 529 Memorial in Prairie Trail Park

(click on the image to read the engraved names)

In 1962, the first brand new vehicle was purchased for the District, a Chevrolet panel truck replacing the 1950 panel truck and becoming the new No. 3.  The same year the District began using two-way radios for its vehicles and alerting radios (Plectrons) for the firefighters. Lucy Zeldesky, who was the first dispatcher for the Fire District, would answer the fire phone at her house and then activate the Plectron radios to alert the volunteers when there was an emergency call.  Prior to these alerting radios and having Lucy as the dispatcher, the fire phones were answered from various locations around the District both in homes and in some local businesses.  When an emergency call came in, it was the responsibility of these people to get the location and then start calling around to the other member’s houses by telephone to notify them of the call, a very time consuming process.

The first brand new vehicle purchased for the District, a 1962 Chevrolet panel truck


Plectron Tone Alert Receiver


1963 and 1964 saw the purchase of a 1949 Ford pumper from the Des Plaines Fire Department which became No. 5, as well as the disposal of the original Engine 1 and Engine 2.  In 1965, the District purchased its first brand new pumper, a 1965 Ford.  The District had switched to a 3-digit vehicle numbering system and the new pumper became Engine 704.  During this time period, the District had its third fire chief, George Remkus.

No. 5  – 1949 Ford pumper purchased from the Des Plaines Fire Department


The District joined the Cook-DuPage Mutual Aid System. This organization was formed to provide mutual-aid to area fire departments when large incidents occurred. This organization would eventually become MABAS (Mutual Aid Box Alarm System). Due to joining the Cook- DuPage Mutual Aid System, the District had to change their numbering system again.

The District began providing ambulance service not only to the Fire District, but also to the area that was covered by the Downers Grove Estates Fire Protection District (now known as Darien-Woodridge Fire Protection District). The District owned two Cadillac ambulances, one of them, a 1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor known as Ambulance 9 became famous, as it was one of the ambulances used as Ecto-1 in the movie Ghostbusters.

Clarendon Heights Fire Protection District Apparatus


In 1971, John Heidenreich came back as fire chief and purchased the District’s second brand new Ford pumper, Engine 393.

Engine 393


Jim Van Riper then became fire chief and in October 1972, had to utilize the Mutual Aid System for the first time for a fire at the abandoned Marian Hills Seminary located at 6047 Clarendon Hills Road which consumed a large portion of the building. After the fire, a portion of the building that was left standing was relocated for a cost of $7000 and added onto the District’s fire station at 6301 Western.

After Chief Van Riper’s departure, Irv Hogrefe became chief and was instrumental in purchasing a new 1974 Ford modular ambulance, Ambulance 493.  In the mid-1970’s dispatching services for the District were handled by the Westmont Police Department and the Plectron radios were replaced with pocket pagers to notify personnel of calls.  Dispatching services then were turned over to Tri-State Fire Protection District in 1976.  Under Chief Hogrefe, the District also purchased new Squad 392 in 1977 and a new 1978 Chevrolet station wagon as its first chief’s car (Car 494).  He also implemented the first pay policy for members who came back for calls.  For each call they responded to, each member received 50 cents.

Ambulance 493


In 1980, long time member James Decho became fire chief.  Chief Decho was responsible for implementing a program that utilized area stay-at-home wives as Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs).  This program was started to supplement the daytime response for ambulance calls since many of the male members worked full-time jobs during the day.  In 1981, a new Ford E350 ambulance (#492) was purchased. In 1985, as part of a cost-savings measure, the District along with Tri-State FPD each ordered new Pierce Arrow pumpers at the same time. The new Clarendon Heights pumper became Engine 391 and the new Tri-State pumper became Engine 583. This was the first diesel-powered fire apparatus for the District.  Chief Decho also implemented the first program of having the station manned during the day with volunteers.

Ambulance 492


Engine 391


Chief Decho retired in 1988 and John Colley was appointed fire chief. Under Chief Colley, the District went to manning the fire station 24 hours a day with three personnel and established a State Certified Firefighter training program. Due to financial constraints, the District turned to used vehicles to continue its vehicle replacement program. In 1989, a used Chevrolet sedan was purchased from the Village of Westmont to replace the chief’s vehicle (#591). In 1992, the District purchased a 1975 Seagrave pumper from the City of Wheaton.

Chief’s car 591 purchased from Westmont


1975 Seagrave pumper purchased from Wheaton


In November 1995, the residents of the Clarendon Heights Fire Protection District held a referendum, to determine if their district should be annexed into the Tri-State Fire Protection District.  The referendum passed and the Clarendon Heights Fire Protection District was dissolved and became a part of Tri-State.  The fire station located at 6301 Western became Tri-State Station 4.  The fire station remains standing at 6301 Western Avenue but was closed and sold to a private party in 2014.

All above photos are courtesy of Bill Friedrich, retired Battalion Chief, Downers Grove Fire Department

TWA Flight 529