The Prospect Heights Fire Protection District celebrated a rare milestone this month: 75 years of fire service to the city of Prospect Heights and unincorporated areas of Wheeling Township. The fire protection district incorporation on July 6, 1944 predates the formation of the City in 1976.
More than 100 people celebrated the milestone Nov. 2 at Old Orchard Country Club in Prospect Heights. They included current and former firefighters and paramedics, as well as board members, who all enjoyed looking at historic photos from down through the decades and recounting significant moments in the district.
Among the guests was former Chief Donald Gould, Jr., who returned from Queen Creek, Arizona for the celebration. He had led the district as chief for 28 years before retiring in 2016. Another notable was James Cagney of Prospect Heights, who served on the board for nearly 20 years, including 12 years as president.
Many of those in attendance had gone on to serve in other fire departments, but they still credit the Prospect Heights Fire Protection District with giving them their foundation.
Fire Chief Drew Smith credited the alumni in the crowd during his brief remarks before dinner.
“We would not be here without you today,” Smith said, “without the men and women who have served the Prospect Heights First District so faithfully.”
Voters in Prospect Heights voted to form a rural fire protection district in 1944, protecting what was then mostly farmland. Its volunteers used a 1926 fire truck, before the department was able to purchase its own truck in 1946.
It wasn’t until 1984 that the department began hiring part time employees, including staffing paramedics around the clock.
By 2000, the district hired its first full time employees, its fire chief and two deputy fire chiefs, before gradually converting into a full-time professional department.
“Since 1944, we have had more than 500 men and women who have served the district,” Smith said.
Smith said roughly one-third of those were as volunteers, another one-third were paid on call and one-third were part time, and all leading up to the department’s first recruit class in 1987.
“Whether you were here for one year or many, you made a significant contribution to this organization,” Smith said, “and we are grateful. You have helped us create memories, customs and traditions.”
He pointed to the many firefighters who have gone on to serve in some of the 30 other departments within the Mutual Aid Box Alarm System, or MABAS.
“Our influence is felt throughout the Northwest suburbs,” Smith said. “We have lived up to our mission statement, which is “delivering exceptional service for everyone with courtesy, respect, and empathy.”