Early Beginnings:

The Wheeling Fire Department was founded in 1896, 2 years after the formal incorporation of the Village of Wheeling. At that time, most of the buildings and sidewalks in the community were constructed of completely of wood. Lighting was provided by kerosene lamps and heating was provided by wood or coal burning stoves. This combination created unusually high incident of fires occurring.

Fire Prevention Code:

The first fire prevention code of the community was created by ordinance shortly after the creation of the Fire Department.  Its intent was to establish required method of storing bulk kerosene, as well as the proper method of disposing of coal ash. Enforcement was handled by the elected officials of the community.

Firefighters work together to put a large fire

Early Fire Department Operations:

The Fire Department began as a volunteer organization under the direction of Fire Chief Christ Uetz, who served until 1898. In the first few years, the Fire Department provided very basic fire suppression services by forming a bucket brigade. In 1904, the first piece of fire apparatus was purchased - a hand pulled, manual pumper. This piece of equipment is currently being refurbished and will eventually be on display at Fire Station 24 (499 South Milwaukee Avenue). Personnel would be summoned to emergencies by ringing a large bell which was eventually replaced with an electronic siren.  When telephones arrived, emergency phone calls would initially be received at various homes of department members with a number of housewives functioning as "dispatchers".  This was practice was eventually replaced by the Wheeling Police Department Communications Center.

Important Times & Milestones:

  • From 1896 through 1959, the Fire Department was comprised of all volunteer personnel.
  • In 1960, the Village began paying each member of the Fire Department one dollar for each emergency call they made and personnel became known as "Paid-on-Call".
  • In 1969, Bernhardt Koeppen became the first full-time Fire Chief employed by the Village and soon additional full-time personnel were added to meet the growing demands for emergency services.  Chief Koeppen would retire from the Fire Department in 1989.
  • In 1972, the Fire Department, in conjunction with 5 other area fire departments, joined with Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights, Illinois to create the nation's first recognized "Paramedic" program.
  • In 1994, the Fire Department, in conjunction with the Buffalo Grove Fire Department and the Long Grove Fire Protection District, jointly constructed the Combined Area Fire Training (CAFT) Facility.  Since its construction, the Lincolnshire-Riverwoods Fire Protection District and the Deerfield-Bannockburn Fire Protection District have also joined.  Unified fire training exercises are conducted on-site monthly.
  • In the late 1990's, the Fire Department participated in a cardiac research study associated with St. Francis Hospital in Evanston, IL.  Paramedics where trained in the use of 12-lead cardiac monitors for field use  (traditionally limited to hospital settings), as well as the use of blood-drawn cardiac tests.  As a result of this study, 12-lead cardiac monitor usage has become the international standard now in use, as well as the use of blood-drawn cardiac tests now part of emergency room standard protocols for possible cardiac patients.
  • In 2017, the Fire Department receives an Insurance Services Office (ISO) Property Protection Classification of 2.  This independent rating shows the Fire Department's capabilities to be in the top 3.4% of all fire departments nationwide.
A vehicle responds to a plane crash
Firefighters battling smoke

Fire Stations:

A new headquarters Fire Station was opened in 1980 at 255 West Dundee Road. This station was downsized in 2010 and reopened as Fire Station 42.  It is currently shared with the Wheeling Police Department. A second Fire Station (Fire Station 23) was opened in 1978 to address growth on the west side of the community. A new headquarters Fire Station 24 opened in August 2010 at 499 South Milwaukee Avenue to address an even distribution of emergency calls throughout the Community and to provide residents with an average response time of less than five (5) minutes. Fire Station 23 (780 S. Wheeling Road) is currently scheduled for reconstruction in 2019/2020.

Current Fire Department Operations:

Today, the department is comprised of 52 full-time employees and 3 part-time employees.  The department responds to approximately 4,800 calls for service annually and protects approximately 10 square miles.  The Fire Department is capable of responding to all types of hazards as a result of personnel being cross-trained as both Firefighters and Paramedics, as well as additional specialized skills.