The Schererville Volunteer Fire Department was organized on June 25th, 1914. Fred Henderlong was appointed Chief by the Town Council and presided at the first organization meeting. The rules and by-laws were accepted, practices established, meeting dates set, and officers elected. The first roster consisted of twenty five volunteers. They held regular meetings at the town hall for some time. However, during these early years, meetings were often held in any available place such as the public school, Miller and Sutter’s Store, Henderlong’s Restaurant, and Bohney’s Barber Shop.
Copy of the Original Fire Department Charter: June 25, 1914
The first fire station was built a short time later just west of the tracks on the north side of Joliet Street. Some years later this building was moved east of the tracks across from the public school. A shortage of men during World War I years made it necessary for the Volunteer Fire Department to disband for three years from 1917 until 1920. The Indiana Firefighters Association was established in 1917.
In 1920 the fire department was recognized with eighteen men volunteering. The volunteers were summoned to a fire call by a bell which was kept at the fire station. The bell was replaced by a siren in 1926. The equipment of the Fire Department consisted of a two-wheeled cart which held sodium acid charges and was pushed by hand. They also had a one-ladder wagon.
The first actual fire truck was a Commerce brand Truck purchased from Grimmer’s Garage in Highland in 1922. The first salary, $25.00, was paid to the Chief in 1926, which is also the year the Indiana Fire Chiefs Association was organized. Shortly thereafter, the regular members joined the Indiana Firefighters Association. The Indiana Firefighters Association is the oldest firefighter organization in the State of Indiana.
Fred Henderlong was replaced as Fire Chief by Clarence Schafer in 1930 by a department election. He remained as Fire Chief for thirty two years! Norbert Fortner was elected Fire Chief in 1962 upon Chief Schafer’s retirement.
The original Commerce fire truck was replaced in 1939 by a Seagrave brand truck.
The roster expanded in 1940 to twenty-four men. In that same year, an Honor Roll was created with two plaques honoring those individuals that had completed twenty years of service and those who reach the age of fifty five while active members or those that had passed away while members. Some of the names on the plaques include; Andrew Doctor, John Reiplinger, Anthony Kaiser, Joe Risch, Louis Meyer, John Thiel, William Bohney, Frank Place, Thomas Smith, Joseph Homan, Matt Kuhn, Laverne Dewes, Alfred Govert, Pete Redar, Clarence Schafer, William Schiesser, Joe Zimmer, John Huppenthal, Leo Grimmer, and Alfred Peifer. Many of these names are still present in our community today as street names.
In 1945 a group of volunteer fire departments in Lake and Porter Counties formed the Indiana Volunteer Fireman’s Association (IVFA). One of those departments was Schererville. Meetings were held on August 23rd and September 20th, 1945 to elect Officers. The first Officers of the IVFA included Harold Brownell, President (Lowell), Alvin Guske – Vice President (Crown Point), Roy Kittredge – Secretary (Hobart) and C.O. Rattray – Treasurer (Cedar Lake). In 1947, the Schererville Volunteer Fire Department had thirty members.
The first resuscitator was added to their equipment in 1950. Firemen were first compensated for answering fire calls in 1953. They were paid $1.00 for each regular monthly meeting attended, $1.00 for each call answered, and $1.00 for each hour while on the call. In 1966, this compensation rate remained unchanged.
Beginning in 1955, the fire department began to sponsor an essay contest on fire prevention at Homan and St. Michael Schools for grades five through eight with a trophy awarded to each grade level winner. The program has been expanded to include all grades at all Schererville Schools and continues today with trophy presentations each year in October during National Fire Prevention Month. Additionally, all schools are evaluated for their proficiency during fire drills and a travelling trophy is presented annually to the school with the highest score. This program has been very successful and is looked forward to by Schererville school children every year.
The new Town Hall and Fire Station were completed in 1957 and the Fire Department called that station headquarters until its demolition in 2000 in order to make room for the new Schererville Police Station.
In 1968, the old 1939 Seagrave fire engine was retired and a new American LaFrance brand was purchased. A second American Lafrance was purchased 1974. Also, in 1974 an improved radio alerting system was put into place in order to “page” the volunteers.
In 1973, the Schererville Town Council authorized the Fire Department to expand its membership to 40 volunteers. It was during this time that the Fire Department placed one fire engine in a garage on the east side of town. This was due to the frequent slow moving or track switching trains. A second fire station (Fire Station 2) was then built at Cline and Joliet Streets in order to respond better to the east side of Schererville. Fire Station 2 is still active today and is the administrative headquarters for the Fire Department.
Schererville began to see a rapid growth during the 70’s and in 1977, the New Elliot Volunteer Fire Department, located on 73rd Street just east of the town border, was asked to merge with the Schererville Fire Department. With this merge, the Schererville Fire Department now operated out of three fire stations. The New Elliot Volunteer Fire Department added two fire engines, one brush truck, and one emergency vehicle to the fleet of emergency vehicles.
In 1978, as growth continued, the Schererville Town Council voted to hire the first paid full time employee. This employee would serve as a fire inspector. Edward “Bo” Kaeser was hired.
In May of 1979, the Schererville Town Council approached the Fire Department with a concern that the town needed an ambulance service. The Fire Department voted to take on this added responsibility. The Fire Department provided Basic Life Support (BLS) to its residents and now was able to transport them to area hospitals.
In 1984, the Plum Creek neighborhood along US 41 was becoming a very popular place to build and live. With these added residents and with the distance between fire stations 1 and 2 and this new neighborhood, a fire station was built on Plum Creek Drive to better serve the community. Shortly thereafter, a second ambulance was purchased so now the Fire Department had two ambulances. With the increase in population and increase in call volume including both fire and calls for the sick and injured, in 1988 the town hired its first full time Emergency Medical Technician (EMT).
As the Town of Schererville continued to grow, new developments were occurring on the east side of town along US 30 and Burr Street. The New Elliot fire station was now too far to handle response and too small, the New Elliot station was sold and a new fire station was built on Springvale Drive. Now the Fire Department had four fire stations still supported by volunteer firefighters.
As the 80’s and 90’s passed, new fire equipment was purchased and old equipment liquidated. It was also determined that the need to assure residents safety was paramount so additional persons were hired as full time members of the Fire Department. In 2002, the Fire Department received their largest and most expensive piece of fire apparatus in its history when they took delivery of a new Pierce brand 102’ aerial tower ladder. This unit had a platform and was needed as new taller buildings in Schererville were being built. The cost of this truck in 2002 was over three quarters of a million dollars.
On May 13th, 2003 the Fire Department now had eight full time employees. It was also on this date that the International Association of Firefighters recognized the organization; The Schererville Professional Firefighters Union Local 4279. In 2004, the Schererville Fire Department no longer had any volunteer firefighters. The department was supported by eight full time employees and approximately twenty five part time employees. In 2004, the current Fire Chief Joseph M.Kruzan, Jr. was hired. Chief Kruzan was working for the City of Hammond Fire Department when he was hired.
In 2006, an upgrade to the Fire Department ambulance service occurred. Chief Kruzan is a paramedic instructor and in partnership with St. Anthony Hospital in Crown Point, he started a paramedic school for current Fire Department employees. A total of eight (both full and part time employees) participated in the program. At the conclusion of their instruction and upon state licensure, the Schererville Fire Department began providing Advanced Life Support (ALS) care to its residents. In order to assure paramedic care was available around the clock, additional full time firefighter / paramedics were hired and they were supported by part time firefighter / paramedics and firefighter / EMT’s. Fire Station 2 on Cline Avenue was also renovated to accommodate additional staffing. Schererville Firefighters were now working a traditional firefighter shift of twenty fours on duty.
Today, the Schererville Fire Department still has three Fire Stations. Fire Station 2 on Cline has six (including one Chief Officer) personnel on duty and Fire Station 3 with two personnel on duty, all on duty twenty four hours a day. The department has a total of sixty employees. In 1999, the department responded to less than 1000 incidents per year. Today, they respond to just less than 3000! As far as the current equipment inventory, the department now has three fire engines, one quint (a fire engine with a 75’ ladder affixed), one Tower Ladder, one brush fire unit, three ALS ambulances and a small fleet of staff and support vehicles. The department is very involved with the Tri-Town Safety Village and assists with the education of school age children in fire safety annually.
The Town of Schererville was founded in 1866. In these first 148 years and in the first 100 years of the Schererville Fire Department, it has had only seven appointed Fire Chiefs. Chief Fred Henderlong, Chief Clarence Schafer, Chief Norbert Fortner, Chief Joseph Govert, Chief Edward “Bo” Kaeser, Chief George Michels and currently, Chief Joseph Kruzan.
The men and women of the department still belong to the Indiana Firefighters Association. The Chief Officers belong to the Indiana Fire Chiefs Association. Also, in an effort to continue to show appreciation for their years of service, the department still supports the membership of the once volunteers in the Indiana Volunteer Firefighters Association. Lastly, the full time men and women of the department are members of the Professional Firefighters Union of Indiana.
The Schererville Fire Department is rich in history and has worked diligently to improve over their first 100 years. The men and women of the department are dedicated to their occupation and to the citizens they serve.