In 1960-61, a small subdivision was formed in unincorporated Will County and was named the Wood Hill subdivision. Three of the early initial homeowners, Red Black, James Burt, and Kenny Gibbons, got together and decided that the area needed fire protection. They formed the Wood Hill Volunteer Fire Department. All were former members of area fire departments.
They were able to lease a 1926 Seagrave fire engine that was no longer being used by the Hazel Crest Fire Department. Additionally, they obtained space in an old World War II quonset hut on Exchange Street, a gravel road at the time. The building was used as storage for the builder and was the only building that could hold the truck. It was located just west of the water tower. The curb cuts remain for the gravel driveway that went around the new fire station.
Several more residents joined the department and fundraising began. Used equipment was borrowed or purchased from other area departments' out-of-service equipment stocks.
Park Forest South Fire Department
In 1966 and 1967, a new builder, Nathan Manilow, emerged and had great plans for the area. The residents joined in his vision and incorporated the community as Park Forest South. The Wood Hill subdivision then consisted of approximately 300 homes with a population of about 1,000, who were all spread between Exchange, Irving, Blackhawk, and Western. The builder was concerned with the market image and decided the 1928 fire engine and the other secondhand equipment needed improvement.
A deal was struck and the first new fire apparatus, a 1969 Ward-LaFrance fire engine, was ordered. The Fireman's Association that did the fundraising for the department set up a loan to pay $1,000 per year for the $15,000 engine. The builder then made an annual donation of $1,000 for equipment.
In 1969, the fire department decided to turn itself over to the Village so that additional funds could be obtained from Village taxes beyond what fundraisers could acquire. In 1970, building occurred at a rapid rate with the annexation of additional land to the Village. This expansion resulted in the purchase of a 1972 American Fire Apparatus fire engine.
Ambulance service also began in 1970. Previously, "inhalator calls" were run with a truck containing oxygen tanks and manned by personnel trained in first aid. These personnel also provided initial assistance at accident scenes and on house calls while awaiting private ambulances operated by local funeral homes.
The original Fire Department was operated solely by volunteers, and there was a Ladies Auxiliary that provided additional fundraising and support. Ladies' groups were made up mainly of the wives and girlfriends of the firefighters. Membership in the Fire Department consisted of 12-18 men in the early years. With the new rapid growth of the community, more people became interested in joining the department, and the roster grew to 30-40 firefighters.
The community growth also added new requirements for the department and complexity than the group could handle alone. A full-time professional Fire Chief was sought. Irvin Sherry from Franklin Park was hired as the first paid Fire Chief. He succeeded prior volunteer Chiefs such as Red Black, Frank Fouts, Noble Johnson, and James Geil. In 1975, Chief Sherry left Park Forest South to pursue a job with the Leyden Township Fire Department, and Michael Grubermann, who joined the department in 1967, was appointed to succeed Sherry. Chief Grubermann retired in 1995, and he still serves as a paid-on-call Fire Marshal.
In 2003, members of the full-time staff who were looking to change the department logo to a more traditional design approached the Fire Chief. These members chose the Maltese Cross. The origins of the cross go back to the Knights of St. John who fought the Saracens for possession of the Holy Land. Many of these knights risked their lives to rescue their fellow knights who had been burned during a Saracen attack, and they were honored by their fellows with a badge of honor similar to the cross the firefighters wear today. The firefighter who wears this cross is willing to lay down his or her life for others, just as the knights did so many years ago.
Over the years many things have changed within the department and fire service as a whole. while our name and vehicle colors have changed, the fire service has more responsibilities than ever. We remain dedicated and committed to protecting the citizens we serve from the ravages of fire and hazardous materials and to providing the highest level of pre-hospital care during emergencies.