An open house will be held at the O’Fallon Fire Headquarters on Saturday, May 7, to celebrate the department’s 125th anniversary.
Chartered in February of 1891, O'Fallon Fire has evolved over the 125 years.
It has grown from a single fire station, to four fire stations and over 15 pieces of fire apparatus.
The open house will offer local citizens a chance to view O’Fallon Fire Station located at 1215 Taylor Road.
“It’s exciting to be 125. (The event) gives us the opportunity to share the space with the public, let them come in to meet us and see what we do,” Firefighter and 125 Committee Chairwoman Chelsie McWhorter said.
Since 1891 the O’Fallon Fire Department has been providing protection to the citizens of O’Fallon and the surrounding areas including the Village of Shiloh and the rural areas of the O'Fallon, Shiloh Valley, Caseyville, and St. Clair Townships. This 44 square mile district is covered by four stations, 45 volunteers, and 17 pieces of apparatus.
The lone exception are about handful of full-time administrative personal, including current fire chief Brent Saunders.
Saunders started in 1982 as a volunteer firefighter and has steadily moved up the ranks.
Saunders said there have been many changes over the years.
“With growth comes change, but we’re happy about it,” he said.
With growth comes change, but we’re happy about it.
O’Fallon Fire Chief Brent Saunders.
When Saunders joined the department, the yearly calls for service count was around 300, as compared to now an upward of 1,000 calls in a year.
“That number is just responses, that’s not including assisting with a lot of other needs like smoke detector installs or assists during the day, fire education training, school inspections and other things that play into that,” he said.
There are 47 total on-call firefighters, and of that ten are officers, Saunders said.
That includes Saunders.
“Just because I go home, doesn’t mean I don’t come back,” he said.
Just because I go home, doesn’t mean I don’t come back.
Although, the new O’Fallon Fire Department Headquarters has been operational for over a year, an open house event to commemorate the 125th anniversary of service is slated from 11 a.m.-3 p.m, Saturday, May 7.
“This anniversary is a perfect reason to celebrate and reflect on the many brave men and women who have placed their lives on the line to protect us,” O’Fallon Mayor Gary Graham said.
Taking about six months of planning, McWhorter said the event will kick-off with a birthday ceremony at 11 a.m. with a limited amount of birthday cake, and tours of the new headquarters to follow. There will be grilled snacks and soft drinks for sale, and O’Fallon Fire Rescue Community Supporter T-Shirts will also be available for purchase ranging from $10 to $20, depending on size.
Saunders said his Fire Rescue crew is extraordinary, when it comes to the amount of time they are all willing to give to protect and serve their community.
“This is not your typical volunteer gig like a community organization or a hospital where you go in for an allotted amount of time and then go home,” he said.
“In our business, when you sign up to volunteer when that pager goes off, or when work or training needs to get done, our folks have to put their lives on hold to help others, and then they go back to their lives, and that’s happening almost 1,000 times a year.”
The original bell from the first City Hall and the first Fire Station in O’Fallon is on display upon entering the new headquarters, along with a floor-to-ceiling glass display case featuring artifacts from the department over the decades including fire helmets, the original department charter, photographs of personnel and apparatus.
The 1930 O’Fallon fire engine dubbed ‘The Antique,’ and the 1949 ‘Mac’ fire engine will both be on display for people to see up close and personal. Fire truck rides will not be available for this event because the department’s personnel want to dedicate their full attention to those of the community attending, McWhorter said.
“We really want to be able to enjoy the day, and be able to talk to people, answer questions and hear community feedback,” she said.
Another milestone for O’Fallon Fire Rescue — the first woman in the history of the department to hold an officer position is McWhorter.
“I’m ecstatic, but not boastful,” she said.
“I didn’t always want to be a firefighter, but I did always want to be a civil servant. My grandfather was a life-long firefighter, so I guess it’s in my blood, like a calling of sorts,” McWhorter said.
I didn’t always want to be a firefighter, but I did always want to be a civil servant. My grandfather was a life-long firefighter, so I guess it’s in my blood, like a calling of sorts.
Firefighter Chelsie McWhorter.
With the department as a part-time volunteer firefighter for eight years, McWhorter said she loves being apart of the O’Fallon Fire Rescue family, and plans to continue working her way up the officer ladder.
“I do the same thing the other firefighters do, we are all a team, and you’re either in it wholeheartedly or your not,” McWhorter said. “I don’t want special treatment or anything, but I am excited.”
Like the other firefighters in the department, having two other jobs on top of her time on-call 24/7 with Fire Rescue, McWhorter said she rarely has down time, but wouldn’t have it any other way.
She is also a part-time adjunct professor at Southern Illinois University of Edwardsville (SIUE) teaching geography to undergraduate students, and has had a full time Information Technology (IT) position too.
Saunders said he is very proud of McWhorter and the challenges she’s overcome over the years.
“She goes above and beyond all the time, and believe me becoming an officer is not easy. It entails extensive training and carries an entire list of different and new responsibilities,” he said. “Historically we’ve never had a female go through the ranks to an officer position, and that’s nothing short of impressive.”
She goes above and beyond all the time, and believe me becoming an officer is not easy. It entails extensive training and carries an entire list of different and new responsibilities. Historically we’ve never had a female go through the ranks to an officer position, and that’s nothing short of impressive.
McWhorter said during her tenure here, the role the retirees play is tremendous.
“We try to interact with them regularly, in fact we have a group of guys who’ve all been with the department for over three decades, and they still rendezvous daily at one of the O’Fallon stations for early morning cards — they are the heart of the organization,” she said.
“Just in the eight years I’ve been here, O’Fallon’s growth has been monumental,” McWhorter said. “So just seeing where the department’s come in the (near) decade I’ve been around has been eye-opening.”
Just in the eight years I’ve been here, O’Fallon’s growth has been monumental.
Saunders said the new headquarters not only allows for better training capability, but also with its location has proved to make for faster response time to calls for service.
“As the community grows, we are constantly looking at what we will need in the future and where it will need to be, and that’s been ongoing for years, nothing new,” he said. “This new station is just a part of that long-term plan for how to provide the best response to our citizens and the best locations with the most ideal access.”
The 16,495-square-foot facility boasts several newer additions to the fire protection district, like a new conference and training class room; kitchenette and dining space for firefighters, staff and future Emergency Medical Service members; and, additional bunking rooms with more privacy, a fitness center, a five-bay apparatus garage; and, a full uniform and gear room, not to mention the training areas in the garage used every Tuesday evening for mandatory weekly training sessions.
Construction began on Fire House No. 4 (new headquarters) in 2014, and was near completion with interior finishing work in January 2015.
The city alone includes a 15-mile radius, the OSVCFPD covers just under a total of 44-mile radius, including portions of Shiloh Village and unincorporated St. Clair County making up the additional 29-square miles.
O’Fallon-Shiloh Valley-Caseyville Township Fire Protection District (OSVCFPD)
The city alone includes a 15-mile radius, the OSVCFPD covers just under a total of 44-mile radius, including portions of Shiloh Village and uninvorporated St. Clair County making up the additional 29-square miles.
▪ 106 E. Washington St., O’Fallon
▪ 567 W. Third St., O’Fallon
▪ 102 Oak St., Shiloh
▪ 1215 Taylor Rd., O’Fallon