District History

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While the exact date of organized fire protection in the Orland area (incorporated in 1892) is uncertain, the earliest indications of a fire department include a volunteer fire department flag with the year 1894 sewn on as well as a photo of uniformed members standing in front of a two-story building on Beacon Avenue with state Senator John Humphrey. Although some measure of fire protection must have existed before that, perhaps as bucket brigades, no records exist.

This early Volunteer Department consisted of a four-man, hand-pulled pumping engine, a hose cart with 500 feet of hose, and 14 members. They used the wood-frame building on Beacon Avenue, which doubled as a village hall and firehouse, to store their equipment. The six-block farming community was guaranteed a good water supply thanks to a wooden water system and elevated water tower erected in 1892.

The Orland area’s first major fires occurred in November 1912 when a small settlement known as Alpine, located near 167th Street and 108th Avenue, called for help. The volunteers hauled their equipment over nearly two miles of wagon-rutted roads only to arrive too late. Two saloons and the only general store burned to the ground, thus dooming the future of the town since the buildings were never rebuilt.

In 1914, Peter J. Pitts was named Fire Marshal. His duties, besides overseeing the volunteers, included cleaning the village water tank for a fee of $5. The Fire Department’s budget for the year was $100. The 25-member fire department survived on a small stipend from the village and various fundraisers. In 1923, the village of Orland Park enacted a foreign fire tax to capture revenues from insurance companies (which would help fund the growing Fire Department), purchased another hose cart and fire hose, and approved 23 fire hydrants for the town. The first motorized vehicle would not be purchased for another six years.

Under the direction of Chief Carl Quigley, the Department purchased a 1929 Chevrolet chemical engine from the Prospect Fire Company for $3,500. Donations from area farmers helped finance the deal. Those farmers who refused to donate were billed for later service should they need it. The new engine, which served both the town and rural areas, came equipped with a front-mount pump, two forty-gallon water tanks, a tank of bicarbonate of soda and small bottles of sulfuric acid. In town, the engine would hook up to fire hydrants (bypassing the pump) and in rural areas, the soda and acid were combined to create gas that would propel water through the booster line. The village appointed the fire marshals up until 1930 when the volunteers were allowed to elect the next Fire Chief. John Helenhouse, the town barber, police constable, and volunteer firefighter, served as Chief for the next eleven years.

One of the rare calls for mutual aid from the City of Chicago came from the famous stockyards fire in 1931. While there, the Orland Park firefighters teamed up with a Blue Island fire company to fight an apartment building fire. Arthur Granat Sr., the seminal figure who would later serve 29 years as Fire Chief and the longest tenure of any Orland Fire Chief, joined the volunteer ranks in 1946. Elected fire chief in 1957, Granat, Sr. led the department as it transitioned from a predominantly rural service to a more suburban-oriented one. In 1969, he was instrumental in forming the Orland Fire Protection District after voters approved a referendum the previous year. Chief Granat became the first full-time employee of the Fire District in 1973 and was later honored with the dedication of the Orland Fire Protection District Training Facility in his name.

The Fire District originally covered roughly 30 square miles, including the Villages of Orland Park, Westhaven (now Orland Hills), and unincorporated Orland Township. Another three square miles were added in 1990 when the subdivisions of Brook Hills, Eagle Ridge, and Mallard Landing annexed into the Fire District. Robert M. Buhs, appointed Fire Chief/Administrator in 1988, oversaw the transition of a small organization to a multi-faceted, modern operation. That year the number of firefighters stood at 26 and the Fire District appropriated $8.7 million. By the Centennial year in 1994, the numbers jumped to 81 firefighters in six stations with the budget swelling to $9.9 million.

Today, the Orland Fire Protection District continues to provide innovative and cutting-edge service to the residents and visitors to the area. The Fire District is a multifunction fire protection and life-safety organization with over 111 suppression personnel backed up by 50 support staff and covers 33 square miles. The Fire District serves a population of 75,000 still with six fire stations.