Awakening the Sleeping Giant
Firefighting was a thankless job: little or no pay, "hand-me-down" uniforms, long hours, antiquated equipment, dangerous working conditions, no respect, and minimal municipal support. Illinois firefighters yearned for opportunities to interact with their peers and share ideas, information, and concerns.
1889-1899: Creation of an icon
On January 8, 1889, nine fire chiefs and five other delegates met in Clinton, Illinois. They formed the Illinois Firemen's Association. They elected twelve officers: president, secretary, treasurer and nine vice presidents. And, they voted to hold an annual meeting every January. At the 1891 conference, they added the office of historian. In 1899 members adopted the Accident Indemnity Fund. Many departments also elected to use the IFA's Funeral Ritual Manual to conduct last rites for fallen firefighters. Membership: 35 fire departments (1899).
1900-1909: IFA Fights for Life
The IFA put its members' needs first. The organization established the "Past Presidents Medals" award (1905). In 1907, it voted to publish an annual report, Grey Book (Conference Number/Redbook). It also decided to publish a bi-monthly newsletter, The Bulletin. Charles Chain (Bushnell) and Simon Kellermann, Jr. (Edwardsville) served as editors, respectively. Membership: 155 departments. IFA coo: Illinois Office of State Fire Marshall created in 1909.
1910-1919: IFA Spans State and Nation
Nationwide, the IFA received recognition for its pioneering efforts. Yearly, it published three important reports: "Table of (Fire) Statistics" (English, four other languages), "Table of Insurance Statistics," and "Summerical Report (of table data)."
In 1910, it developed the first Firefighter-to-Firefighter Recruitment Program (1910). It helped organize the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF, 1918) and formed the Legislation Committee to monitor state/federal legislation. Membership: 162 departments (1910).
1920-1929: Getting Things Under Control
Illinois FirefightersThe IFA helped five departments meet manpower shortages and depends for more "proper" fire protection/better capabilities. In 1922, three members were elected to offices at the National Fire Association Conference (Ludington, MI). [Starting 1924, the IFA sent two or more delegates to this yearly meeting.]
In 1925, the Association helped establish the Illinois Fire College (IFC, now IFSI). Reportedly the first fire college in the U.S., its enrollment totaled 210.
At the 1927 conference, the meeting date was changed. Thus, a second conference convened in September. The same year the IFA donated $10,000 to build a training tower and smoke house at IFC. In 1928, the Grey Book appeared as the IFA Conference Number (Redbook). Membership: 290 departments, 49 past officers, 18 associates (1923).
1930-1939: Picking Up Pieces After the "1929 Crash"
America fell into a major depression. Fire departments lost revenue. More departments transferred apparatus from one department to another.
IFA Membership, convention attendance, and participation dropped. Yet, morale remained very high. In 1931, the organization implemented its Firefighters and Manufacturer's Communication Program to advance apparatus design/engineering for city/town/rural fire protection. IFC enrollment: 341 (1933).
1940-1949: Challenges on the Home Front
Fire departments scraped for materials, money and manpower during World War II. Thus, the IFA held no conference from 1943 to 1945.
In 1946, the association helped health care facilities implement fire prevention programs. It also helped firefighters conduct industrial inspections (particularly in war production plants).
The IFA pushed for three pieces of legislation: (1) to limit the work week to 60 hours, (2) to pay pension at the time of disability/retirement, and (3) to eliminate the 10-year active service requirement for pension eligibility.
At the 1949 conference, dues increased to $10.00. Expert instructors conducted a record number of sixteen education talks. IFC (IFSI) enrollment: 353; courses, 43 (1946). Membership: 476 departments/fire protection districts (FPD, 1946).
1950-1959: Evolutions of Change
By 1952, the IFA served as the largest fire service organization in the U.S. Membership exceeded 610 departments and associates with display privileges. The annual conference drew record crowds. And in 1954, exhibit space revenue soared to over $1,070.
Members helped to create Illinois' Mutual Aid System, one of the first in the country. It helped implement civil defense and water conservation programs... established the first burn treatment centers... and helped volunteer departments acquire surplus government apparatus. IFSI enrollment: 606 (1951); 26 fire instructors trained (1958); FPD's: 375 (1952). Membership: 700 departments, 40,000 individuals (1959).
1960-1969: Planning for Progress
The IFA was the third oldest firefighter service organization in America. In 1962, delegates voted to increase departmental dues to $20.00. Three years later they set the treasurer's bond at $20,000. They also raised the per-man assessment five cents to increase the Indemnity Fund death benefit to $2,000. Resolution passed: legislate the Illinois Fire Marshal's job to a permanent post. The Ladies Auxiliary of the Illinois Firefighter's Association (LAIFS) became a regular donor to IFA projects. IFSI: 11,476; 187 training centers (1968). FPD's: 725.
1970-1979: Putting the Public at Rest
The Vietnam War impacted the ability of fire departments to sustain operations and promote growth. More departments actively recruited women.
In 1970, the IFA co-founded the Joint Council of National Fire Services Organizations (JCNFSO). It worked with 166 fire departments to develop a list of 23 subjects for curriculum under the Illinois Fire Protection Personnel and Education Commission (1972).
It pushed for passage of legislation that established the National Fire Academy (NFA, 1975) under the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Then, it helped the University of Illinois win designation as an NFA site. It also supported the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC). Membership: 565 departments/FPD's.
1980-1989: Reaching for New Heights
In 1980, the IFA adopted a new name: Illinois Firefighter's Association (IFA). A key player in the industry, it influenced apparatus/gear design, fire prevention programs, legislation, fire suppression strategies, safety standards, curriculum, certifications, even recruitment criteria.
The Association focused on improving communication, conference programs, membership services, education classes, and fundraising efforts. In 1982, members raised $108,000 for the Muscular Dystrophy Foundation.
Conferences were held in the same community two consecutive years. Workshops emphasized management and technology. Major companies paid to print new training packets. And, "Lunch with Distributors" became a regular, favorite conference event.
At the 1986 conference, delegates honored 121 fallen firefighters during the Memorial Service. In 1989, the IFA held its 100th Annual Conference (Collinsville). The Madison County Firemen's Association (MCFA) became an annual donor. Membership: 700 departments; 44,000 individuals (1989).
1990-1999: The Sleeping Giant Roars
The IFA celebrated. Its clout spread. Members impacted consumer product safety, fiber content, building materials' design/composition, building design/construction, vehicle design/engineering, health care administration, emergency services, etc.
The Association helped firefighters gain representation in state government and the U.S. Congressional Fire Caucus (USCFC). It helped develop professional leadership/administrative training curriculum. It led fundraising efforts for the Illinois Fallen Firefighters Memorial... co-sponsored the LAIFA Bi-Annual Illinois Children's Burn Camp Auction... also, supported the Illinois Fire Chief's Association Scholarship Fund (IFCASF).
In 1999, the IFA celebrated its 110th year. It operated with thirteen committees: Advisory, Education/Training, Exhibits/Promotions, Legislative/Judiciary, Membership, Memorial, Conference/Programs, Resolutions, NVFC, Historian, Credentials/Election, Registration, IFA Foundation. IFSI: served 1200 departments/FPD's, 23,000 firefighters; programs: 400 (1998). Membership: 550+ departments/FPD's, 44,000 individuals, 24 past presidents, 26 associates, 40 associates/display (1999).
2000 and Beyond
The IFA and its members respect change. Departmental/fire protection districts, and individual members alike pursue and appreciate the opportunity to serve as:
- technical consultants/experts to R/D companies, scientists, chemists, architects, engineers, designers, planners, etc.
- industry consultants to business, industry, manufacturing, technology, education, government, labor, media publishing, etc.
- members of think tanks, task forces, commissions, advisory boards, councils, and committees in both the public and private sectors.
Internally, the Association is spearheading programs related to these areas: membership/employment, legislation/policy, public relations/communications, corporate/economic development, industrial/business relations, co-op corporate sponsorships, technological interfacing/networking and information management, professional/administrative services, leadership training/development, conference meeting/planning, membership/employee/customer/consituent services.
The IFA continues to serve and advance.
The mission of the Illinois Firefighter's Association, Inc. (IFA): Dedicated to the advancement of the Fire Service by providing leadership, the Association will proudly support the community of firefighters in Illinois through education, training, benefits and information networking at the local, state, and national levels.