Since officially forming the Effingham Fire Department in 1867, the Fire Department has been providing quality emergency services to residents and visitors in the area. Henry Alt wrote the by-laws and first constitution and organized the Effingham Volunteer Fire Department in 1883. Alt began his career with the fire department at the age of 12 as a "torch boy". In addition to lighting the way for firemen by the blaze of an oil lamp, the boys were used as messengers. Back before telephones, the "torch boy" was given a message, which perhaps told of a special meeting coming up, and was sent to deliver same to the homes of firemen. Once all messages were delivered, the boy was paid 25 cents.
In 1876, the City Council made an appropriation of $1,200 for the building of an engine house and City Hall, which was accordingly built on the right-of-way east of the Illinois Central Freight Depot. In 1910, the city constructed a building housing the police station, city offices, and the fire department at the intersection of Fayette Avenue and Banker Street (Illinois Route 33 and Illinois Route 45). The building served as City Hall until 1997 and as Fire Station #1 until 2004.
Firemen once wore an elaborate badge with clasp inscribed with the Effingham Hook and Ladder Company or Deluge Engine Company name. To the Hook and Ladder Company clasp was attached a red, white, and blue ribbon bearing a button depicting the hook and ladder unit. The motto, "Always Ready" was inscribed in gold lettering. Reverse the ribbon was black and firemen turned this side up for attendance at funerals. Once a member died, the black bunting draped the fire hall for a month's time.
In 1937, the fire department purchased a new 750 gpm pumper from Central Fire Truck Corporation in St. Louis, Missouri. This pumper, nicknamed "The Caladonia", would later pump for over twelve consecutive hours at the most disastrous fire in the history of the City of Effingham. It remained in service until 1971.
St. Anthony Hospital Fire
Just before midnight on April 4, 1949, a fire erupted at St. Anthony Hospital, claiming the lives of 75 people, 14 of them infants. This tragic fire is still known today as the second, deadliest hospital fire in the United States. The fire department at the time consisted of twenty-six men, including the Chief, all who battled the raging fire throughout the night and into the early morning - with the exception of one firefighter, who was in Chicago at the time.
The equipment at the time included two 500 gpm pumpers, and a 750 gpm pumper. There was no ladder truck or other apparatus. The department had a limited amount of good hose and fittings but had no life net and was deficient in heavy duty appliances. Most of the fire was fought with 1 ½" hose wyed off a 2 ½" hose. The nearest aerial ladder at the time belonged to a department twenty-seven miles away. Mutual aid was received from 11 area departments, the furthest being sixty-six miles away. Witnesses said that the fire spread like a ball of fire and a majority spoke of its rapid spread. Within three hours, floors, roofs, and part of the walls had fallen, leaving little but a rubble-filled skeleton, in which were buried the bodies of many victims. The hospital consisted of a basement and three floors.
In the aftermath of the St. Anthony's Hospital fire, many states and municipal governments set about overhauling their regulatory measures designed to prevent duplication of such disasters. Governor Adlai Stevenson directed the Illinois State Fire Marshal to reexamine at once the fire protection of all state and private hospitals.
In 1950, Fire Station #2 was constructed at 200 S. Merchant Street. This resulted from the hospital fire, which created the need for a station to be on both sides of the railroad tracks. In 1975, Fire Station #3 was dedicated providing services to the growth being experienced on the south end of the City at 2401 S. Banker Street (Route 45). Through the years, the needs of the City were such that a combination of full-time and part-time (paid-on-call) firefighters was warranted to provide emergency services.
Effingham Fire Department consists of eighteen full-time employees, including the Chief and Executive Secretary, and seventeen part time (paid-on-call) firefighters. The full-time firefighters are divided up into three platoons, which also are supported by paid on call firefighters. In 2004, a new Central Fire Station was dedicated, replacing Station #1 downtown and Station #2 on Merchant Street, and currently serves as Administration at 505 W Fayette Ave. In February 2020, Effingham Fire Department outgrew Fire Station #3 and moved into an existing structure on Jaycee Ave. The future will include construction of an additional station at the north end of the City as growth continues.