The Franklin Park Fire Department was organized officially in 1903. Previous to that time, firefighting was strictly a volunteer affair. Bucket brigades were used for the equipment and the alarm was the Indiana Harbor Belt Rail Road whistle. If a steam engine was in the rail yards, it blew its whistle. If it didn't have enough steam to sound its whistle the alarm was never sounded and the house burned down.
In 1897 a two-handled hand pump was purchased, and operated by six men. Around the same time a hose cart was also purchased. The first man available with a team was paid five dollars if they responded to a fire. The hose was dropped into the nearest well or cistern and the pumping began. One of the earliest big fires was the hotel fire on Belmont Avenue near Washington Street. The hotel housed workers from the nearby foundry, then the town's principal industry.
In 1903 the first fire department was made up of ten men: Otto Toepper, Ed Voelkel, Frank Wilke, Charles Rupp, Eddy Eul, Al Cornelius, Edward McCarthy, John Dawson, Alfred Olson and Andrew Ansberg, who was appointed the first Fire Chief.
The natty blue uniforms that made the department the envy of the surrounding communities were acquired in an unusual way. Donation jars were set up in local stores and saloons. Merchants, customers and traveling sales people contributed enough money to buy the materials. Mrs. Mary Rupp, the mother of Charles Rupp, a member of the department paid for the tailoring, buttons and badges. (The Rupp family at that time owned a hotel in Franklin Park. Another son, Roy Rupp, was the fire chief from 1923-27).
Firefighting in the early days here in Franklin Park consisted of fighting prairie fires that could easily have wiped out the town with the tall grass and old wooden buildings. Traveling around Franklin Park consisted of mud roads that became impassable from spring rains and were frozen ruts or snow banked lanes in the winter. To get from Grand and Mannheim to Rose Street was hazardous and often possible only on horseback.
In 1910, firemen took hope in their often-futile battles. Water mains were laid and artesian wells supplied the community. The old water tank at Franklin Avenue near Rose Street gave enough pressure to enable firemen to consider adding more modern equipment.
In 1912 the first chemical fire extinguisher was added. This was a hand-powered unit using a sulphuric acid and soda combination. It had a one-inch hose line and it had a 100-gallon capacity.
In 1917, the first mechanical fire truck was purchased and in use in the town. It was a Ford truck. Actually it was a mechanized hose truck. The truck had no pump, but carried 250 feet of hose and had a 250-gallon chemical tank. The people of the town were so proud of their truck that only the Chief was allowed to drive it.
In 1927, the first Peter Pirsch engine was purchased. Mr. Pirsch allowed the Village $1,000 on the old truck and then presented the new engine to the Village for its own use. At one of its first fires the new engine crashed into a culvert on Belmont Avenue and had to be jacked up with railroad ties. It then returned to the factory for a re-alignment. For 23 years the engine served the firemen and the town's people faithfully. But one winter night in 1948 the old Peter Pirsch like the fabulous horse days, collapsed while returning from a fire at Scott and Armitage. It was returned to the factory for a new motor. Today the Peter Pirsch engine is housed in the Franklin Park Firefighters Association museum located at Franklin Avenue and Atlantic Street, which was built in 1999.
The original site of the first fire station has an interesting history. The original structure was built in 1896 (now the site of the B-12 Tower). The building stood in back of what was Bradley's Upholstery Shop on Franklin Avenue. When the Milwaukee Road tracks were expanded, the building was moved to the site of the present Fire Station 1 located at 3113 Atlantic Street. The original structure was a two-story structure. In addition to housing the fire department it housed the village offices, the police station, the infant welfare, ration board, and library. During the 1930's the second story was removed and in 1951 the building was turned over to the firemen, with the exception of the portion housing the library. Funds for remodeling the firehouse were raised at the annual picnics and dances.