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.
In 2000, the IFA partnered with the Illinois Office of the State Fire Marshal and the Illinois Fire Service Institute introduced the Illinois Fire College in which reimbursable classes were offered to Illinois firefighters. Classes were also offered on a Regionwide basis. This, along with other initiatives, was the “Vision 2000” plan outlined by the IFSI. The OSFM also introduced task forces such as the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Panel, Claims Reimbursement Task Force and Terrorism Task Force. This will also the release the IFA’s website – www.illinoisfirefighters.org. This was developed to help strengthen the communications between the IFA and its membership, dissemination of information and provided links to other fire services associations. On the Federal level, the National Fire Caucus presented to Bills to Congress: Bill #1 – The Fire Bill and Bill #2 – Volunteer Fire Service Bill.
In 2001, the IFA participated in a combination conference with the Illinois Fire Chiefs Association and the Illinois Fire Service Instructors. The OSFM stressed the importance of the Illinois Fire Service working together and the necessity to continue to growth the events of September 11, 2001. The IFSI introduced the “Cornerstone Program” which is a reimbursable program that offers various fire service trainings to Illinois firefighters. This was also the introduction of a partnership with the IFA and IFSI with the “Down & Dirty” CD set that was sent to member departments, so that IFSI training could be shared back home at member department, especially to the firefighters that were not able to take advantage of the training at our annual conference.
In 2002, was another combined conference with the Illinois Fire Chiefs Association and the Illinois Fire Service Instructors. IFSI explained the development of the “Down & Dirty” CDs; combined efforts with IFSI and the IFA Executive Board. Cornerstone and Homeland Security Program still in existence, but funding is at a lull. HazMat awareness is available on-line and at no cost.
In 2003, the IFA accomplished several initiatives such as letters being sent the President and Federal legislators to keep the Fire Act Grant Funded and a response was received by the President, formed a partnership with VFIS to provide insurance benefits to the membership and Lobbyist Margaret Vaughn was brought in to be a voice for the IFA on a State level.
But in 2004, the IFA decided to form a special partnership with the Illinois Fire Service Institute (which is Illinois’ State Fire Academy) which began the “Down & Dirty” Firefighter Weekend. It consisted of a combination of classroom and “hands-on” training in which the IFA member departments were able to receive training from the IFSI instructors and full use of the academy facility for training.
The year 2005, the partnership between IFA and IFSI grew closer with the 2nd Down & Dirty Firefighter Conference, in addition to CD program. The Board attended various conferences, including the National Benefit Summit in which the Job Security Act came out of this Summit.
The 2006 conference continued the partnership with IFSI with over 50,000 people in the State that have been trained through IFSI since last conference, the State of Florida asked permission to have the Down Dirty CD/DVD program distributed in their State. In return, University of Florida offered on-line bachelor’s degree program in Fire Science at the Florida in-state tuition rate. The IFSI library has expanded in the international network of fire service libraries so can be obtained from all over the world. On the legislative side, billed passed to date have been the Fire Sprinkler Dormitory Revolving Loan Fund Act, Arsonist Registration Act, Volunteer Firefighter Job Protection Act, Fire Prevention Funds protected, Rotating Lights and Impersonating a Firefighter.
In 2007, The OSFM offered free NFIRS classes and if the class was taken, the department would get a laptop computer and printer to allow for electronic filing of reports. Additionally, IFSI discussed a plan to have firefighter awareness training surrounding ethanol plants. There were 100 million bushels of ethanol moving in and out of processing plants.
IFSI, in 2008, worked with the aerial apparatus manufacturer's factories to develop an addition training disc for the Down & Dirty DVD program. The apparatus manufacturers asked if copies of the DVDs could be supplied every time they sold new aerial apparatus as they found this to be a great training aid. A new CD on Fire Attack is the next project for the Down & Dirty CD/DVD program. Videos provided on the ISFI website for Ethanol and foam training. IFSI expanded international training relations with China.
The Office of the State Fire Marshal, in 2009, in place of e-mailing each month, has developed a portal for the State NFIRS reports in which you can access to check your reports on the internet. This also allows anytime access to check reporting status of your NFIRS reports.
Self-extinguishing cigarette legislation was passed; leading cause of residential fire deaths.
Legislation was passed requiring all fraternities and sororities that they will have test sprinklers in them within a nine-year time frame.
State Fire Code requiring all new residential construction have residential sprinklers in one–and two-family dwellings as well as hard-wired smoke detectors.
The Cornerstone Program became an official line item to the State Fire Marshal budget. Fires On The Farm were added to the Cornerstone Program.
IFSI added Crude Oil by Rail Awareness and Ops Courses.
OSFM looking into electronic testing for certification.
New Grain Bin Rescue training being rolled out.
Recruitment & retention, fundraising & revenue, data management, benefits & financial security are still the biggest and most common issues in the fire service today.
Volunteer firefighter tire purchase on state bid pricing legislation passed.
In 2018, the GO GREEN CLEAN campaign was incepted to bring forth the awareness of the increasing number of firefighter cancer illnesses and issues and the best practices for prevention through the Lavender Ribbon Report.
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.