After 50 years with the , it's safe to say that Glen Krohn, fire commission trustee, former volunteer assistant chief, volunteer lieutenant and on-call volunteer firefighter, is married to the idea of community service.
At the annual Fire District dinner last December, Krohn's commitment was celebrated with a presentation of a mounted golden axe and a litany of praise from firefighting peers, including Chief Jon Mead. The 80-year-old trustee's history with the fire department begins in the winter of 1960.
For Krohn, aka "Mouse," the desire to join the department poured out like an opened hydrant; already his three older brothers, Gene, Wade and Dale, were on-call Fire District volunteers. They'd flooded his giving disposition with stories of saving a pal's corn crop and rushing to the aid of a car accident victim.
So Krohn and his wife, Doris, discussed the price that this added responsibility would cost the family—the couple had three children—daughter Terry, and the boys, Steve and Dan. They carefully weighed the pros and cons of time spent on training in ladder use, pump truck use and search-and-rescue maneuvers, and decided to step up to the mutual aid of others. But there was no way back then that the two could have imagined how the countless hours that the combination of actual calls and on-going training would stack up.
All total, the three Krohn brothers have 105 years of service with the New Lenox Fire District—Glen has 50; Gene, 25; Wade, 15; and Dale, 15.
At age 30, Krohn officially added his name to the roster while maintaining his full-time job as a Wonder Bread delivery truck driver. His predetermined job schedule proved particularly beneficial for the Fire District because he had dependable availability.
Today, Krohn's expertise is sought out for his wealth of knowledge about the ins and the outs of the New Lenox community.
"I see Mouse almost every day," Mead said. "He comes down to the firehouse (Station No. 1 on U.S. Route 30 at Church Street). He has great insights into the community. He knows where everything is at: historical structures, converted structures. He knows how they were built."
That's a tremendous help when considering how a fire might spread or where a draft would likely develop under certain conditions, Mead added.
Reflecting on the Early Days
Krohn said he traces his attraction to the department to the influence of a fire that destroyed his home on 108th Avenue just north of 167th Street when he was only 6 years old. That experience certainly burned its way into his memory.
"We were in school when it happened," he said. "I remember my mother came and got us. I remember standing out in front of the house; it was just a pile of smoldering rubble."
Today and as always, he stands ready to promote the fundraising cause of the department's need for capital to purchase up-to-date equipment, including portable defribulators, extrication pieces, rescue gear and the like. His philosophy is centered on providing the best care to the residents living within the Fire District. As equipment ages and improvements are made to firefighting and rescue paraphernalia, Krohn applies his intuitive nature to evaluate how best to serve the community.
"The more we have, the better we can take care of the community," he said.
The operative word in Krohn's desire to advance the Fire District is "improve." For him it's not a simple agility exercise, the intention targets the notion of saving lives and adapting to the needs of the changing community. In 1960 when agricultural concerns dominated the bulk of the New Lenox population, a roster with a couple dozen volunteer firefighters was sufficient. "We put out grass fires," and occasionally we were called upon to douse a structure blaze.
At the height of the volunteer-only department in the late 1980s, there were as many as 50 names on the roster. It might sound like a lot, but "we needed that many because the guys had jobs out of town too. You had to rely on the businessmen and shift workers" to man the daytime emergency calls. Naturally, the one firehouse on Church Street was the headquarter for all operations.
Donning a sweatshirt that announces to the world that she is a proud grandmother, Doris smiled and shared the history of on-call procedures.
"There was a calling tree," she said. "About three or four volunteers had (dedicated) fire phones at home. When a call came in, they'd each call two people, and then those two would call two more."
Although the police scanner that hangs on the wall, about four feet from the cross-stitched likeness of a fire truck completed by their granddaughter, was turned low, the chatter could be heard in the background.
"I remember he'd have that thing turned all the way up. And man alive he'd wake up the whole household if an emergency came up," she said.
Admittedly, his involvement in the fire department put a damper on family gatherings, she said.
"Those calls took him away from birthday parties, wedding receptions, card games, Thanksgiving dinner. ... When he'd get home, then everyone was excited to hear the details."
It wasn't long before fighting fires, training and fundraising became a family affair. Although Doris kept a strict division between family and the fire department activities—"I figured one in the fire department was enough"—she initiated a scrapbook project to document their calls, articles and photos in the newspaper. "I still have it. I keep adding to it. There's about four books now."
As for the families of volunteers, active involvement created an opportunity for camaraderie. There were annual picnics at nearby , and among the list of games were water-ball tournaments between all male and all female teams. The goal was to get the ball over the net with water pressure from a hose.
In the 1970s, the Fire District had a cadet program for teens interested in joining the firefighting field. Dan Krohn, 52, remembered his participation.
"I didn't go into it as a career, " he said, but "I'm proud of my dad." Growing up, his father's volunteer commitment was the foundation for a solid group of friends. "Back then, pretty much my whole life was spent around the fire department. My friends were firefighters' kids. We used to play on the fire trucks, and we always got to be in the parades."
On Father's Day a few years ago, the elder Krohn received his very own fire hydrant. My son got it from a friend's backyard. It wasn't operational, so he dug it up. "It turned out to be from the 1800s." The red plug now sits on his front lawn, a few feet from the stairs that lead to the home's entrance. There used be a sign designating the east side of Wood Street as "Glen Krohn Street." But the village eventually took it down along with one on Second Avenue that was designated for retired Fire Chief Ken Hossack.
According to Dan Krohn, till this day the sound of a siren piques his interest. "If I hear an alarm go off or a siren, I call my dad to see what's going on."
The experience of living in a fire department family taught him to be cautious, safety conscious, he said. CPR training, advanced first aid and the like was always available to the families, Doris said.
Looking back, Krohn readily acknowledges that his involvement was never for the money. "I'd already volunteered for six to eight years," and the pay scale remained a scant $2 per call plus a gas and clothing allowance. "Then (it went up.) You got paid $5 per call. I was getting $8 a call as chief engineer." There was a rule that a trustee, a role that Krohn first acquired in 1990, couldn't make any more than $2,000 a year from calls. That meant that Krohn worked about six months of the year for free.
Krohn remains characteristically tight-lipped about the details of fatal fires or particularly tragic accidents. Despite the fact that New Lenox has grown to nearly 25,000 people and the total 36-square-mile district has about 45,000 residents, it still claims a small-town heart. A lot of people involved in those awful circumstances have family living in the area. Standing in the finished basement of his Wood Street ranch-style home, an area he and Doris refer to as his "man cave," Krohn becomes momentarily quiet and reflects on the 1,000-plus calls to which he has responded.
Surrounded by a collection of firefighting accolades and memorabilia, including certificates of honor issued from the White House under Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Krohn simply related that the toughest calls are usually the result of accidents on Interstate-80. "I remember a guy stuck behind the wheel of a (steel hauling) semi-truck." The extradition process was tedious; his injuries were critical.
"The worst calls are ones that involve a child. Getting to a child that drowned in a swimming pool and having to tell the parent that there's nothing you can do."
On the contrary, the best calls are ones in which the victim has an opportunity to express his or her appreciation, "like after an auto accident. You pull them out and they're so grateful," he said.
The New Lenox Fire Protection District was officially formed in 1941, but the Krohn family can personally speak to the evolution of its development, tracking the initial sparks that prompted the spread of numerous fire training programs. Today there are 42 full-time contracted firefighters, five paid on-call firefighters, the chief and three captains; together they operate four stationhouses.
"I remember when 50 calls a year were a lot," Krohn said. "Last year we had more than 2,800 calls," and he's not planning on resigning his trusteeship any time soon.
As for what keeps the fire of enthusiasm burning, Krohn said, "I just enjoy people and there's been a lot of nice people that I've worked with in the department. I think I've kind of run the course with the department, but I'm happy to help when I can."
Speaking of Krohn, Mead said in his opinion, "He's an all-around great guy. He's still contributing."