The origin of the Wood River Fire Department dates back to the year 1908. In 1906 the Standard Oil Company had begun construction of the Wood River refinery and with it came many construction and refinery workers. By the year 1908 the plant was in operation and the discussions of forming a fire brigade had begun. The first firemen in Wood River had formed a bucket brigade which was described in an early news article, “The firemen’s only method of answering calls was by use of their pedal extremities.” At that time the volunteer group included, Gus Fredrickson, Fred Brett, George Lang, Charles M. Smith, James Green, Otto Hoffman, Louis Welton, Al Juhlin, Julius Jesteske, Pop Eaton, Gus Eaton, Louis Koennecker, Worthy Exton, John Halloran and George Thompson. This being a time when there were no hard roads, no lights, and a scarcity of water.
It was recorded in news articles from May, 1913 that the Wood River Fire Department was “officially” formed. According to an article May 13, 1913, “Wood River is to have a volunteer firefighting department composed of citizens who will be sworn to enter the line of duty at any time of the day or night that a fire alarm should be turned in and do all in their power to fight a fire.” A second article dated May 16, 1913 states that Louis Koennecker was made chief. It was decided that the department would consist of two companies with Gus Fredrickson as Captain of one troop and C.A. James as Captain of the second.
Actually the City of Wood River has had a paid fire department almost from the beginning. In 1915 the first pay was voted on for Wood River firefighters, which was set at fifty cents for each fire call attended. At the 1918 Fourth of July city picnic, the raffling off of a Ford automobile provided the funds for the city’s first motorized fire truck. A worm driven Model T Ford with 750 feet of fire hose, but no pumping capabilities. Interestingly, Foxes Grove, the site of this picnic in 1918, is now the site of our current central firehouse. In 1925 Mayor William Tipton appointed two full time firefighters, Wesley Koennecker and Clifford Manlove. The new firemen were to man the city’s first modern pumper, a 750 g.p.m. American LaFrance purchased in 1925.
During the 1930’s under the guidance of Chief William Stoneham the Wood River Fire Department became a state and national leader in fire prevention competitions. Wood River placed first is state competitions from 1934 through 1937 and finished second in 1938. During this period Wood River placed as high as twenty second nationally, in 1935. Chief Stoneham, along with C.E. Maguire (Wood River), James Marsh (Granite City), Dennis Hentz (Edwardsville), was also instrumental in the formation of the Madison County Firemen’s Association and served a term as it’s second president in 1933. As an officer, for nearly 18 years, in the Illinois Fireman’s Association, Chief Stoneham presented in the state association the resolution that led to the ban of fireworks in Illinois.
During these years the Wood River Fire Department was dominated by oil workers from the Standard Oil Plant. In fact a department picture from 1938 not only lists the firefighter’s names, but also lists their job title at the refinery. By the late 1940’s Wood River had two modern American LaFrance pumpers and the department consisted of a chief, four full time firefighters and 22 paid-on-call firefighters. Wallace Bond became the city’s first full-time paid chief in 1949. Upon his retirement in 1953, the position paid $353 per month.
By the 1990’s the Amoco (Standard Oil) refinery had announced that production operations would cease, thus bringing to an end a ninety year tradition of oil workers on the Wood River Fire Department. The last of the “Standard Oilers” to serve the department were Patrick Cleary and David Determan. In 1996, under Chief Guy Williams the Wood River Fire Department became only the second department in Madison County to achieve an I.S.O. rating of four. This is considered a major accomplishment for a community the size of Wood River. The modern Wood River Fire Department consists of a chief, nine full time firefighters and 14 paid-on-call firefighters. Apparatus currently in-service includes a 2009 Spartan Rescue Pumper, 2000 American LaFrance Rescue Pumper, 1998 Ford Ranger Utility Truck, 1992 Pierce 85ft Snorkel Aerial, and 1978 GMC/National Foam Pumper.